Author Archive for Heather Hyatt

NC Lottery Nets $522 Million for Education

The North Carolina Education Lottery has surpassed records in sales and profits kicked back to the state, bringing in $522 million for education expenses in the most recent budget year.

The lottery on Thursday announced its annual earnings for the year ending June 30. Ticket sales for the year totaled near 2 billion. More than $1.2 billion was given away in prizes.

Sales were up just over 7 percent, and profits increased nearly 4 percent, in line with the average over the past five years.

The legislature’s top economist last year projected the lottery would generate nearly $521 million for education initiatives and teacher pay.

Panthertown Cold Mountain Trail Head Will be Closed August 3rd – August 14th

Nantahala District Ranger, Mike Wilkins, advises everyone that Forest Service road 4673 which accesses the Panthertown hiking trail system from the east side in the Cold Mountain area will be closed beginning Monday morning August 3, 2015 on week days until August 14, 2015 to construct a 9-12 car parking area. The project is a cooperative effort between the Friends of Panthertown and the US Forest Service made possible by a grant provided by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation.

Beer has $3.8 billion impact on NC Economy

tapsIn North Carolina, beer accounts for 26,480 “direct economic impact” jobs, which the study breaks into three areas: Brewing, 1,347; distributing, 4,070; and retail sales, 21,063.

North Carolina has 130 breweries with more on the way. The largest N.C. brewery is the MillerCoors plant in Eden which employs 522 persons with an average compensation package of more than $100,000.

On a national level, the U.S. beer industry contributes $252.6 billion in economic output which is equal to about 1.5 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Federal, state and local taxes amounted to more than $48.5 billion in 2014.

Brewers and beer importers directly employ 49,576 Americans. More than 70 percent of brewing jobs are linked to large and mid-sized brewers and beer importers. Meanwhile, the number of distributor jobs has increased by more than 20 percent in the last decade, to more than 131,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Independent beer distributors provide significant economic benefits in their communities through local business-to-business commerce, investments in local infrastructure and capital assets, along with tax revenue,” said Tim Kent, executive director of the North Carolina Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association. “Independent beer distributors provide services that improve efficiency for trading partners, especially small brewers and retailers, and they ensure fair prices and a broad selection of products for consumers to enjoy.”


Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital, both Duke LifePoint hospitals, announced that their employed physician practices will feature new names that highlight their association with the hospitals. The name changes will also reflect their affiliation with Duke LifePoint Healthcare, as each practice will be labeled ‘A Duke LifePoint Physician Practice’.

For years, physicians and staff providing care in more than a dozen practices in Jackson, Swain and Macon counties have been employed by Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital. Renaming the physician practices strengthens the connection to the hospitals, which have collectively served Jackson, Swain, Macon and Graham counties and the surrounding region for more than 150 years.

“Only the practice names are changing. Patients will receive the same high quality care as always, with the same physicians and staff and in the same locations,” said Steve Heatherly, CEO of Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital. “The new names reflect our commitment to provide our patients continuity and coordination of care by highlighting a clear connection between the physician practices, the hospitals, and Duke LifePoint Healthcare. We’re pleased to share this new identity structure with our community.”

The names of the Duke LifePoint physician practices located at Harris Medical Park, 98 Doctors Drive, in Sylva will change as follows:

· Sylva Medical Center will be known as Harris Medical Associates
· WNC Pediatric and Adolescent Care will be known as Harris Pediatric Care
· Mountain Valley Surgery will be known as Harris Surgical Associates
· Mountain Regional OB/GYN will be known as Harris Women’s Care
· Mountain Care Urology will be known as Harris Urology

The names of Harris Medical Group practices located on the Medical Park Loop on the Harris Regional Hospital campus will change as follows:
· Mountain GI will be known as Harris GI Associates
· Western Carolina Pulmonary and Sleep Consultants will be known as Harris Pulmonary and Sleep Center

Practices located inside the hospital will change as follows:
· WNC Hospitalist Service will be known as Harris Hospitalist Service
· Sylva Orthopaedic Associates and Carolina West Sports Medicine will merge forming Harris Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine
· The urgent care facility located in the Walmart Plaza in Sylva will be known as Harris Regional Hospital Urgent Care

Other changes:
· The Center for Family Medicine with offices in Franklin and Cullowhee at the Western Carolina University Health and Human Sciences Building will respectively be known as Harris Family Care – Franklin and Harris Family Care – Cullowhee
· Swain Medical Center at Swain Community Hospital will be known as Swain Family Care

These changes follow the official renaming of the hospitals in April, when the hospitals transitioned to Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital, each becoming distinguished as ‘A Duke LifePoint Hospital’. Additionally, the outpatient facility in Macon County was renamed Harris Regional Hospital Medical Park of Franklin. New signage is currently under construction and expected to display later this summer and fall.

Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital joined Duke LifePoint Healthcare in August 2014 and have embarked on an awareness campaign highlighting the hospitals’ legacies in the community and the commitment to making communities healthier together. Duke LifePoint has committed to investing a minimum of $43 million in capital improvements at Harris Regional and Swain Community Hospitals over the next eight years.

In the coming months, Harris Regional and Swain Community hospitals will build a new Emergency Department at Harris, complete the New Generations Family Birthing Center at Harris, and evaluate restoring operating room capabilities at Swain Community Hospital.

Haywood County Drug Arrest

jillsuddrethOn Thursday, July 23rd 2015, Jill Rebecca Suddreth, 42 years of age, of Monte Vista Road in Candler, North Carolina, was arrested in Waynesville, North Carolina, by DECU Agents (SBI), DEA Tactical Diversion Squad Agents, and members of the Haywood County Multi-Agency Drug Taskforce, The U.N.I.T. Suddreth was employed by, but on leave from employment as, a North Carolina Probation Officer during the commission of the offenses and at the time of arrest. Suddreth was arrested and transported to the Haywood County Sheriff’s Detention Center where she retrieved dosage units of some type pills from a concealed location on her body and attempted to flush them down a toilet at the facility. In addition two other controlled substances were located in her possession. Suddreth was held at the Haywood County Detention Center in lieu of a $25,000.00 secured bond. The investigation is continuing.

Harmful Algae Bloom Surfaces in Waterville Lake in Haywood County

U.S. Forest Service officials announced today that an algae bloom has been discovered in Waterville Lake on the Appalachian Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest in Haywood County near I-40. The predominant bloom species has been identified as Microcystis aeruginosa, a known toxin-producing harmful alga in North Carolina. It is unknown if it is currently producing toxin. Samples have been sent to the N.C. State Laboratory for Public Health for microcystin toxin testing.

The U.S. Forest Service and public health officials are asking visitors to avoid swimming or wading near bloom waters, especially young children and dogs. Warning signs have been posted where visitors access the lake. No public water supplies are affected and no closures are in effect. Cooperating agencies include the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Haywood County Health Department.

State health and water quality officials recommend the following steps to safeguard pets and children from any potentially harmful algal bloom:
Keep children and pets away from water that appears very green, discolored or scummy.
Do not handle or touch large mats of algae.
Avoid handling, cooking or eating dead fish that may be present.
If you come into contact with an algal bloom, wash thoroughly. Also, use clean water to rinse off pets that may have come into contact with an algal bloom.
If your child appears ill after being in waters containing an algal bloom, seek medical care immediately.
If your pet appears to stumble, stagger or collapse after being in a pond, lake or river, seek veterinary care immediately. Warning signs have been posted where visitors access the lake. No public water supplies are affected and no closures are in effect. Cooperating agencies include the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Haywood County Health Department.
For information on the bloom please contact Carmine Rocco, Haywood County Health Director at (828) 452-6675.

NC Prepares for possible Avian Influenza

State Veterinarian Doug Meckes announced additional precautions that are being put in place to help North Carolina prepare for a possible introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is requiring all poultry owners, regardless of the number of birds, to register for an NCFarmID number, Meckes said. This will facilitate the department in alerting poultry owners about an outbreak, especially owners in close proximity to a positive farm. Poultry owners can also sign up for a national premises ID number, but it is not required. Anyone already part of the National Poultry Improvement Plan is exempt from this requirement. An online sign-up form will be available after Aug. 1.
“In planning our response for highly pathogenic avian influenza, one problem we’ve come across is that we can’t protect birds that we don’t know exist,” Meckes said. “We need to know where poultry are located so we can properly protect commercial and backyard flocks.”
Information gathered through NCFarmID registration is used solely for animal health purposes. This critical data will provide animal health officials with necessary contact information in case of an animal health concern, and help identify animals and premises that may have been affected.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is also requiring any commercial poultry grower with 200 or more birds to submit a HPAI outbreak plan. A commercial grower would be any grower under contract with an integrated company.
“It’s very important that growers think through the worst-case scenario, because a confirmation of high-path avian flu would certainly be a worst-case scenario,” Meckes said. “We want each grower to consider their resources and location to determine how they can best handle an outbreak in a way that is environmentally sensitive and gets them back online as soon as is feasible.”
An HPAI Outbreak Plan template will be available on the department’s website after Aug. 1. Growers will need to submit the plan to the Veterinary Division no later than Sept. 15. While only commercial growers will be required to submit the plan, all flock owners are encouraged to plan ahead and consider how they would respond to a confirmed positive.
Last month, Meckes and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announced that bird shows and sales would be halted from Aug. 15 to January 15, 2016. The intent is to prevent birds from commingling and spreading the HPAI virus. Individual sales are still allowed to take place.

National Park Visitation Continues to Increase in 2015

Visitation to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is up eight percent through the first six months of 2015. Between January and June over 4.3 million visitors have enjoyed the nation’s most visited national park. In May 2015 alone over 1 million visitors entered the park, the most ever for May since the National Park Service began tracking monthly visitation in 1979.

All major park entrances have seen increases, especially at the Oconaluftee entrance near Cherokee, North Carolina where visitation has increased 26% this year. More visitors in the Smokies, has led to more camping in the park’s frontcountry campgrounds and in the backcountry. Over 100,000 visitors (up 14% over 2014) have camped in one of the park’s nine campgrounds and over 55,000 (up 12% over 2014) have camped in the park’s backcountry so far this year.

“The Smokies continue to be one of the best parks in the country for recreation and relaxation,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “I am proud of the Smokies staff who continue to provide a first class experience to an increasing number of visitors.”

Continued record setting visitation comes on the heels of the park’s busiest year in 14 years. In 2014, 10,099,275 visitors enjoyed the national park, an 8% increase over 2013. The numbers were spurred by strong July and August visitation as well as the highest October visitation in 27 years.

N.C. Hospitals Applaud McCrory’s Mental Health Task Force Plan

Hospital executives know all too well the toll that mental and behavioral health patients can have on their health systems.

These patients can show up in emergency departments – and sometimes stay for days – clogging the rooms and halls of an ED, and in rare cases even becoming dangerous to hospital staff or other patients.

“Community hospitals are the safety net for behavioral health; every three minutes, a North Carolinian experiencing a behavioral health crisis arrives at a hospital emergency department,” according to the N.C. Hospital Association. “Not only are these visits and admissions expensive, but they are not providing the appropriate level of care for the patients.”

That is an average of 186 patients per day. ED visits are expensive – about $1,500 on average.

In 2013, North Carolina hospitals had 162,000 behavioral health emergency department visits and 68,000 admissions. Not only are these visits and admissions expensive, they are not providing the appropriate care for patients, according to NCHA.

Indeed it was the care of mental and behavioral health patients that led to a heated battle between WakeMed Health & Hospitals and Rex Healthcare a few years ago. The UNC Wakebrook facility, only a stone’s throw from the main WakeMed campus, is a result from those discussions.

Advocates for better mental health care lament that these services are chronically underfunded and say that society has largely turned to law enforcement as a solution. In 2010, the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness declared that “Prisons and jails are North Carolina’s new mental hospitals.”

In the fall of 2014, NAMI released a survey asking families and individuals who had a psychiatric emergency to share their experiences from the ER. With more than 1,000 individuals responding, two out of five rated their experience as “Bad” or “Very Bad.”

In an effort to improve care, Gov. Pat McCrory announced intentions to establish a North Carolina Mental Health and Substance Use Task Force, a panel that will make recommendations to improve the lives of those with mental illness and substance use disorders.

“Our goal is to improve collaboration between health care, justice and safety professionals using existing resources,” McCrory said. “If we improve these linkages, we offer the best hand up to those in need – especially our young people.”

The task force has the support from hospitals. “N.C. Hospitals are pleased that Governor McCrory has made mental health and substance use issues a priority in his administration,” according to the NCHA. “We look forward to working collaborative with the task force in developing and implementing workable strategies to address this critical health issue.”

The task force will be co-chaired by N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos, and will include Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, and Rep. Susan Martin, R-Pitt and Wilson, as task force members.

“On a daily basis, courtrooms across our state serve those who struggle with mental health and substance use issues,” Martin said. “My hope is that this task force will, among other things, examine the role and effectiveness of mental health and other specialty courts currently operating in North Carolina.”

The task force will submit findings and strategic recommendations to the governor by May 1, 2016, for improving the lives of North Carolina youth and adults with mental illness and substance use disorders and their families.

Virtual Physical Education Program Arrives in NC

North Carolina’s Virtual Public School will be launching an online high school physical education class this fall. Students in Macon and New Hanover Counties will be the first to test out this option in the fall.

The state’s Department of Public Instruction announced the plan for the pilot program on Tuesday.

The state says students will watch an online video demonstration given by a teacher. Pupils will then be tasked with filming themselves practicing the physical activity or sport.

If successful, the program could expand statewide by the spring of next year.

Highway Patrol Reminds Motorists of the Dangers of Leaving Children in Vehicles

With summer temperatures rising into the upper 90 degree mark this week, the North Carolina State Highway is reminding motorists of the dangers when a child is left unattended in a vehicle.

Every year, 35 to 40 children across the country die from heat exposure in vehicles and July is historically the deadliest month for child fatalities. The temperature inside a vehicle can rise to almost 20 degrees in just 10 minutes and a child’s body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s. Even a few minutes of heat exposure can be dangerous for a child. Sadly, many of these deaths are due to a parent accidentally forgetting that a child is still seated in their vehicle or the parent intentionally leaves a child in a vehicle unattended and in some cases, children crawl into a vehicle unnoticed.

However, these tragedies can be prevented by simply following a few simple safety tips provided by Safe Kids of NC:

Never leave a child alone in a vehicle. Check to make sure all children exit the vehicle when you reach your destination.
Lock the doors when your vehicle is parked. Teach children that cars are not places to play.
Busy parents have a lot on their minds, so give yourself a reminder. Place your purse, briefcase or other important items in the backseat next to your child’s car seat to help you remember to look in the back before leaving the car.
Set a reminder on your cell phone or other mobile device to remind you to drop off children at school or daycare when routines change.
Make an agreement with your child’s school or daycare that you will be notified if your child is not dropped off at the normal time.
If you see a child or pet left unattended in a vehicle, call 911 immediately.
Check vehicles and trunks first if a child goes missing.

Hiking and Waterfall Safety Tips

No preparation is really needed to visit a waterfall if you know where it is. However, for any serious waterfall trek, there are several things to keep in mind to make your trip more productive and enjoyable.

Keep dry – It’s easy to get wet while visiting a waterfall. Be sure to bring a spare pair of shoes and/or socks. If you are really ambitious, you can even bring a change of clothes. Check the list of useful clothing and equipment for more information.
Be safe – Waterfalls are dangerous places. Wet rocks can cause broken bones. Fast currents can cause drownings. High cliffs can…well, you get the point. Check the list of safety tips in order to stay safe as you visit.
Bring your camera – With the changing nature of waterfalls, you never know what you might want to record for all time. There are many photography tips that can help you get memorable records of your trip.
Don’t do to much in one day – If you only have one day to visit waterfalls, don’t rush around trying to get in as many waterfalls as possible. Pick a few and spend your time relaxing near the falls instead of in the car.
Courtesy is next to godliness – Well, maybe not. But remember to be courteous to other waterfall visitors. Most people visit waterfalls for peace and beauty. Swimming, sunbathing, and large groups disrupt that peace and can ruin someone else’s trip. In particular, photographers can go crazy trying to get a shot of a waterfall when people are climbing on or swimming around a waterfall. This is not to say that swimming should not be done. However, be reasonable and aware of others. In addition, smoking ruins the whole “fresh air” bit for many people.

Bring sturdy boots since many waterfall trails are muddy and some require water crossings.
Bring water since it isn’t advisable to drink stream water.
Bring your camera as already noted above.
Bring clothes you don’t mind getting dirty since they WILL get dirty.
Bring food since a waterfall is a perfect place to picnic after a long trip. Make sure to bring your trash back with you, though.
Bring a map or clear directions since there is nothing worse to hiking to waterfall and not being able to find it.
Bring a friend because hiking alone is boring. Well, not always but it is still a good idea from a safety standpoint.

Safety Tips

Be careful when rockhopping because, while fun and sometimes necessary, it’s dangerous and slippery. At the very least, you could get your boots wet.
Don’t climb on the falls unless you are an experienced rock climber. Waterfalls are slippery and the top of a waterfall usually isn’t too special.
Be smart when swimming since cold waters and strong currents can end a life easily. Swimming should only be done in the calm pools below waterfalls and never never NEVER above a waterfall. Stop swimming at the first sign of any problems.
Don’t walk on the ice in the winter unless you are very sure that it is rock solid.
Bring water. Yes, this was under the list of equipment as well, but dehydration is a real danger on long hikes.

Haywood County Meth Bust

On July 15, agents with Haywood County Multi-Agency Drug Task Force, The U.N.I.T., along with the North Carolina S.B.I., executed a search warrant at a residence located at 55 Brookside Drive in Canton.

In March agents with the U.N.I.T. began investigating and gathering evidence on individuals living at this location. Upon execution of the search warrant, an active methamphetamine lab was located on the property.

Three men and one woman were arrested and charged with manufacturing methamphetamines, including Phillip Heath Kent, 46; Melanie Creson, 42; Terry Glance, 38; and Justin Hensley, 35.

U.N.I.T. would like to thank the Center Pigeon Fire Department for their assistance during the execution of the search warrant and seizure of evidence.

Maggie Valley Mayor Remembered

On Tuesday, a memorial service was held to remember Maggie Valley Mayor, Ronald DeSimone.

DeSimone was killed in a tragic construction accident on Friday.

DeSimone was a contractor by trade and on Friday, he was helping build a garage onto a friend’s home when a heavy bundle of plywood fell on him.

The 62-year-old mayor was a New York native and moved to Haywood County in 1999, where he established a construction company.

He won the seat as mayor of Maggie Valley in 2011 and was currently holding that position.

Evergreen Foundation announces half-million grant funding

The Evergreen Foundation board of directors voted at its June meeting to provide funding to seven agencies providing programs and services for individuals with behavioral health, substance use and intellectual/developmental disabilities in Haywood County.

— The Arc of Haywood County: $9,000 to provide continuation and expansion of their community living and supported employment programs serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and $1,000 to support their Arctoberfest fund raising event.

— LifeSpan: $6,260 to provide furnishings and equipment for their sensory room, TEACCH training for staff and parent resource materials to enhance their services for individuals with autism.

— Meridian Behavioral Health: $150,000 to provide continuation funding for the Patient Assistance Program and associated psychiatric services which assists consumers in receiving over $2,000,000 worth of free medications annually; $100,000 to support the merger of Meridian and Jackson/Haywood/Macon Psychological Services; $3,000 for promotional materials to support the National Safety Council program to decrease the use of opiates by substituting a combination of over the counter medications for pain management; $3,500 toward the cost of training for the Sexual Offender Services Team; and $27,000 to provide for the continuation of the jail assessment and treatment programs in Haywood and Jackson Counties.

— Southwestern Child Development Commission: $50,000 to continue the implementation of the Nurse Family Partnership program which provides visiting nurses for first time, high-risk mothers below poverty level in Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.

— Mountain Projects: $23,497 to set up distribution sites for Naloxone kits throughout WNC and provide biohazard boxes for IV drug use needle collection throughout WNC.

— Youth for Christ Outdoor Mission Camp: $2,225 to provide art supplies, recreation equipment, boat rides and horseback riding for the Camp Ability program serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

— Family Resource Center of Cherokee: $20,000 to provide transportation for voluntarily committed consumers from throughout WNC who need to have a plan in place for transportation home after discharge from an inpatient psychiatric hospital; $39,366 to provide for the continuation of an alternative service for consumers with behavioral health and substance abuse, replacing the formerly state funded community support team; and $67,500 to provide funding for the jail assessment and treatment programs in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon, and Swain counties.

Applications from nonprofit organizations are accepted on a rolling basis, with the next award cycle in September. The mission of the Evergreen Foundation is to improve access to and public awareness of quality prevention, treatment, and support services by the provider community to individuals and families with intellectual/developmental disabilities, behavioral health, and/or substance abuse needs in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.

Follow the Famous Dog The Road “Max” Traveled to Bring Hollywood Back to the Mountains

Mountain movie-goers are seeing more familiar scenes on the big screen. The film “Max”, now in theatres, tells the story of a dog helping Marines in Afghanistan. Look closely, and you may notice the backdrop for Max’s new mission in the U.S. is North Carolina.

One setting prominently featured is the DuPont State Forest, a short distance off U.S. 64 near Brevard.
“It’s so beautiful. All the different types of areas, the forest, the waterfalls, all the little cities around,” says hiker Kevin Toshner of Greensboro. “It’s got everything you need for a movie.”

Hollywood plots have also made the forest frightening. DuPont was the site of Katniss Everdeen’s first foray into “The Hunger Games”, which led many to discover the scenery for themselves.

“Many times, when these locations are shown, it’s like a commercial for North Carolina and our beautiful sites,” says Guy Gaster, director of the North Carolina Film Office. “You can certainly see a correlation between visitor attendance figures after productions are shown, like we saw with the forest after “The Hunger Games” and Chimney Rock after “Last of the Mohicans” came out.”

There’s a lot of responsibility making the real world look as good as the digitized Hollywood version. It’s a mission accomplished with the help of the state forest service, and the roadside environmental teams of the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

“We know visitors come to the mountains expecting them to look as pristine as they’ve seen portrayed, and have the area be as nice as their friends and relatives who vacationed here told them it was,” says Richard Queen, NCDOT Division Roadside Environmental Engineer. “We want to exceed their expectations, from beautiful landscaping to litter-free roadsides.”

Roadside environmental crews from NCDOT’s 14 statewide divisions cultivate award winning wildflower beds, maintain everything growing along the roadways, and protect waterways and animal habitats. Their work plays an important part in a making a good first impression to visitors, as well as filmmakers who drive from shoot locations to their hotels and area restaurants.

“Preserving the natural beauty of North Carolina is so very important,” says Division Roadside Environmental Engineer Jason Joyce, whose crew takes care of N.C. 268 near Elkin. A railroad trestle there at the junction of the Yadkin and Mitchell rivers is also seen in “Max”. “You can’t find scenery like this just anywhere. We’re glad it attracts Hollywood and tourists,” adds Joyce, “but it’s also a big reason a lot of folks want to live here. We’re proud to care for it.”

It’s what keeps bringing stars to the state, and audiences to the box office, from “Dirty Dancing” in Lake Lure to “Dawson’s Creek” in Wilmington and locations in between. Those productions also continue to fuel film tourism for fans. The North Carolina Division of Tourism features links for road trips to scenes used in TV and movies. In addition to “Max”, there are links to tours for “Nights in Roadanthe”, “Under the Dome”, and “The Longest Ride”.

However, the famous locales don’t get treated any differently by NCDOT. “We want everywhere to be “camera ready” all the time,” adds Queen.

Property reappraisal is under way in Haywood County

The Haywood County’s County Assessor’s Office has begun the process of reappraising all 50,000 residential, commercial/industrial, vacant land, farm and forest properties in Haywood County for the tax year 2017.

Appraisers will be verifying the physical condition of buildings and any additions or deletions to the property since it was last inspected. Most of these inspections are conducted from the exterior of the property.

North Carolina law requires all counties to reappraise real property at least every eight years. Haywood County’s last reappraisal was done in 2011. Due to market conditions, the 2015 reappraisal was postponed until 2017 since there was not a considerable market change from 2011.

County staff will be gathering data and reviewing the activity in the local markets. Market value is not determined by the tax office but is reflective of the sales activity, building and cost data for the county.

To value 50,000 parcels, the county uses different uniform standards to develop estimates of value to complete a mass appraisal from the standards a single fee property appraiser uses; even though techniques may be similar.

All Haywood County Assessor personnel will be driving marked vehicles and carrying Haywood County identification. The Haywood County Assessor’s office is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached at 452-6654 if you have any questions.

WCU students study controversial shootings, make recommendations

Western Carolina University students not only studied numerous cases this summer in which young African-American men around the country were shot by white police officers, but the students also compiled 11 recommendations that were sent to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and other law enforcement officials and legislative bodies across the country.

The students were part of a special summer school criminal justice course taught by former DeKalb County, Georgia, district attorney and criminal defense attorney J. Tom Morgan. The course was the brainchild of Steve Brown, professor and head of WCU’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The idea stemmed from the shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer – a case that was debated nationally for weeks.

“We want our students to have the opportunity to examine those issues in a thoughtful sort of way as opposed to the highly spirited public debate that injects a lot of other issues that are not necessarily focusing in on the actual workability of different approaches for reform in the justice system,” Brown said.

Morgan said he was initially skeptical as to whether the Ferguson case could provide enough material for an entire summer course. That was until he discovered how many other similar cases there had been across the country.

“It seemed like every time we picked up a paper or turned on the news, there was another fatal shooting,” Morgan said. “We ended up having plenty to talk about all summer, unfortunately.

“It did give a lot of different perspectives that students got to see because many of these were actually on video. It was very eerie seeing people get shot and killed. I’ve been to a lot of autopsies as a district attorney, but I’ve never actually seen anybody gunned down, and we saw it over and over again. And then the students were finding cases that I actually hadn’t even heard about,” he said.

In addition to the Brown shooting, the students reviewed evidence, videos and statements from the deaths of Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York; Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Ohio; Walter Scott of North Charleston, South Carolina; Freddie Gray of Baltimore, Maryland; Cedric Alexander of Chamblee, Georgia; and John Crawford III of Beavercreek, Ohio. The class also examined video from New Richmond, Ohio, where an officer did not fire his weapon, even though it appeared he had legal grounds to do so. They also heard from law enforcement officers from Charlotte.

The class was comprised of African-American and white males and females, all under 30 years of age and hailing from various backgrounds and academic majors, which is what Brown was hoping would occur.

After learning about the law on use of force by law enforcement officers and when lethal force is appropriate, the students examined each case individually and then came up with recommendations on how to decrease the number of fatalities and expand the public’s perception.

The students’ recommendations, titled “Lessons Learned From Ferguson and Other Fatal Encounters With Law Enforcement Officers,” include:

· Having a national protocol that mandates fatalities caused by law enforcement officers be investigated by a special task force comprised of federal- and state-level law enforcement agents and not by fellow officers;

· The jurisdiction for prosecution of these cases should solely be with the U.S. attorney’s office, not the local district attorney;

· Grand juries reviewing fatalities caused by law enforcement officers should consider both evidence of guilt and innocence, and if they decide not to indict, the transcripts should be made available to the public;

· All replicas of real firearms should be required to have a bright orange, easily recognizable band on the end of the muzzle and it should be a crime to erase, remove or paint over the band;

· There should be a national database that keeps track of all fatalities caused by law enforcement officers.

“It was very interesting, from my standpoint, having been in law enforcement both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney, I was fully unaware of how many of these cases were happening,” Morgan said. “I was learning with the students.”

While this particular course will not be offered again, Brown said there may be some variation of it in the future.

“I don’t think this is a flash-pan issue,” he said. “It’s one that will evolve and discussion will continue for a great while. I think we’re at a turning point in terms of how decisions are made to control police discretion.”

State Highway Patrol to Focus Efforts on Seatbelt Use

According to the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it is estimated that approximately 33,000 people are killed due to motor vehicle collisions across the nation. While the effectiveness of seatbelts is rated between 40 to 65 percent, they are the single most effective means of reducing the risk of death in a motor vehicle crash. The use of seat belts and child safety restraints also prevent serious injuries that may occur when motorist find themselves involved in a vehicle collision.

Statewide in 2014, the State Highway Patrol reported 333 fatalities and 2,969 injuries where the occupant was not using a provided seat belt. Through a partnership with the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, the Highway Patrol has identified seven counties that have reflected a high rate of unrestrained fatal collisions. These counties are Columbus, Cumberland, Guilford, Johnston, Mecklenburg, Robeson, and Wake.

Beginning on Monday, July 20th through Friday, July 26th a special enforcement project will be conducted in these counties to increase the use of seat belts by motorists. The use of child safety restraints will also be monitored by troopers throughout this allotted time frame. According to North Carolina state law, motorist must utilize a provided seat belt while occupying the front and rear seats of a motor vehicle. The driver of a motor vehicle must ensure child safety restraints are used if there are occupants within a motor vehicle under the age of 8 or less than 80 pounds.

N.C. General Statute 135.2A – Each occupant of a motor vehicle manufactured with seat belts shall have a seatbelt properly fastened about his or her body at all times when the vehicle is in forward motion on a street or highway in this State.

The current fine for a seat belt violation in the front seat is $25.50 and carries court cost of $135.50 for a total cost of $161.00. The fine for a rear seat violation is $10.00 with no court cost applied.

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