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NC Schools: Are they making the grade?

All public schools in North Carolina got letter grades from A-F from the State Board of Education Thursday.

Eighty percent of the grades are based on how students performed on standardized tests. Twenty percent of the grades are tied to how much academic growth students showed while enrolled at the school.
About 29 percent of schools got a “D” or “F”. All schools assigned those grades must send a letter to parents informing them.

The statistics show traditional public schools both fail less and shine less than public charter schools. They also show that schools where a majority of students fall below the poverty line overwhelmingly got Ds and Fs.

State education officials said another way to look at the numbers is over two-thirds of schools got a C or better.
On Average Jackson County schools saw a C average with a few exceptions. Jackson Early College received an A while Mountain Discovery saw a B grade.

— Blue Ridge Early College: D.
— Cullowhee Valley School: C.
— Fairview Elementary: C.
— Blue Ridge School: D.
— Scotts Creek Elementary: C.
— Smokey Mountain Elementary: D.
— Smoky Mountain High: C.
— Summit: C

New regional care center will provide mental health, addiction treatment

A Buncombe County community partnership has succeeded in securing just under $2 million in grant funding from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to open a new 24-hour urgent care center and crisis facility for mental health and addiction treatment in Asheville.

The funding was awarded through the department’s Crisis Solutions Initiative, a statewide effort to improve mental health and substance use crisis services. Smoky Mountain LME/MCO (Smoky), which manages public funds for behavioral health and developmental disability services in western North Carolina, led a collaborative effort involving 22 area organizations to develop the new center.

The regional comprehensive care center is set to open later this year adjacent to Mission Hospital at 356 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, a facility currently occupied by Smoky. Smoky is relocating this spring to south Asheville.

Buncombe County owns the facility and has dedicated it for behavioral health functions. Mission Health and the county are partnering to provide a financial commitment for renovations, and Buncombe County Health and Human Services will provide in-kind operational support of $500,000 annually, which includes the cost of space, utilities and a 24-hour-a-day, on-site law enforcement officer.

“This comprehensive care center will operate under a philosophy that recovery from addiction or mental illness is not only possible, it happens,” said Smoky CEO Brian Ingraham. “Staff will offer crisis resolution, support, safety and real options for recovery. The co-location of multiple services at one site reflects a vision of community partners to provide ‘whole person’ care to people in need of medical, clinical and pharmacy services.”

In recent years, Buncombe and surrounding counties have seen unprecedented demand for behavioral health crisis services, stretching local hospital capacity. Many people in crisis feel they have no option except to visit an emergency department, which is not an ideal setting for this type of care to be delivered.

The center will serve both children and adults from Buncombe and surrounding counties and operate 16 beds for people in crisis and who need a secure place to stay while they receive therapy and medication.

The center will offer urgent behavioral healthcare and detox services, mobile crisis care, same-day assessments, outpatient therapy and intensive outpatient treatment for substance use. It will also house community and peer support and treatment teams. The center will also include a community pharmacy.

The center’s multi-disciplinary staff will include physicians, licensed clinicians, registered nurses, qualified professionals and security staff.

Certified peer support specialists will work with individuals receiving care at the center to offer hope and support, build trusting relationships and connect people to aftercare and community resources.

The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will offer on-site family support services.

RHA Health Services, Inc., a local service provider, will operate the facility, and the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry will provide pharmacy services. The Asheville Police Department and Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office will provide security, transportation and custody services for individuals under an involuntary commitment order.

One of the most exciting aspects of the development of the regional center is the ability to repurpose the Neil Dobbins Center across the street. Currently, the Neil Dobbins Center is an adult crisis stabilization and detox facility. As these programs move to the new regional comprehensive care center, the Neil Dobbins Center will be used as a facility-based crisis center for children and youth.

The DHHS Crisis Solutions Initiative aims to ensure that people experiencing an acute mental health or substance use crisis receive timely, specialized psychiatric treatment in coordination with available, appropriate community resources.

Each year, there are an estimated 150,000 visits to emergency departments in North Carolina related to an acute psychiatric or addictive disorder crisis, and 13 percent of individuals with a mental health crisis treated in an emergency department will return within 30 days, according to DHHS.

Spring enrollment tops 9,800 for first time in WCU history

Thanks to an increase in the percentage of first-time freshmen returning after their initial fall semester of study, total spring enrollment at Western Carolina University has topped 9,800 for the first time in university history.

The spring enrollment high-water mark comes after WCU set another fall enrollment record in September, with 10,382 students on the roll, a 2.7 percent jump in the total student population over the previous fall’s tally.

Preliminary census data compiled by the university’s Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness indicates that enrollment for the 2015 spring semester stands at 9,814. That figure represents a 1.7 percent increase over last spring’s enrollment of 9,650, said Tim Metz, assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness.

Spring enrollment numbers at institutions of higher education typically are lower than fall enrollment as some students do not return for a second semester for reasons that range from academic to personal, Metz said.

The increase in spring enrollment is driven, at least in part, by a higher percentage of first-semester freshmen who returned to campus in the spring for a second semester, Metz said. This year’s fall-to-spring freshman retention rate is 92.4 percent, up from the spring 2014 rate of 90 percent.

University officials point to ongoing efforts to increase the number of students who remain at WCU beyond the freshman year as a factor in recent improvements in retention rates, which also are boosting total enrollment. Higher fall-to-spring rates of retention for freshmen typically also indicate that a larger percentage of students will return for their second year of study.

Although the university’s official census day comes after the 10th class day of the semester, enrollment numbers are considered preliminary until they have been submitted to the University of North Carolina General Administration.

Park seeks NC ‘Citizen Science’ volunteers

Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are seeking volunteers to help with an important research project. In an effort to do a better job of tracking nature’s calendar, or phenology, park rangers are recruiting volunteers who are willing to adopt a tree-monitoring plot in areas throughout the North Carolina side of the park.

A tree phenology monitoring training will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday March 7, at the Oconaluftee administration building in Cherokee. After training, volunteers will be assigned to a phenology plot for which they will collect data multiple times throughout the growing season.

Plots up for “adoption” are located near parking areas in the Deep Creek, Fontana, Oconaluftee, Purchase Knob, Cataloochee, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap and Davenport Gap regions of the park.

Information collected by volunteers will go into a national database that helps answer questions such as “was spring early this year?” or “when will the fall colors peak?” Monitoring phenology will help park rangers to understand how earlier springs and cold snaps impact our mountain forests.

Those interested in signing up for the training are asked to contact

Leah Nagel, Citizen Science assistant, at Leah_Nagel@partner.nps.gov or 497-1945

Sheriff’s Office Seeks Help Locating Suspects

Recently the Sheriff’s Office requested assistance from the public in regards to several breaking and enterings and larcenies in the Qualla/Whittier communities of Jackson County. The Sheriff’s Office has obtained arrest warrants for suspects in some of these break ins. Tara Renee Pheasant, aka Tara McCoy, DOB 08/24/1976, and Frank Joseph McCoy, DOB 08/27/1993, have not been located at the time of this release, but the Sheriff’s office is asking for anyone with information about the suspect’s whereabouts to contact our crime stoppers at 828-631-1125 or crimestoppers@jacksonnc.org Frank is the son of Tara Pheasant and both have been charged in Haywood County on similar charges and are out on bond.

Tuscola Mourns Loss of a Classmate

celesteperezTuscola High School students are mourning the loss of a classmate who was killed in a fatal crash Sunday night in Candler. Troopers say it happened around 7PM Sunday evening on Dogwood Road near the I-40 overpass.

They say the driver lost control on a curve and hit a tree. Celeste Perez, 17, formerly of Waynesville was riding in the front passenger seat and died in the wreck.

According to North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper Kelly Rhodes, Perez was a passenger in a car driven by 16-year-old Lori Messer, of Clyde.
Perez was taken to Mission Health, along with Messer and male passenger Eddie Mathis, 16, of Canton, where she was later pronounced dead. All three were not wearing their seat belts, Rhodes said.

They are continuing to investigate. No charges have been filed.

Developer sought for medical office building project at WCU

The Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund of Western Carolina University has issued a request for qualifications for a project to develop a medical office building to be constructed near the university’s Health and Human Sciences Building.

The building will be the first privately developed structure to be built on WCU’s 344-acre West Campus as part of the university’s Millennial Initiative.

Expected to encompass at least 30,000 square feet of space, the building will become home to a mix of office space for health care professionals, along with space for health-related businesses, said Tony Johnson, executive director for the Millennial Initiative.

“We envision this building as a hub of collaboration, where WCU faculty and students will work alongside health care professionals,” Johnson said. “The health care practitioners who locate there will help meet the medical needs of the people of the region, and simultaneously will provide hands-on learning experiences for our students and opportunities for professional practice and research for our faculty.”

The request for qualifications is the initial step in the process of selecting a full-service developer to design, finance, construct and manage a medical office building or similar specialty medical center. Selection of the developer is expected to take place in June, with construction to begin as early as January 2016 and occupancy of the building in early 2017.

The medical office building is anticipated to be the first of five phases of building projects designed to complement the Health and Human Sciences Building as part of the long-range planning for the development of the West Campus, Johnson said.

The area around the HHS Building is expected to become the hub of a health sciences cluster, which will expand collaborative opportunities with partners such as private clinics, medical device companies and other health-related businesses. The partnerships will be intended to enhance hands-on student learning, foster collaborative research and promote development of scientific and technological innovations with potential commercial applications, and provide needed services to the community.

Completion of the medical office building will represent an additional collaboration between WCU and private health care partners. Last September, WestCare Health launched a new full-time primary care clinic in the HHS Building. The clinic occupies 2,000 square feet within the 160,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility.

In December 2013, WestCare opened a rehabilitation and sports medicine clinic in the building, joining Carolina West Sports Medicine, which provides care to the community and collaborates clinically with WCU rehabilitation and sports medicine faculty, staff and students.

Opened in the fall of 2012, the Health and Human Sciences Building is the first facility built on 344 acres across N.C. Highway 107 from the main campus that were acquired by WCU in 2005 as part of the Millennial Initiative. A comprehensive regional economic development strategy, the Millennial Initiative promotes university collaboration with private industry and government partners to enhance hands-on student learning and collaborative research.

The medical office building project is made possible because the WCU Board of Trustees in December 2013 endorsed a proposal to lease the “millennial campus” tract to the university’s Endowment Fund, a move designed to enable WCU to respond rapidly and nimbly to potential public-private economic development opportunities.

The lease proposal was subsequently approved by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the governor and the Council of State. It enables WCU to follow a strategic economic development model similar to what is in use at other UNC institutions, including N.C. State University for its Centennial Campus and UNC Charlotte for its Charlotte Research Initiative, where institutional endowment funds already owned tracts prior to their designation as “millennial campuses.”

For more information about the Millennial Initiative, contact Tony Johnson at 828-227-2596 or tonyjohnson@wcu.edu.

Developers interested in the medical office building project can find the request for qualifications online at www.wcu.edu/WebFiles/PDFs/RFQMOBFINAL11215.pdf.

Classic Hikes of the Smokies to start March 10

Discover America’s most visited national park on guided hikes with Friends of the Smokies. View breathtaking vistas, rushing waterfalls, historic homesteads and more tucked away in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Classic Hikes of the Smokies.

The first Classic Hike of 2015 is Tuesday, March 10 to Smokemont. This hike is 6.2 miles round trip and is moderate in difficulty with a total elevation gain of 1,400 feet. Participants will visit a historic chapel and cemetery on this hike.

Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes feature trail interpretation, history and park projects that donations to Friends of the Smokies have supported. Hikes are guided by author and hiking enthusiast Danny Bernstein.

This year’s hikes include Smokemont, Caldwell Fork, Lake Shore, Hemphill Bald, overnight at LeConte Lodge, Big Creek, Boogerman, Purchase Knob, Chimney Tops and Noland Creek.

Participants on the hikes will learn how donations made to Friends of the Smokies help fund stewardship projects in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These projects include but are not limited to native trout management, hemlock wooly adelgid treatment, historic structure preservation, Parks as Classrooms program, and elk management.

Hikes are offered on the second Tuesday of each month. Guided Classic Hikes are $35 and include a complimentary membership to Friends of the Smokies. Current Friends of the Smokies members receive a discount and hike for $10. Members who bring a friend hike for free. All registration donations benefit the Smokies Trails Forever program.

To register, email AnnaLee@friendsofthesmokies.org. To view a complete listing of Friends’ monthly Classic Hikes of the Smokies, visit friendsofthesmokies.org/hikes.html.

2015 WNC Beer Guide Now Available

The winter/spring release of the WNC Beer Guide has hit the shelves around Western North Carolina.

The WNC Craft Beer Guide is the original “go to” guide for locals and tourists looking to visit the breweries in Asheville and the surrounding areas. It includes maps to the brewery locations, as well as pubs that carry local beer, beer tours, and beer retailers. The guide is an informative resource for those seeking to get a “taste” of Beer City.

The WNC Beer guide is a printed and online resource for visiting beer lovers and Western North Carolina residents. View the online version at http://wncbeer.com.

WNCBeer.com is a resource for reviews, directions, and upcoming events. The beer-curious can search by area, by brewery, by event, or by type of beer and download the beer guide app.

50,000 guidebooks are distributed bi-annually and are available for free at area chambers, hotels, retailers, restaurants and pubs in Asheville, Hendersonville, Black Mountain, Waynesville and Bryson City. For information, call Jami Daniels at 277-8250.

Heating Assistance Available

As winter weather makes headlines nationally, N.C. DHHS wants to remind North Carolinians about the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). Applications are still being accepted through March 2015 or until funding is exhausted.

LIEAP is a federally-funded program administered in North Carolina through the Department of Health and Human Services. It provides almost $51 million toward helping eligible households pay their heating bills.

Since Dec. 1, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program has provided approximately $24 million to help more than 80,000 households pay their heating bills and stay warm this winter.

“LIEAP is truly a life-saver for many vulnerable North Carolinians,” said David Locklear, Acting Chief for Economic and Family Services for N.C. DHHS’ Division of Social Services. “Energy assistance is critical for homes with someone at risk for a life-threatening illness or death in the cold winter months.”

Nearly half of the households receiving assistance include an occupant aged 60 and above. Others include at least one disabled person (receiving SSI, SSA or VA disability) who receives services through N.C. DHHS’ Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS).

To be eligible, households must meet income requirements, have reserves at or below $2,250 and be responsible for paying its own heating bills.

Sheriff’s Office Seeks Assistance in Identifying Male

10942460_868184906565760_8306161362118663428_nThe Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is seeking assistance in identifying a male subject who was involved in passing stolen checks at both the Sylva and Cullowhee State Employee’s Credit Unions on Jan. 14. The subject was driving a black newer model car, seen in the photos. The male was accompanied by an unknown female subject in the passenger seat. Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers at 828-631-1125 or crimestoppers@jacksonnc.org

Group: Big Macs, McNuggets Should Be Sold Without Antibiotics

gr-44209-1-1The company known for its “Golden Arches” is being asked to make its burgers, chicken nuggets and other menu items antibiotic-free. It’s estimated that nearly 70% of all antibiotics sold in the US are used in raising livestock and poultry. McDonald’s sells more than 1,000,000,000 pounds of beef each year, and Pamela Clough with the watchdog US Public Interest Research Group says if the fast-food giant required its suppliers to stop raising meat with antibiotics, it would prompt sweeping changes in the industry, “If they were to make this change, it would be the equivalent of banning antibiotics in meat production in a small country. And so, if they make this commitment, it could really change the paradigm of the market and make antibiotic-free meat more affordable and more accessible for everybody”

Some medical experts say the overuse of antibiotics is creating antibiotic-resistant infections that are serious public health threats. McDonald’s says it recognizes the importance of combating antibiotic resistance and an update to its policy on antibiotic use in food animals is due out this year.

Other restaurants, including Panera and Chipotle, say they already use only antibiotic-free meats, and the Chick-fil-A chain has made a commitment to only purchase chicken raised without antibiotics by 2020. In 2003, McDonald’s implemented a policy about antibiotics, but Clough says it didn’t go far enough, “It only applied to some suppliers, and didn’t require even these suppliers to only purchase meat raised without antibiotics. It had to do with antibiotics used for growth promotion versus disease prevention. In the end, we need stronger action.”

The fast food giant announced last year that it will start transitioning to sustainable beef by 2016, but Clough says it wasn’t specific about the definition of “sustainable.”

900 more miles of stream discovered in Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park geographic information system specialists and scientists in collaboration with scientists from Tennessee, North Carolina, and the United States Geological Survey completed a three-year stream mapping project.

Although the more than half million acre park straddling the North Carolina and Tennessee border is the most visited National Park in the country, recently hosting 10 million visitors last year, it is largely unexplored.

Scientists discovered the park contains about 900 more miles of streams than originally thought through recent exploration.
Park scientists used a combination of aircraft-mounted scanners and a Global Positioning System verification system to re-inventory streams throughout the park.

Using this modern mapping technology, scientists determined the park contains 2,900 miles of streams. Of these, 1,073 miles of streams are large enough to support fish.

Previously, using topographic maps, the scientists estimated there to be approximately 2,000 miles of streams in the park.

Aquatic life in the Smokies comes to about 1500 species which includes insects such as mayflies and stoneflies, snails, worms, crustaceans, amphibians and fish.

A Jump Start for New North Carolina Farmers

As the interest in locally produced foods grows, an increasing number of young people are looking to make a living farming the land.

Allison Kiehl with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy says there is a great need in North Carolina to have a successful flow of farmers producing local foods. But she says there are many challenges including the high price of land, which often is prime for development, “Agriculture is one of the biggest economic producers in our state, and farmers are aging and in a lot of cases they don’t have children that want to take over the farm, and sometimes the best option is to sell to development.”

The conservancy’s Farmer Incubator Program is initiating new agricultural businesses in North Carolina by offering new farmers access to land and equipment at reduced rates. Kiehl says farmers in the program also are given support, training and tools to help them run their businesses.
Second Cut: Land outside of Asheville protected by a conservation easement by the conservancy is also helping young farmers.

Gaining Ground Farm is leasing the land, and owner Anne Grier says they’ve doubled their production and expanded their Community Supported Agriculture Program. She says it provides stability because they can plan out what and how much they need to grow for the year, “The people pay ideally between now and March for produce that they’ll be getting from May until October, so it just helps us know what to grow in what volume, so it’s just a very secure thing. ”

The incubator program has allowed Matt Coffay of Second Spring Market Garden in Asheville to expand their CSA year round. He says they have more greenhouses for use, which has increased their winter food production. And aside from providing fresh, local food, he says the CSA is building community, “CSA is the pinnacle of story building with food. You’re able to actually build a relationship between an individual member of a CSA and an individual farmer, and that relationship can last for years.”

The incubator program was launched last year, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

Haywood County Commissioners seek public input on Emergency Management ordinance

The Haywood County Board of Commissioners is reviewing its Emergency Management Ordinance to consider public input, and to ensure that it conforms to contemporary local, state and federal laws.

In advance of a future public hearing, citizens are encouraged to make written comments on the ordinance, either by mail, email to the Haywood County Manager’s Office, 215 N. Main St., Waynesville, NC 28786; or email Comment@haywoodnc.net. Written comments may also be delivered in person to the County Manager’s Office, which is located on the third floor of the Haywood County Courthouse, directly behind the Historic Courtroom.

In calling for a review of the Emergency Management Ordinance, Chairman Mark Swanger stated during the Jan. 20 board meeting that he believed all provisions of the ordinance are carried out under existing local, state and federal law, but that some sections may benefit from simpler language or sentence structure.

“In order to have more meaningful public input, I would recommend comments not be limited to the public hearing, but that written comments be accepted as part of the process,” Swanger said.

The deadline to submit written comments is 5 p.m., Friday, Feb. 27. Copies of the Emergency Management ordinance are available online under Ordinances in the Main Menu of the Haywood County website, www.haywoodnc.net, or from the County Manager’s Office.

For questions or more information, call the Haywood County Manager’s Office at 452-6620.

Waynesville Police: Man pulls knife, pepper sprays security at store

An Old Fort man is facing several charges after police allege he stole merchandise from K-Mart in Waynesville then pulled a knife on security, pepper sprayed one of them and was later found with drugs.

Jackson C. Whisnant, 37, of 122 Parker Padgett Road, Old Fort, was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery and possession of methamphetamine after an incident at the store on Dec. 20.

According to Waynesville police reports, Whisnant stole several items from the K-Mart on Russ Avenue and after being confronted by the store’s security, Whisnant pulled a knife.

According to statements made by the security team, Whisnant pulled a knife from his pocket after he was seen putting several items into his pockets and being asked to come back inside.

Two security personnel grabbed the suspect in an attempt to unarm him. Whisnant allegedly yelled “I will kill you, I will kill you” to the two men trying to take the knife.

After a short scuffle, in which Whisnant allegedly assaulted one of the men, Whisnant also sprayed pepper spray into one of the security guard’s eyes.

Police arrived to find Whisnant fleeing from his truck in the parking lot. Police said Whisnant was shirtless, due to the scuffle and wearing two pairs of pants, one of which was stolen from the store.

After being taken into custody, police found pepper spray in Whisnant’s pocket. Whisnant said the guys assaulted him causing him to retaliate with the pepper spray.

Police then found several plastic baggies containing a “clear/white in color crystal substance” stashed in the hood of Whisnant’s truck, where police believe he was trying to hide it upon their arrival.

The substance tested positive for methamphetamine, the police report said.

Whisnant was taken to Haywood County Detention Center where he remains on $50,000 secure bond.

Appalachian Trail remeasured, total is 2,189 miles

Re-measurements and relocations of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) have brought the total mileage of the footpath to 2,189.2 miles, an increase of 3.9 miles from last year’s mileage of 2,185.3. This mileage is carefully documented in the trail’s official guidebooks, which include the Appalachian Trail Data Book and the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion. Both books are published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Every year, the latest mileage and shelter information is updated from volunteers who are constantly improving the Trail, with volunteer Daniel D. Chazin of Teaneck, New Jersey, leading the efforts since 1983. This year, more than half of the changes in the mileage are in southwest Virginia, with 2 miles added to the total following a re-measurement by volunteers.

Increases were also reported in New York-New Jersey (0.1 mile); central Virginia (0.1 mile); Tennessee-North Carolina (1.5 miles); and North Carolina-Georgia (0.2 mile).

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s guidebooks are invaluable planning resources for any Appalachian Trail hiker, whether they are out for a day hike or hiking the entire length from Maine to Georgia,” said Laurie Potteiger, information services manager for the ATC. “These guides contain the latest information from volunteers who measure, maintain and manage the Trail and those who hike it regularly.”

Current editions of official A.T. guidebooks and maps are available from the Ultimate A.T. Store at www.atctrailstore.org or by calling 1.888.287.8673.

Calls Today to End Corporate Influence in Elections

Protest events are planned around the nation today to mark the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court. The ruling removed limits on the amount of money an independent organization can spend on political campaigns.

Adam Sotak with Democracy North Carolina says the result is that millionaires and billionaires have greater influence over elections at every level of government, “We the people need to be in the driver’s seat of our elections, not wealthy special interests who are able to hide behind shadow groups and spend exorbitant amounts of money.”

A recent report on campaign spending on Senate races by the Brennan Center for Justice found that since Citizens United, spending by outside groups has doubled. In 2014, North Carolina’s Senate race received attention for the most outside money, with groups spending $80,000,000.

Stephen Spaulding with the nonpartisan group Common Cause, says political campaign spending from undisclosed sources topped $170,000,000 dollars in 2014, and was more than $300,000,000 during the 2012 presidential election, “And we’re well over $500 million money that is untraceable, that has been dumped into our elections, that otherwise likely would not have been spent, but for Citizens United.”

Spaulding says the impact of Citizens United could be reduced or even eliminated with tougher disclosure laws for independent campaign spending. He also thinks lawmakers should support a constitutional amendment giving Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign spending and require full disclosure of its sources.

Residents May Face Fire Tax

No correlation just a coincidence—that’s what Chuck Wooten, County Manager says about the talks to levy a fire tax for the Glenville-Cashiers and Cullowhee area residents. This comes just after Macon County Commissioners discussed asking Jackson County to pay them $160,000 annually for emergency services they offer to home owners in the Highlands area.

The homes are located in Jackson County but without a substation in the area, it takes emergency services from Jackson County nearly 25 minutes to reach the homes in question. Macon County emergency services reaches those homes in about 5 minutes.

Glenville Cashiers and Cullowhee Fire Departments have consistently stated that they cannot continue to rely on the expectation of contributions to cover the majority of their budget through fundraisers and donations.

County dollars are distributed to the departments using a base rate plus additional monies for each substation, a total of $1.5 million. Closing the gaps in Cashiers and Cullowhee would require more taxes.

Due to Lower property values in Cullowhee, residents there would face higher tax than required in Cashiers-Glenville to meet the community fire department’s requirements.

In late fall the county was approached by Highlands Fire Department about providing additional support to offset a portion of the costs to operate a new sub-station that would service a number of Jackson County homes and offer them a substantial reduction in homeowners insurance since they would be in their 5 mile response district.

The county was later contacted by a group of residents in the Cullasaja Club who are residents of Jackson County asking for support to Highlands.

Macon County has now followed up with a similar request. For years elected officials in both Macon and Jackson counties have debated where the county line between Cashiers and Highlands falls. With homes in the area valued at millions of dollars, 332 properties are located in the area in question. Although the properties are currently considered to be in Jackson County, the homes receive services from Macon County such as EMS, police, fire, and solid waste. Macon County estimates Jackson receives about $1.2 million annually in property tax revenue from those homes and they are requesting 13% of that number which comes to $160,000 a year to provide those services.

In an email Wooten says as the county is considering Cashiers and Cullowhee, the county thought it would be appropriate to add the Highlands area as well. Wooten says Randy Dillard, fire chief at Cashiers, supports this concept since these home are more easily served by Macon since Cashiers does not have access to some of these properties without going into Macon County and circling back into Jackson County.

The fire tax was proposed previously but dropped when a majority of the departments did not support the tax. A timetable projects extra taxes levied as soon as July. Before that could happen, residents would be notified by mail about the plan and a public hearing held. Commissioners could choose to establish seven fire service areas but tax only the two in question now.

Medicaid Expansion Not Yet Off the Table in NC

Despite opposition from some state lawmakers, Medicaid expansion is not off the table in North Carolina. At the start of the 2015 legislative session last week, Senate President Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) both dismissed the idea of expansion. But Governor McCrory has said he would be open to the idea if federal officials allow the state to develop its own plan.

Nicole Dozier with the NC Justice Center’s Health Access Coalition says it’s time for leaders to listen to the people, “Lawmakers are elected to serve the people who entrust that leadership in them. The leadership is saying there’s no case for it, they’re not convinced, but the counties they come from there are people there who say they do need it.”

Dozier says Medicaid expansion would extend health insurance to nearly 500 thousand people and would bring money into communities. And if it had happened in 2014, she says over 370 new jobs would have been created in Berger’s district of Rockingham County; and over 500 jobs in Moore’s district of Cleveland County.

Opponents of expansion say it would still increase the state’s already overrun Medicaid expenses, but Dozier argues the federal government would take on the bulk of the initial cost, “Lawmakers say that the Medicaid system is broken, it’s a big part of the budget and it is. But the system isn’t broken and any system can always be improved, and if you bring the federal dollars down you have the money to reform it.”

She adds the federal government has allowed flexibility in expansion. The majority of the 26 states that accepted federal funds last year did so through a state plan amendment option, or the continuation of a waiver.

TDozier says she’s heard from many people around the state who cannot afford health insurance, but need it for themselves and their families so they can stay healthy and live a productive life, “For folks to not be eligible for help because they make too little who work every day, who are in construction, and in home health industry, and food and beverage. Those are the stories that break my heart, the people who deserve access to health care.

At 24%, North Carolina has one of the highest rates of uninsured adults in the nation.