Rep. Ben Moss, R-Richmond, called for re-evaluating the “antiquated” county tier system, a system that ranks N.C.’s counties based on several economic factors, in his legislative agenda released on Tuesday. Moss hopes to gain traction on the issue during this year’s legislative session.

Critics argue that the system is rigid and arbitrary. Out of North Carolina’s 100 counties, 40 are classified “Tier One” or most distressed, 40 are Tier Two, and 20 are Tier Three or least distressed. State law requires a 40-40-20 distribution.

Residents can see which tier their county is classified in on the Department of Commerce website.

As it stands, tier rankings use four factors to determine a county’s designation:

  • Average unemployment rate for the most recent 12 months for which data are available
  • Median household income for the most recent 12 months for which data are available
  • Percentage growth in population for the most recent 36 months for which data are available
  • Adjusted property tax base per capita for the most recent taxable year

State Sen. Benton Sawrey, R-Johnston, is not happy about the system, either. Johnston County has a large rural composition but was classified “Tier 3” by the Department of Commerce because of its growth.

“The current county tier system is bad policy,” said Sawrey in a statement to CJ. “Too many organizations and agencies use it as a convenient crutch rather than actually analyzing rural poverty and recognizing that it’s possible for a portion of a high-growth county to have deep pockets of rural poverty that desperately need government services. As an example, Golden LEAF recently pulled Johnston County’s scholarship funding in spite of our current and historic tobacco production as well as the fact that the vast majority of our communities would be considered distressed under the Department of Commerce’s tier system.” 

Moss, a Republican who represents rural Richmond County and part of Moore County, listed county tier system reform first in his list of priorities for the 2023 legislative biennium.

Moss wants to “direct the Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee to study and evaluate the antiquated three-tier system for county economic status designations.”

Like Moss, Sawrey also alluded to the system being old-fashioned.

“This is 2023,” Sawrey said. “We have the tools and data to do a better job at evaluating poverty in eastern and rural North Carolina.”

Both chambers of the state legislature officially reconvenes on Jan. 25, 2023, to begin committee work and bill filing. Committee assignments have been released by the state House and state Senate.

Representative Moss recently announced his entry into the Republican primary for N.C. Labor Commissioner. The election will take place in 2024.