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SBA Backs Almost Half a Billion Dollars to North Carolina Small Businesses in 2014

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs placed almost half a billion dollars into the hands of North Carolina small businesses during fiscal year ended September 30, 2014, guarantying 845 loans for almost $449 million.

During the year, 746 loans were approved through its flagship 7(a) program for almost $383 million. Through SBA’s 504 fixed-asset financing program, Certified Development Companies approved 99 loans for about $66.1 million. That’s down 3.5% in dollars over 2013, when SBA approved 917 loans for over $465 million.

“Almost half a billion dollars in SBA funding enabled small businesses to create jobs and support our state’s economy,” said SBA District Director Lynn Douthett. “Thanks to all of our lending partners who provide the access to capital that help our small businesses grow and succeed.

Wells Fargo was North Carolina’s top 7(a) lender ranked by number of loans, with 160 for almost $48 million. Yadkin Bank landed the number two spot with 69 loans for over $78 million.

Business Expansion Funding Corporation (BEFCOR) was the state’s top certified development company in 504 loans. BEFCOR approved 46 loans for $25.7 million. Self-Help Ventures Fund followed with 32 loans for $19.4 million.

12 Planning Tips for Social Security Benefits

Helping clients plan for Social Security benefits may involve a lot of information gathering and research, but doing so could save them a heap of headaches and a lot of money. Here are 12 planning tips that stand out to me as potential opportunities. These can provide great relief and keep your clients out of the danger zone.

If a person is past their full retirement age (age 66) and is submitting the initial application for Social Security retirement benefits, be sure to claim the allowed six months of retroactive benefits. One important question to consider is if your clients should start full retirement age at age 66 or wait until age 70. Life expectancy data shows that a person who retires at age 66 will live until 86.2, and a person who retires at age 70 will live until he or she is 87. With this in mind, I suggest waiting until age 70 to begin receiving benefits. Keep in mind there is an exception; the break-even point is age 81, so if your family history shows that most members do not live beyond their early 80s, it may not be beneficial to wait.
If you suspended Social Security benefits at or after full retirement age and are on Medicare Part B, pay the premium out of your own pocket. The government will pay your Medicare Part B premium if you have suspended benefits, but then you will not get the eight percent per year delayed retirement credits. Medicare Part B premium increases are limited to the increase in Social Security benefits if you are collecting benefits, but not if you have suspended benefits. You will be subjecting yourself to potentially higher increases in the Medicare Part B premium by suspending benefits between full retirement age and age 70. This applies to singles with less than $85,000 of income and joint filers with less than $170,000 of income. People with incomes greater than those amounts are currently subject to much higher premiums for Medicare Part B.
For single individuals who do not need the income, consider a file-and-suspend strategy that allows one to lock in the larger monthly benefits later and hedge their bets with the ability to reinstate at any point with retroactive benefits. An important risk consideration for any delay in receiving Social Security benefit payments is that after death, Social Security benefits aren’t retroactive. A sudden and untimely death during the delay in receiving Social Security retirement benefits leaves a surviving spouse or estate with no value in hand for the years Social Security was not taken. If this risk of loss of value is a concern, one solution might be to verify life insurance coverage for this amount through age 70.
Be sure you are aware of the benefits related to certain spousal age differences. With the 2014 full retirement age, the file-and-suspend provision is only beneficial with a spousal benefit if the lower earner is older than the high wage earner is or is less than eight years younger than the high wage earner is. The smaller the difference in ages, the bigger the benefit. Assuming the Social Security retirement benefit is not needed, the file-and-suspend option should be used in most situations with a wage earner and a nonworking spouse. It should also often be used when the lower-earning spouse’s lifetime earnings are significantly less than the higher-earning spouse’s.
When working with two high-earning spouses of equal ages who both want to delay benefits to age 70 in order to earn delayed retirement credits, your best bet is to help them decide which spouse should claim the spousal benefit at full retirement age. Because no couple will be the exact same age and have the exact same primary insurance amount, the answer will be different for each couple.
Applying for Social Security benefits relating to marital status (retirement, survivor and disability) for same-sex married couples is important, regardless of meeting the current requirements. If you have clients who are ultimately found to be eligible, they can possibly get benefits retroactive to the filing date.
Members of same-sex marriages should carefully consider the effect their choice of state of domicile (residence) will have on their Social Security benefits. This refers to the residence they lived in at the time of application or while the claim is pending a final determination. After the claim is approved, the state of residence does not matter.
For the self-employed husband and wife who work together, who are beginning to collect Social Security: this would be the time to shift income to the younger spouse and have the initial enrollee lower their wages to the maximum allowable at age 62 to avoid a payback. That allows the household to enjoy the highest possible benefit for the first four years in which either spouse is eligible.
Remind your clients and their parents who are widow(er)s to evaluate whether they should begin to collect Social Security at age 60 as a survivors benefit. The Social Security Administration will not notify them of their eligibility for survivors benefits.
Be aware: There may be some confusion on the repay and reapply option. Prior to Dec. 8, 2010, there was no 12-month or once-in-a-lifetime restriction, and many media articles promoted this option as an interest-free loan. Although it is still a valuable tool, it is important to be aware of the limitations in advance so clients who would benefit from it can do so within the time limits.
Verify the type of Social Security benefit your client is planning on receiving. For example, the government pension offset only applies to the government employee who receives survivor or widow(er) benefits, not the worker’s benefit.
If the government worker had a previous earnings record that qualified them for Social Security, their Social Security benefit would not be subject to the government pension offset.
If the government worker dies and the spouse receives a survivors benefit from the government pension, then the government pension offset does not apply.
When speaking with clients, clarify the federal plan from which they will receive benefits. The government pension offset only applies to federal government employees under the Civil Service Retirement System because they are not a part of the Social Security system. In 1984, the current plan, known as the Federal Employee Retirement System, was created. Employees covered under this plan do contribute to Social Security and Medicare and are not subject to the government pension offset; they would receive both their full pension and full Social Security benefit.
Bonus Tips for Clients Who Have Gone or Are Going Through a Divorce:

Remember that the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years for an ex-spouse to collect benefits. If you are advising a soon-to-be-divorced lower earner whose marriage is in its ninth year, you might advise him or her to wait a bit longer with this timeline in mind.
In order to maintain as many Social Security options as possible, a 50-something client who has been in a long marriage may want to wait until after age 60 to remarry.
For more tips, commonly asked client questions and advisor solutions and in-depth information on advising your clients in this area, reference The CPA’s Guide to Social Security Planning from the AICPA Personal Financial Planning Section. Download a free excerpt on the AICPA PFP Section’s retirement resources page. The agenda for the 2015 AICPA Advanced PFP Conference in January includes sessions on Social Security planning and other advanced retirement and personal financial planning topics.

Theodore J. Sarenski, CPA/PFS, CFP®, AEP, CEP, President, Blue Ocean Strategic Capital, Inc. Ted’s firm delivers customized service for individuals, retirement plans, non-profit organizations, endowments and foundations. He is the author of The CPA’s Guide to Social Security Planning and will be speaking on the “Nuances of Social Security” at the 2015 AICPA Advanced PFP Conference.

– See more at: http://blog.aicpa.org/2014/11/12-planning-tips-for-social-security-benefits.html#sthash.X4QkWxj9.78zRyk56.dpuf

Governor McCrory Advocates for Oil and Gas Development in Mid-Atlantic

Governor Pat McCrory, chairman of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, reiterated his support for Outer Continental Shelf energy development today at a workshop in downtown Raleigh’s Nature Research Center.

“Exploring the potential oil and gas reserves located in the Outer Continental Shelf will solidify North Carolina’s position as an energy leader and drive us to energy independence,” Governor McCrory said. “Our power generation is becoming more dependent on natural gas as a fuel source. Increasing availability of natural gas will strengthen our economy and contribute to economic prosperity for decades to come.”

The governor took part in a Q&A session, which was open to the media, on the topic with Dr. Donald van der Vaart, energy policy adviser and deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Department Secretary John Skvarla also took part in the program.

During the Q&A, Governor McCrory stressed that both environmental protections and revenue sharing are necessary for production to take place.

“The largest employment impact of Atlantic OCS oil and natural gas activity is projected in the Mid-Atlantic States of North and South Carolina and Virginia,” the governor continued.

Governor McCrory cited information from the Quest Offshore Resources that points toward dramatic economic benefits from OCS gas and oil development for the state. The impact to North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia combined by 2035 would be 116,000 jobs, $56 billion in cumulative spending, $9 billion annually and $9.5 billion from revenue sharing. The numbers are based off of previous estimates of offshore resources. BOEM recently increased estimates for the Mid-Atlantic.

Van der Vaart and Governor McCrory discussed revenue sharing in depth, mentioning the need to split revenue between the federal government, the state and coastal communities.

Addressing the need for environmental precautions, the governor noted that responsible resource development is in everyone’s best interest. He acknowledged there are risks associated with any type of economic and energy development and that a significant amount of investment would be needed to provide the support facilities and processing capacity required for development and production.

The Q&A session also covered the governor’s role as chairman of the Offshore Continental Shelf Governors Coalition; continued efforts to pass equitable revenue sharing legislation in Congress; and the development of a responsible “Five Year Program” that includes lease sales in all unleased areas that have state support, including the mid-Atlantic planning area, the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea planning areas (Alaska) and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Winter Safety for Wood Burning Stoves and Fireplaces

With the arrival of cold weather, many North Carolinians are beginning to use their wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. The N.C. Forest Service reminds stove users to never dump hot ashes or coals into a wooded area. If you do, you’re risking not only your home, but your neighbor’s as well.
In Mitchell County recently, an eight-acre fire on Humpback Mountain damaged two homes. The suspected cause of the blaze was stove or fireplace ashes that had been dumped outside a residence.
The simple solution to preventing this type of fire is to properly dispose of stove ashes. Soak them in water in a metal bucket, stir them about, or only put them in an area where the wind won’t cause them to spread to combustible fuel such as leaves, pine needles, or other forest litter.

North Carolina Leading Country in Reduction of Uninsured Children

North Carolina ranks second in the country when it comes to the reduction of uninsured children. That’s according to a report released today by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. As of 2013, the number of uninsured children in the state stands at a little more than 144,000- about 30,000 fewer than 2011.

Michelle Hughes with NC Child says having insurance improves the overall well-being of a child, “We know that healthy children perform better in school. What is really good news for North Carolina is that we are insuring more children in our state, and so that means we have healthier children who are going to do better as adults.”

The report does indicate that families living on the “brink” of poverty have the highest rate of uninsurance, and nationwide, 5.2 million children lack insurance. Although some states like North Carolina are making progress, in many states, progress appears to have stalled. Hughes says one reason may be that states have been focused instead on getting more adults covered through the Affordable Care Act.

In the last five years, nationwide, the number of uninsured children declined by one-point-seven million – thanks in part to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Next year, Congress will be voting on funding for CHIP and Joan Alker with the Georgetown Center for Children and Families says a lot is riding on the outcome of that debate, “Right now, we have just over 5,000,000 children who are uninsured in the United States. If Congress doesn’t fund that program, that number could swell to over seven-million. So, that’s a very critical decision.”

Hughes points out that research indicates healthier parents improve the lives of their children, which is why – she says – it’s important North Carolina lawmakers choose to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, “Governor McCrory and North Carolina state lawmakers really should expand Medicaid coverage to low-income parents, which will result in healthier families and healthier children.”

According to the NC Institute of Medicine, 500,000 North Carolinians would be covered if lawmakers chose to expand Medicaid.

Number of People with Diabetes in North Carolina has Doubled

The arrival of November means it’s American Diabetes Month. It comes as the prevalence of the disease continues to rise across North Carolina and the nation.

David Becker with the American Diabetes Association says the latest numbers show 29,000,000 Americans with diabetes, and the toll on health can be great, including kidney failure, blindness, amputations and more, “There are a lot of co-morbid diseases as far as diabetes and cancer and heart disease. It all kind of is interrelating.”

Becker says about 95% of those people who have diabetes have Type 2, which healthier lifestyle choices with nutrition and physical activity can help prevent. According to the National Institutes of Health, the rate of diagnosed diabetes cases in North Carolina has nearly doubled to more than 650,000. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the state.

Becker notes that even some simple, small changes with healthy eating and regular exercise can yield big results, “If you lose just seven-percent of your body weight, you can decrease your chances of getting diabetes by 58%.”

If the current trends don’t change, it’s estimated that by 2050, 30% of all Americans will have diabetes.

Education Superhighway? NC Approves Virtual Charter Schools

Starting next year, North Carolina’s charter schools will expand beyond the four walls of a classroom. State lawmakers approved a pilot program in this year’s budget that requires the state Board of Education to approve two statewide virtual charter schools – making the companies eligible for millions in public education dollars.

Yevonne Brannon with Public Schools First NC is concerned about the quality of education that state tax dollars will fund, “It’s something to really be concerned about because we’re taking tax dollars earmarked for public schools, and we’re putting them into a charter. It’s totally online. We have no way to judge its quality or judge the impact on the actual student learning.”

K-12 Incorporated and Connections Academy – the nation’s two largest online education companies – have applied for online charter school status. The schools would receive approximately nine-thousand dollars per student. Supporters of the charter programs say it will offer the state’s students more choices. The program is separate from the North Carolina Virtual Public School – currently run by the state, that offers online classes to students.

Neighboring Tennessee opened a K-12 Incorporated school four years ago but may shut the school down at the end of this year, citing three years of low test scores. Brannon says “We’re going to be pouring more students, more money away from the public schools.”

If approved, as many as three-thousand students could be enrolled in the two schools combined by the end of next year.

Voter Suppression? There’s an App for That

Early voting in North Carolina is well underway. On Election Day thousands will wait until the last minute, and there will be trained election monitors at polling stations to make sure people are given every legal opportunity to vote. This year many will be armed with a mobile application – or app – to record in real time any voting irregularities across the state.

“Election Collection” is the brain child of Sarah Moncelle with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, “Here at the office on Election Day, as the volunteers are inputting the reports, they get updated in real time to the database and also to the map so we can sort of see spatially where the patterns are. ”

Tag: Data collected from the app will be used to determine if additional staff or volunteers should be sent to particular polling locations, and also shared with groups who are monitoring the effects of North Carolina’s new voting law. More information on the midterm election can be found at NCVOTERGUIDE.ORG

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice worked with several partner groups to train volunteers on using the app. It will enable them to collect personalized accounts of issues at the polls, as well as any examples of voter suppression. Moncelle says it’s another tool for voters, in addition to the voting hotlines that are available, “The hotlines are a way for people to report what’s happening, find out their rights, find out their polling location. This app is more for like specifically documenting so that we have a more detailed documentation we can use to show the negative effects.”

On Election Day, because of North Carolina’s new voting law, there is no same-day registration and you must vote at your assigned precinct since no provisional ballots will be offered for out-of-precinct voting. You are not required to have a state issued photo ID.

Numbers Show Solid Turn Out in Early Voting

Early voting is off to a good start in North Carolina. Close to 300,000 people have taken advantage of early voting since the polls opened on Thursday. It’s closing in on the ten day total of early voters in the 2010 midterm. The voting period is shorter this year, but more one stop voting sites are available with extended hours.

The total number of ballots cast so far including absentee and military ballot pushes the number of votes so far to almost 400,000. This year more than 360 early voting sites are offered across the state, the most sites ever offered. Early voting ends on Nov. 1.

Federal Appeals Court to Hear Arguments on North Carolina Forced Ultrasound Law

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hear oral arguments on Wednesday over a 2011 North Carolina law that would have required abortion providers to show a woman an ultrasound and describe the images in detail four hours before performing an abortion, even if the woman objects. A federal court struck down key provisions of the law in January; the state is now appealing that ruling.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed the law requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and place the image in the woman’s line of sight in July 2011 over the veto of then-Governor Bev Perdue. Under the law, the provider would be required to describe the embryo or fetus in detail and offer the woman the opportunity to hear the “fetal heart tone.” While the law would allow the woman to avert her eyes and “refuse to hear,” the provider would still be required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail. The measure would make no exceptions for women under any circumstances, including cases of rape, incest, or those who receive a tragic diagnosis during pregnancy.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a constitutional challenge to the law in September 2011, arguing that it violated the rights of health care providers and women seeking abortion care.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles blocked key provisions of the law from going into effect in October 2011. In January 2014, Judge Eagles struck down the law, ruling that it was an unconstitutional violation of doctors’ free speech rights.

Upside of Affordable Care Act: Health Care Costs Down

Not long ago, the airwaves were filled with predictions that health-care reform would be a disaster for taxpayers and consumers. That hasn’t happened. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – will cut the federal budget deficit by a hundred billion dollars. That despite adding health coverage for about ten million people, by federal estimates.

Paul Van de Water at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the reform has been able to do this because it’s had real success at one of its key goals – holding down the cost of health care, “The growth of health-care costs has been at close to historic lows, both in the public programs – that is Medicare and Medicaid – as well as the private sector.”

Tag: Some critics still argue that health-care reform will be a disaster, but that position is not getting a lot of support from the data. Other critics have simply fallen silent. Up until now, North Carolina has opted out of billions in federal funding to extend Medicaid to more than 300,000 low-income North Carolinians, but more than 200,000 of the state’s residents signed up for a health plan through the Affordable Care Act.

The overall federal deficit has dropped dramatically. It’s now projected to total nearly 5 trillion dollars less by 2020 than was expected just four years ago. And maybe more importantly, Van de Water says the ACA is improving the health of the vital Medicare program, which is threatened by an influx of millions of baby boomers, “Medicare will continue to need adjustments, but it’s clear that health reform has made Medicare’s prospects better, not worse.”

Another prediction that hasn’t come true yet is that premiums would skyrocket. Van de Water says the huge variation in the cost of insurance makes it difficult to describe a simple pattern. But he says it looks like slowing the rise in health-care costs has helped keep the price of premiums in line – especially in the new insurance exchanges, “Premiums in the health-insurance exchanges have turned out to be lower than what the congressional office was originally projecting. Now premiums are still going up, but it’s likely that they’re going up by less than what would have otherwise been the case.”

Early Voting Starts Today: High Turnout Expected at Polls

Jackson County Board of Elections is open for voters today. Photo by Heather L Hyatt

Jackson County Board of Elections is open for voters today. Photo by Heather L Hyatt

It’s a sprint and not a marathon for North Carolina voters this election season. Early voting starts today and runs until November 1st – seven days shorter than in previous years. Boards of Elections are ready for the high turnout expected – as voters try to make sure their vote counts in this midterm election, where several high-profile offices are at stake.

Trena Parker, director of elections in Buncombe County says her staff is ready, “It will just be more condensed. The State Board of Elections has been preparing all of the counties accordingly. We feel like we’re ready. We trained the workers.”

Every county offers Saturday early voting, and some offer Sunday voting. More information on voting and the candidates is available at ncvoterguide.org. Unlike Election Day on November 4th, you can vote at any precinct location in your county for early voting. You are not required to have a photo ID for this election.

Brent Laurenz with the North Carolina Center for Voter Education encourages people to vote early because you can’t always predict what might happen with your schedule on Election Day. He adds the hotly contested US Senate race may increase crowds at the polls, “The U.S. Senate race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis is drawing a lot of attention. I think that’s going to attract a lot of voters, probably more so than maybe last midterm election in 2010.”

Parker says polling locations will have extra staff to accommodate crowds, but it’s also important for voters to come prepared – with some knowledge of the races, “Voters should try to treat voting just as they would a doctor’s appointment. You need to prepare for ‘OK, where it is I go? What do I need to know before I go?’ A little bit more preparation this time might be to their benefit.”

Unlike prior years, there is no straight-party voting on the ballot, so voters must select each candidate choice for each race, even if they are voting party line. If you wait until Election Day, it’s important to verify your precinct location, since because of the new state voting Law, no provisional ballots will be accepted

NCDMV, NCSBOE Partner to Validate Voter Registration Applications in Advance of Election

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles is supporting the N.C. State Board of Elections in its efforts to confirm the validity of voter registration applications. NCDMV is using the U.S. Department of Homeland Security database to assist in this proactive process.

“This is an example of the continued partnership between NCDMV and the State Board of Elections,” said NCDMV Commissioner Kelly Thomas. “Through this team approach, we will do all we can to help the Board of Elections ensure the security and accuracy of voter registration applications.”

Through the research to date, NCDMV has found that 11 people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issuances were also registered to vote through NCDMV.

Three of those people were registered in error and SBOE is working to remove them from voter registration rolls. The remaining eight people were registered to vote through NCDMV prior to March 2013 when DACA went into effect and were already registered voters when they received their DACA issuance. As of Oct.18, NCDMV had 15,250 total DACA records in its database. The State BOE has the responsibility to remove any ineligible individuals from voter rolls.

NCDMV will continue to cross-check and verify the database to reinforce this data process moving forward. NCDMV information is provided to SBOE in an effort to ensure that only valid voters are allowed to cast ballots. SBOE currently receives an update of the NCDMV database weekly.

“We appreciate the continued partnership with NCDMV and we will continue to working through this process as quickly as possible to ensure the integrity of the election for all North Carolina voters,” said Kim Strach, SBOE executive director.

The Airwaves: For Public TV or Internet Interests?

gr-42407-1-1As the song goes, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Will wireless kill some free public TV? That’s the latest media question. The FCC is holding an auction in which wireless companies such as Verizon and A-T-and-T will bid on parts of the nation’s airwaves currently being used by television stations. It’s called a spectrum auction.

Todd O’Boyle of Common Cause says there are billions at stake, “On the one hand, the broadcasters are looking at a big payday, potentially. And on the other hand, the cellular folks are looking at making lots of money building next-generation networks.”

But some observers are concerned that, given the incentive to sell spectrum, the owners of some public television stations that serve diverse communities in many cities will give in. Minority voices would be muffled and the T-V industry, virtually bereft of any minority ownership to begin with, would be further “mainstreamed.”

Public broadcasting advocate John Schwartz, director and founder of the Voqal companies, says the government doesn’t seem sympathetic to pleas on behalf of public TV, “The FCC is strongly influenced not only by the lobbying power of the big carriers – because obviously that’s massive – but also out of the concern that the most important and most valuable use of spectrum now is for wireless broadband and not for broadcast.”

According to one estimate, the auction could generate 45 billion dollars, and another forecast says nearly 35-hundred low-power television stations could be affected by the spectrum changes. The government also intends to use some of the money raised to build a next-generation public safety communications system. The auction is set to start on the 13th of next month.

Time to Escape a Home Fire? 2 Minutes, Says Red Cross

 In addition to checking the batteries in your smoke detectors, the American Red Cross recommends going over your home escape plan in the event of a fire. Photo credit: S. Carson.

In addition to checking the batteries in your smoke detectors, the American Red Cross recommends going over your home escape plan in the event of a fire. Photo credit: S. Carson.

More than 2,300 people die nationwide and another nearly 13,000 are injured in home fires. This month, the American Red Cross is kicking off a national campaign to reduce deaths and injuries from house fires by as much as 25% over the next five years.

While installing smoke detectors and changing their batteries is an important part of fire safety, the group’s Anne Marie Borrego says your family’s escape plan is just as important, “I would say if there’s one thing that you can do today it’s to go home and really practice that escape plan. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to sit down and talk with your family and actually see how long it’s going to take you to get out of your home.”

A recent Red Cross survey found that people believe they have more time than they do to escape a burning home. Fire experts estimate people have as little as two minutes to escape, while 62% of respondents believe they have at least five minutes.

According to the survey, nearly seven in 10 parents believed their children knew what to do if their house caught on fire, but less than one in five families with children have practiced home fire drills and less than half of them have talked with their children about fire safety.

Borrego says fire safety is a conversation worth having with your kids, “My advice would be to do it in a very matter-of-fact manner. It’s important to talk with them about the need to prepare just in case and to reassure them that mom and dad are doing this just so everyone stays safe.”

The National Fire Protection Association recommends smoke alarms installed inside of every bedroom and on every level of your home.

Farmland Preservation workshops to be held across the state

The N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund will hold six workshops across the state for those interested in protecting local agricultural lands. The ADFP Trust Fund will be collaborating with the state USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service staff to host these workshops.

The Farmland Preservation workshops target non-profit conservation organizations and county agencies. Farmers, landowners and others interested in the preservation of working lands are also encouraged to attend. The workshops are highly recommended for all past, present or potential recipients of federal and/or state grants associated with farmland preservation. The workshops are free and open to the public.
Workshops will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the following dates:

Oct. 28 – Haywood County Center, 589 Raccoon Road, Waynesville;
Oct. 29 – Catawba County Center, 1175 S. Brady Ave., Newton;
Nov. 5 – Guilford County Center, 3309 Burlington Road, Greensboro;
Nov. 6 – Richmond County Center, 123 Caroline St., Rockingham;
Nov. 12 – Sen. Bob Martin Eastern Agricultural Center, 2900 N.C. Highway 125 South, Williamston;
Nov. 13 – Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center, University of Mount Olive, 652 R.B. Butler Drive, Mount Olive;
For more information and to register, go to www.ncadfp.org/FarmlandPreservationWorkshops.htm.

October 16th Earthquake Preparedness Day

Governor Pat McCrory has proclaimed October 16 as Earthquake Preparedness Day and is encouraging North Carolina families, business and schools to practice how to protect themselves in an earthquake by using three simple steps: drop, cover and hold.
An estimated 100 million people felt the earthquake in Mineral, Virginia on August 23, 2011 that damaged homes and buildings in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

If you feel shaking, emergency management and earthquake officials recommended that you:

• Drop to the ground

• Take cover under a sturdy desk or table

• Hold on to the desk until the shaking stops.

• If there is no table or desk nearby, crouch in an inside corner of a building and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.

• Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, bookshelves, lamps, TVs, cabinets and other objects as much as possible. Such items may fall and cause injuries.

Do not get in a doorway. It is not safe and does not protect you from falling or flying objects.

Do not run outside. Running in an earthquake is dangerous. The ground is moving making it easy to fall or be injured by falling structures, trees, debris or glass. If you are outside during an earthquake, move to a clear area that is away from trees, signs, buildings or downed electrical lines.

McCrory encouraged North Carolinians to join the other Southeastern states and Washington, D.C., in the third Great SouthEast ShakeOut earthquake exercise, scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 16 at 10:16 a.m.

Families, businesses and schools can register their participation at www.shakeout.org/southeast. Participants will be notified of events in their area and receive regular information on how to plan their drill and become better prepared for earthquakes and other disasters.

More earthquake preparedness tips can be found online at www.ReadyNC.org. North Carolinians can also download the free ReadyNC mobile app – available for both iPhone and Droid devices – that provides real-time weather and traffic alerts plus readiness tips for a variety of emergencies.

State Health Officials Preparing for Ebola In NC

Aldona Wos leads the Department of Health and Human Services

Aldona Wos leads the Department of Health and Human Services

Secretary Aldona Wos said that the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Division of Public Health has been working closely with its public health partners and health care providers since July to prepare for the possibility that a patient in North Carolina might be diagnosed with Ebola. Over the past few months, extensive guidance has been sent to health care providers and procedures have been put in place to routinely screen and evaluate patients.

“North Carolina’s health care community is ready to identify and respond to a case of Ebola,” said Secretary Aldona Wos, M.D. “If a case were to occur in North Carolina, state and local health officials would rapidly identify everyone who was potentially exposed and take immediate measures to prevent further spread. Our public health professionals have extensive training and experience with this type of investigation and response.”

Public health officials are actively monitoring for cases using a variety of methods, including surveillance of emergency department visits and collaborating with a network of hospital-based Public Health Epidemiologists. DHHS’ State Laboratory of Public Health also has successfully established the capability to rapidly detect Ebola infection using procedures and materials provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Additionally, public health officials and DHHS’ Office of Emergency Medical Services have provided assistance to local EMS agencies with triage and treatment protocols for any potential Ebola patients.

“North Carolina has a strong health care system and a multi-faceted public health infrastructure,” added Dr. Wos. “I am confident in the measures in place and the strength of our system. The keys are for all health care providers to take full travel histories from their patients and for good infection control practices to be strictly applied.”

Ebola is only contagious after the onset of symptoms. The incubation period before symptoms may appear is 2-21 days, with 8-10 days being the most common. Ebola is spread through unprotected contact with blood or body fluids from someone who is infected. Anyone who becomes ill within 21 days after traveling to an affected area in West Africa should contact a healthcare provider right away and limit their contact with others until they have been evaluated.

In addition to the current Ebola virus preparedness response, DHHS’ Division of Public Health tracks and responds to cases and outbreaks due to other infections, including food-borne, vector-borne and respiratory diseases.

No Guns at NC State Fair Rules Judge

NC_State_Fair-520x300If you’re planning to go to the state fair in Raleigh, leave your guns at home. A judge ruled Monday that concealed handguns will not be allowed at the North Carolina State Fair, a decision that disappointed gun-rights advocates who asked for the ban to be overturned.

Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said he believed “it would be unwise and imprudent to allow firearms into the State Fair.”
An attorney for the state argued that people just want to go to the fair, eat a fried Twinkie and enjoy the rides. The attorney warned that people often lose items while on rides.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as it has in previous years, said it plans to put up signs warning against lawful conceal carry at the 11-day event and will ask anyone with a weapon going through metal detectors at fair gates to leave it in their vehicle.

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler says he made the decision based on what he says is a vague 2013 law prohibiting people from carrying guns at events where admission is charged.

Gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina says there is nothing in the law that requires Troxler to prohibit guns. The group said it believes the commissioner is choosing to keep permit-holders from protecting their families.

Fair officials said they heard from dozens of people who said they wouldn’t attend the fair if concealed weapons were allowed. Troxler says the policy has nothing to do with being against guns or the Second Amendment but that it is about concerns of accidental discharge.

NC Drivers Beware of Deer

The arrival of the fall season not only means dropping temperatures and leaves, but also an increase in the chances of a collision with a deer across North Carolina. Between 2011 and 2013, nearly half of the more than 61,000 animal-related crashes took place in October through December. About 90 percent of those involved deer.

A N.C. Department of Transportation study shows that in 2013, there were 20,308 animal-related crashes, a slight increase over the 2012 figure, but still well below the numbers reported in 2010 and 2011.

Over the past three years, animal-related crashes claimed 18 lives, injured more than 3,400 drivers and passengers, and caused more than $149 million in damages.

Counties in the far western section of the state, where there are considerably fewer drivers and road mileage, once again reported the lowest number of crashes. Swain County had the fewest number of animal-related crashes with 5, falling just below Graham (9) and Jackson (11) counties.