Local News

Local Memorial Day weekend events

pexels memorial day Several community Memorial Day events are scheduled through Monday. Here are a few:

Spring Lake: A Memorial Day ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Veterans Park on Ruth Street.

Concert: The Southeastern Gospel Music Association will present a Memorial Day weekend concert at 6 p.m. at Mt. Gilead Baptist Church, 6248 Cliffdale Road. Admission is free. The concert will feature the Port City Quartet and G. Vern Adams Jr. The master of ceremonies will be Larry Chason. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Fayetteville: The Fayetteville area will honor Cumberland County veterans who died in wartime during a ceremony at 10 a.m. at Freedom Memorial Park at Hay Street and Bragg Boulevard. There is limited bleacher seating. Attendees may bring a lawn chair. Parking is available at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum or at the Medical Arts Building. The keynote speaker is Col. Scott Pence, garrison commander at Fort Bragg.

Hope Mills: The town’s ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park, 5766 Rockfish Road. The guest speaker will be Charles Lee, deputy director for Veterans Affairs with the North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Light refreshments will be served after the ceremony.

Cumberland County’s proposed budget keeps tax rate unchanged

Cumberlan Co logo Cumberland County Manager Amy Cannon on Thursday, May 26, presented the county's fiscal 2023 recommended budget to the Board of Commissioners during a special called meeting.

The county's tax rate remains unchanged at 79.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Each penny on the tax rate produces $2,427,268. The budget is balanced, as required by the North Carolina Local Government Commission, Cannon told commissioners.

The budget takes into account the board's priorities established in fiscal 2021, which include the Crown Event Center to replace the Crown Theatre and Crown Arena, public water access for Gray's Creek and mitigating homelessness.

The recommended budget calls for $552,930,111 in total expenditures across all county funds, and a General Fund of $362,177,033.

In her budget message to the commissioners, Cannon outlined the issues facing the county government in the upcoming budget cycle. First among those is what she termed "the new normal," a COVID-19, pandemic-induced altered work environment. The pandemic resulted in new organizational structures where employees were forced to work from home and adapt to new technology.

"The uncertainty remains. Remote work still remains," she said. The new normal also includes providing services electronically, erratic economic recovery, and the potential of a new COVID-19 variant that can affect the delivery of services.

The budget also takes into account the prevailing economic uncertainty. Cannon said another important factor affecting county operations is inflation, currently at 8.5% and eroding the spending power of county residents and county government. Along with inflation, the county must adjust to ever-increasing fuel prices and supply chain issues.

Cannon projected General Fund revenues from ad valorem taxes at $170,695,791, a $2 million increase over fiscal 2022. Motor vehicle tax revenues are budgeted at $23,242,940, a $1 million increase over 2022.

She said the ad valorem taxes are the largest revenue source at 55% of the total budget revenue. These taxes are based on the combined values of real property, personal property, and motor vehicles of about $194 million. Real and personal property taxes are budgeted at $170.7 million, an increase of $2 million over last year.

Some of the county's major spending highlights include:
● Unfunded mandates, including increased health insurance rates, increased employer contributions to the retirement system, increased property and cyber security insurance, and funding an N.C. Department of Public Safety plan to align the county share of youth detention facility costs with operating costs.
● Additional commission priorities identified in fiscal 2021 about mental health and public health.
● A pilot program that develops a proactive prevention program addressing the social detriments of health.
● Another pilot program for patient transportation for public health clinics using either Uber of Lift.
● A volunteer coordinator for the Animal Services Department.
● An assistant manager for the Emergency Services Department.
● Replacing 19 Sheriff's Office vehicles and two detention center vehicles.
● A public health educator and a public health office assistant
● A Social Services program manager and an in-home case management and care coordination pilot program with 16 employees, and two vehicles.
● A child support quality assurance program training specialist.

The recommended budget also includes $84.3 million for Cumberland County Schools, an increase of $1.3 million from fiscal 2022. There is also an additional $3.9 million for the school system for school health nurses, school resource officers and crossing guards.

Cannon ended her hour-long budget message talking about the great resignation, a national phenomenon whereby workers are leaving their jobs in droves. Cannon said employees are leaving for better pay because they are mentally exhausted, want a flexible work schedule and a better work-life balance. She said Cumberland County government is not immune from that.

The commissioners will digest the recommended budget and begin their work session on June 1 at 5:30 p.m. in Room 564 in the Judge E. Maurice Braswell Cumberland County Courthouse. The public hearing on the budget is scheduled for June 6 at 7 p.m. Thereafter, the commissioners will have three more work sessions.

The recommended budget is available on the county website at cumberlandcountync.gov.

Salaries, American Rescue Plan funding top Fayetteville budget discussion

fay city council logo The Fayetteville City Council on Thursday, May 26, held the first of three scheduled budget work sessions. The meeting focused on city salaries and an update on American Rescue Plan Act funding.

The council must finalize the city budget by June 30. The fiscal 2022-23 budget year begins July 1.

City Manager Doug Hewett has proposed a budget with no significant increases in taxes or fees. The total budget is $248.25 million, which represents a 3.3% increase, city officials said.

The tax rate would remain at 49.95 cents per $100 property valuation.

The city is struggling to hire new people in a highly competitive job market, said Mark Holcombe with Evergreen Solutions. The company was hired to conduct a salary survey for the city. The City Council talked about an allocation of $6 million to make salaries more competitive.

“You are trailing the market but not by much,’’ Holcombe said.

The council also talked about paying people $15 an hour, including seasonal and temporary employees. That includes eight positions with Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation.

“A lot of what we are talking about tonight is investing in our employees,’’ said Jerry Clipp, the human resources development director for the city.

Mayor Mitch Colvin said it is important that all city employees make at least $15 an hour.

Councilman Chris Davis concurred.

“The labor market is incredibly tough. It means a lot that we remain employee of choice,’’ Hewett said.

The city plans to leverage its ARPA money to fill in the gap on capital projects as well as take care of some community needs.

“We’re talking about workforce development, which is traditionally not a city function per se, but we are going to have to find partners to help us like the child care assistance grants,’’ Hewett said. “We don’t do the childcare, but under the ARPA rules, we believe we can go out and work with children’s centers that help them provide better programming by helping them with their staffing.’’

Hewett said the city has six years to expense the money.

Hewett said he hopes the early briefing on the budget pays dividends.

“We look forward to guidance from council as we prepare the budget for public hearing on June 13,’’ he said.

The next meeting will cover capital and transportation projects.

“We put that together in January and February, and so we have those projects and will go back over them with council to show them how we use the federal funding (ARPA) to cover those projects,’’ Hewett said.

The next budget work session is scheduled for 5 p.m. on June 2.

Hewett said,“You have done the heavy lifting, you’ve done that. … We thought we captured exactly what you wanted. Now that we have it, we have to come up with details.’’

Fayetteville PWC cautioned to be mindful of volatile economy

PWC logo Volatility in the energy market and the lingering economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic will mandate continued fiscal caution, leaders of Fayetteville’s public utility were told Wednesday, May 25.

Rhonda Gaskins, the chief financial officer of the Fayetteville Public Works Commission, delivered a first-quarter financial recap to the board at its monthly meeting.

Before presenting her report, Gaskins reminded the commissioners that a water and wastewater rate increase would take effect July 1.

“So we’ll see increases in revenue on that end for the water and wastewater side,” Haskins told the commissioners. “We also had a bond issuance that closed in November – actually, $95 million.”

And as the pandemic has eased, PWC has ended a temporary waiver of late fees for customers struggling through the economic downturn, she said.

“Almost back to full operation there,” she said.

Bad weather could also affect the utility’s economic picture, she noted.

PWC spokeswoman Carolyn Justice-Hinson said after the meeting that the report was “kind of a snapshot in time.”

“There are some positives there. The economy and the industry are getting volatile with fuel costs and other things. There are a lot of factors we’re watching very closely,” Justice-Hinson said.

“The next report could look very different,” she added. “It’s presented every quarter for the commission to get a financial look and to see what the trends are.”

Power-supply costs are down to $100.6 million in the first quarter of this year from $104.7 million in the first three months last year, Haskins said.

According to the report, the cost of a megawatt hour of electricity is down 2% from a year ago, from $63.27 to $62.03.

"Power cost is our overall biggest expense, so this is good," Justice-Hinson said. “But as I mentioned, the economy and changes coming from our wholesale provider, Duke Energy, indicate this can change very quickly.

This is the importance of maintaining our reserves and rate stabilization funds that we can draw from them during these extreme fluctuations instead of having to raise rates to cover the cost."

Fayetteville PWC has budgeted $64 million for electric and water capital projects in this budget year. But nine months into the budget, the utility has been able to complete only $30 million worth of those projects, Justice-Hinson said.

The demand for contractors and the availability of materials are affecting the utility's ability to get the work done, she said.

In other business, PWC CEO and General Manager Elaina Ball gave her second presentation on the 2022-23 operating budget and capital improvement plan in advance of a public hearing on Wednesday.

No one spoke during the public hearing.

As first presented on May 11, the budget calls for an overall outlay of about $397.5 million, which would be a 10.9% reduction from 2022 spending.

The cost of electricity would not change next year, but water rates would increase, according to the recommended budget. In 2020, the commission voted to delay water rate increases because of the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those higher rates will take effect for 2023, Ball has said.

Justice-Hinson has said the new water rates will vary because they depend on the customer’s location and water usage.

The budget supports the financial health of PWC, keeps borrowing costs low and affords a bigger slice of revenue for the city of Fayetteville. The city would receive roughly $24 million from PWC in cash and services.

Payments in lieu of taxes would increase to $12.4 million in cash – more than $1 million a month, she said.

That rounds out to a 4.7% increase for the city.

Second person charged in shooting death of Gordon Way

pexels Crime tape A second person has been charged in connection with a fatal shooting May 7 on Gordon Way.

Sierra Harper, 22, was shot multiple times and later died at the hospital, Fayetteville police said.

Micaiah Henderson-Palmer, 23, was arrested Wednesday morning, May 25, outside her home on the 600 block of Volunteer Drive, the Fayetteville Police Department said. She is charged with accessory after the fact.

Jaylin Sadiq McLaughlin Jr., 22, of the 3600 block of Pickerel Street, is charged with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, the Police Department said.

He was arrested May 10 by members of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Henderson-Palmer was arrested without incident and remains in the Cumberland County Detention Center under a $25,000 secured bond, police said.

She is accused of helping McLaughlin escape detection after the shooting, according to an arrest warrant. Henderson-Palmer knew McLaughlin had been involved in the shooting, picked him up after he left his vehicle and helped him escape detection, according to the warrant.

Harper was found on the afternoon of May 7 when officers responded to reports of a shooting on the 2900 block of Gordon way.

Police have said the homicide was not a random act. Harper and McLaughlin were known to each other, and there was a disturbance prior to the shooting, police said previously.

The case remains under investigation.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact Detective M. Waters at 910-635-4978 or Crimestoppers at 910-483-TIPS (8477).



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