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National Park recorded the highest October visitation in 27 years

IMG_0591Great Smoky Mountains National Park recorded the highest October visitation in 27 years with 1,261,104 people visiting the park. October is traditionally the second busiest month of the year for the national park, driven by visitors coming to see the park’s fall foliage. This year, visitors continued to come to the park despite record rainfall at the beginning of the month, a strong wind event, and a major snow storm on the last day of the month.

Although visitation through the park’s major entrances at Gatlinburg, Townsend, and Cherokee was up, outlying areas led the way in making this month the fourth highest October on record. Visitation at the outlying areas of the park in October was 73% above the 20-year average. Outlying areas include places like Foothills Parkway, Cosby, Big Creek, Greenbrier, Deep Creek, Cataloochee, and Abrams Creek.

Visitation has been up nearly every month this year with over eight million people visiting the park so far. The highest annual visitation on record was set in 1999 when 10,283,598 people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Iranian-born journalist to speak Nov. 20 at WCU

A native of Iran who is a former Rotary Peace Fellow and past editor of publications now banned or shut down by the Iranian government will present the keynote address for International Education Week at Western Carolina University on Thursday, Nov. 20.

Ali Eshraghi, Iran project manager for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, will deliver a talk tentatively titled “U.S.-Iran: Reconfiguring the Middle East” in the theater of A.K. Hinds University Center at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Eshraghi’s journalism career spans more than 15 years, and he has published hundreds of articles and op-ed pieces in Persian, Arabic and English media outlets, including CNN, the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, PBS Frontline, the New Republic and Al Jazeera.

The nonprofit institute for which Eshraghi works is committed to supporting citizen journalism and media institutions to help people in parts of the world faced with conflict and crisis have the information they need to drive positive changes in their lives.

In Iran, dozens of journalists have served time in prison or been sentenced to lashings after being charged with offenses such as “anti-government publicity” and “meeting and conspiring against the Islamic Republic,” according to information from the nonprofit organization Reporters Without Borders.

John Whitmire, associate professor and head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion, said Eshraghi’s experience has given him an invaluable expertise and perspective of peace, war and conflict resolution as well as U.S. and Iranian relations.

“He is someone whose life has been committed to speaking truth to power in the interests of reforming his own community and world,” said Whitmire. “In his various vocational lives, he’s been a real exemplar of journalistic and citizen advocacy directed towards changing his own society for the better, which you can’t do unless you really uncover the ways that it is currently falling short. In his case, this has entailed a lot of risk.”

Eshraghi also serves as the chair for the Civic Institute for Advocacy and Networking and a teaching fellow in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He is an alumnus of the Duke-UNC Rotary Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution and was a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Journalism and the Institute of International Studies. Eshraghi also was a research fellow at the Religion, Politics and Globalization Program at U.C. Berkeley. He studied political science and Islamic studies at Imam Sadiq University in Tehran.

In addition to delivering the keynote address for International Education Week at WCU, Eshraghi will speak to a philosophy and religion class about his experience of religion inside and outside of Iran; an English class that has read Persepolis about life in Iran; and to journalism students about his career and what it takes to succeed.

WCU’s Office of International Programs and Services partnered with the Department of Philosophy and Religion to make Eshraghi’s visit and address at WCU possible.

New Jobs Coming to Graham County

Governor Pat McCrory, N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker and the Economic Development Partnership of N.C. announced today that Oak Valley Hardwoods, Inc. is planning to expand operations into Graham County and create 114 new jobs. The company plans to invest more than $10.1 million over the next five years in Robbinsville.

“Oak Valley Hardwoods is another one of North Carolina’s great homegrown success stories,” said Governor McCrory. “Starting out 10 years ago, this business has steadily grown into one of the country’s major lumber suppliers to overseas markets.”

Headquartered in Charlotte, Oak Valley Hardwoods is a subsidiary of Tides and Times Group USA, Inc., and operates lumber, saw mill and dry kiln facilities and produces an assortment of wood products. It already has operations in locations across North Carolina including Rutherford, Haywood, Caldwell, McDowell and Polk counties employing more than 160 workers.

“Timber is one of North Carolina’s great renewable resources, so the expansion of Oak Valley Hardwoods is important to that industry,” said Secretary Decker. “I am looking forward to seeing even more expansion in the timber sector in the future.”

Salaries will vary by job function and will include accounting, log traders, sales, operators, foresters, and office/clerical positions. The annual payroll for the new jobs created by this expansion will be $3.4 million.

“We are excited about the opportunity to expand our operations into Graham County,” said Oak Valley Hardwoods CEO Jimmy Lee. “It has been a pleasure working with the Town of Robbinsville, Graham County, and the State of North Carolina, and we appreciate the support we have received. We plan on moving into the old Stanley Furniture Building quickly and look forward to a successful 2015.”

The project was made possible in part by a performance-based grant from the One North Carolina Fund of up to $156,000. The One NC Fund provides financial assistance, through local governments, to attract business projects that will stimulate economic activity and create new jobs in the state. Companies receive no money up front and must meet job creation and investment performance standards to qualify for grant funds. These grants also require and are contingent upon local matches.

“Oak Valley Hardwoods’ decision to expand in Graham County is a testament to the high caliber of the county’s people and its leadership,” said Senator Jim Davis. “This is great news for the hardworking citizens of Graham who will soon welcome new jobs and an energized economy.”

“These new jobs will be a welcome addition to Graham County,” said Representative Roger West. “I want to personally welcome Oak Valley Hardwoods to Robbinsville, and look forward to having this company in our community.”

In addition to the N.C. Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of N.C., other partners that helped with this project include: North Carolina Community College System, Tri-County Community College, Duke Energy, Town of Robbinsville, Graham County, and Graham County Economic Development.

Help In Finding Missing Woman

1110-Regenia-Hendrix_18454Asheville Police requested the public’s help in solving the case of a missing 51 year old woman named Regenia Hendrix. She disappeared 8 months ago and detectives say she hasn’t cashed multiple checks issued to her.
According to authorities, Hendrix was last seen in downtown Asheville in late March, just before she reportedly got a ride to Shelby from an acquaintance. Her family, who says Hendrix mainly stayed in area homeless shelters, has not heard from her since.

Asheville Police say she is 5’8″ tall, and weighs approximately 140 pounds, she may have dyed red hair.

Hendrix is a mother to one son, and a grandmother of four. Family says she is a happy, friendly person and she has never been out of touch with family for this long.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Asheville Police Department at (828) 252-1110 or Buncombe County Crime Stoppers at (828) 255-5050.

Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries

DillsboroLightsLuminariesPressReleasePhotoThe 31st annual Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries event is planned Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5-6 and Dec. 12-13.
There will be free refreshments and entertainment, horse-drawn carriage rides, unique holiday shopping and visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
College night will be held on Friday, Dec. 5, kicking off with the WCU Holiday Dancers at 5:30 p.m. There will also be a free paint-your-own ornaments program at Claymates (while supplies last.)
All four nights of the event, there will be a live Nativity scene at Jarrett Memorial Baptist Church. There will be free parking and shuttle transportation from Monteith Park.
Come experience the spirit and splendor as the historic village of Dillsboro is aglow with more than 2,500 candles.
For more information, go to www.visitdillsboro.org or visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/DillsboroNC.

NCDOT to Temporarily Close I-40 Ramp in Haywood County During Overnight Traffic Shift

On Monday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m., the N.C. Department of Transportation will close the westbound on-ramp to Interstate 40 at Exit 37 (Wiggins Road/East Canton Exit). The ramp is expected to reopen Tuesday at 6 a.m.

Motorists trying to access I-40 Westbound at this exit can follow a posted detour using U.S. 19/23 South to N.C. 215 North through Canton, and then back to I-40 at Exit 31. The closure is necessary to move the traffic shift on I-40 back to the original pattern, which was changed this past summer.

The work is part of a $3.9 million project awarded to Harrison Construction Division of APAC Atlantic, Inc. for the construction of a new median wall and resurfacing between the Haywood/Buncombe county line and mile marker 34.

Westbound traffic is currently in a two-lane pattern and shifted onto the shoulder of the interstate. Traffic will be returning to the original three-lane pattern before the Thanksgiving holiday. Additional lane closures are possible until then, but at least two lanes will remain open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Any lane closures that reduce traffic to one lane will be done at night.

This work will not complete the project. The final layer of asphalt is currently scheduled to be placed in the spring of next year.

Coal Ash Clean Up Debate Continues

North Carolina regulators have ordered Duke Energy to resubmit its proposal for assessing theextent of groundwater contamination leaking from 33 coal ash dumps across the state after deeming the company’s current plans “inadequate.”

The N.C. Division of Water Resources has given Duke 30 days to resubmit the plans with a list of proposed changes. Duke is required to perform the assessments by a new state law passed in response to the massive Feb. 2 spill at a plant in Eden that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with gray sludge.

Coal ash contains numerous toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and mercury. State regulators have said all of Duke’s unlined waste pits are contaminating groundwater. Duke had submitted its required monitoring plans to the state in September.

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.

Two Jackson County Employees on Administrative Leave

Two Jackson County employees are on paid administrative leave after reports of a Halloween party surfaced. Dispatcher Maria, employed by emergency services, and her husband Deputy James Henry, were alleged to have been in attendance at the party at Dillard’s Excavating where according to a warrant, a 14-year-old student from Smoky Mountain High School told state agents she was raped at a nearby house after attending the party. Allegations of underage drinking were also in the warrant.

Keith Dillard is the proprietor of Dillard Excavating, and his wife, Michelle, is a former jail nurse. The county terminated her contract Oct. 30th.

The investigation has been turned over to state investigators with the department of alcohol law enforcement, so far no charges have been filed.

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.

Jackson County Election Sees Democrats Sweeping

Tuesday midterm voter participation in North Carolina set a record. 2, 717, 920 voters cast ballots. In Jackson County, voters replaced two incumbent commissioners giving Democrats control of four seats.

Charles Elders maintained his seat as the sole Republican. Brian McMahan replaced Jack Debnam as Chairman while Boyce Deitz won seat formerly occupied by Doug Cody.

Democrats also won the Sheriff’s election placing Chip Hall in the position vacated by Jimmy Ashe who is retiring.

WCU band selected to lead Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

JDP_9067When the 505 members of the Western Carolina University Pride of the Mountains Marching Band pound the pavement of New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, they won’t be just taking part in the beloved holiday tradition. They will be the very first parade participants to hit the streets that morning.

That’s because the WCU unit has been selected as the lead band for the parade by organizers of the event, to be held Thursday, Nov. 27.

Wesley Whatley, creative director of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, broke the news to members of the Pride of the Mountains during a recent band tournament held on campus.

“We are so excited that the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band has been chosen to lead the parade through the streets of New York City,” said David Starnes, WCU director of athletic bands. “What this means is that we will be leading the parade from Central Park West along the parade route.”

The parade will be broadcast live by NBC beginning at 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. The television broadcast includes other acts that perform for the cameras as the parade moves through the city to the stage area at 34th Street, Starnes said. “We will be the first parade participant to be seen on TV,” he said.

During its time in front of the cameras – and an international TV audience – the band will perform “I’ve Seen the Lights Go out on Broadway” by Billy Joel. During the parade, the band will perform other selections from its 2014 halftime production, “Street Beatz,” a musical travelogue of “The Big Apple.”

The Pride of the Mountains is one of only 10 marching bands selected from across the nation to perform in the 2014 Macy’s parade. The invitation to perform at the event, which came in a surprise on-campus announcement by parade officials in April 2013, is the latest in a long line of accolades bestowed upon the WCU marching band.

The Pride of the Mountains was recipient of the 2009 Sudler Trophy, awarded by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation and considered the nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands.

The band followed that up with an invitation to march in the 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, where it won “favorite band” in a poll conducted by KTLA-TV, earning 40 percent of all votes cast in the poll and more than any of the parade’s other musical groups.

Next stop, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Founded in 1924, the world-famous Macy’s parade attracts more than 3.5 million spectators lining the streets of New York, and 50 million at-home viewers.

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.

WCU Student Charged with Off Campus Rape

Robert “Bobby” William McRainey is being held under a $100,000 secured bond.

Robert “Bobby” William McRainey is being held under a $100,000 secured bond.

In the early morning hours Saturday the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation into a reported sexual assault. The offense was reported to have occurred at Citadel Drive in Cullowhee. During the investigation it was determined this residence was an apartment shared by two persons who are friends with the suspect and victim. The victim is a white female, 20 years of age and is a student at Appalachian State University.

Robert “Bobby” William McRainey, from Shallotte, NC but has a local on campus address at Western Carolina University and was an enrolled student at the time of this offense.

He is charged with Second Degree Rape, arrested on November 2, 2014, and held in the Jackson County Detention Center under a $100,000 secured bond.

Sheriff’s Office Ask For Help In Anonymous Letter

Monday morning, October 27, 2014, Smoky Mountain High School Resource Officer, Sergeant Avery Brown was notified of a potential sexual assault which had occurred over the weekend at a private residence. Sergeant Brown immediately notified the investigators with the Sheriff’s Office who quickly began the investigation into the assault. Sergeant Brown also notified Sheriff’s Office administration about a party which had occurred that may have involved a contracted Sheriff’s Office employee and reported underage drinking of alcohol. Due to the conflict of interest involved with the report about the party, the Sheriff’s Office contacted the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement to conduct an unbiased independent investigation. The investigations into both incidents have been ongoing since the initial report on Monday. Numerous persons have been interviewed and many more are anticipated. Sheriff’s Office investigators have been in contact with the District Attorney’s Office in regards to this matter as well. The investigation is ongoing.

A letter was circulated from an anonymous and concerned parent regarding these cases. This letter indicates some information not otherwise provided to the Sheriff’s Office which indicates further criminal activity. The Sheriff’s Office would like to speak with this person and anybody else that has information regarding sexual assaults. Provided is the contact information for the Sheriff’s Office investigator who handles sexual assaults. Additionally, provided below is information on contacting the NCALE. We encourage anyone with information regarding underage drinking to contact them as it relates to this case or any other underage drinking cases.

Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Andi Clayton, 586-1392.
North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement, Asheville District, 670-5055

Sexual Assault and Party Investigation at Area High School

Monday morning, October 27, Smoky Mountain High School Resource Officer, Sergeant Avery Brown was notified of a potential sexual assault which had occurred over the weekend at a private residence. Sergeant Brown immediately notified the investigators with the Sheriff’s Office who quickly began the investigation into the assault. Sergeant Brown also notified Sheriff’s Office administration about a party which had occurred that may have involved a contracted Sheriff’s Office employee and reported underage drinking of alcohol.

Due to the conflict of interest involved with the report about the party, the Sheriff’s Office contacted the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement to conduct an unbiased independent investigation. The investigations into both incidents have been ongoing since the initial report on Monday.

Numerous persons have been interviewed and many more are anticipated. Sheriff’s Office investigators have been in contact with the District Attorney’s Office in regards to this matter as well. The investigation is ongoing.

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.