Local News

City of Fayetteville faces financial losses

05 01 Revenue downturnThe COVID-19 economic shutdown is taking a toll on government finances as a dramatic downturn in sales tax revenues is expected to disrupt the financial health of local government. The city of Fayetteville has asked the Public Works Commission to contribute millions more than it usually does in the fiscal year ahead to offset an expected reduction in revenues. PWC annually transfers $12 million to the city in lieu of taxes.

 Fayetteville Budget Director Tracey Broyles told City Council she anticipates a significant loss of sales tax proceeds and other revenues in FY21. She predicts the city could lose about $7.7 million. City Councilman Johnny Dawkins, who represents the city on the North Carolina League of Municipalities, said actual losses could be a lot more. PWC’s charter allows the utility to provide additional funding to the city in emergency situations. “We have a once in a lifetime issue here,” said city manager Doug Hewett. Councilmember Chris Davis made the motion to ask PWC for as much as $11 million — the first $8 million covering budget shortfalls, with the additional money being set aside for unforeseen COVID-19 issues. The motion passed unanimously. 

05 02 Paratroopers at Pope FieldPope Army Airfield infrastructure neglected

A recent audit found Fort Bragg’s Pope Airfield to be among the Army’s worst maintained facilities. Pope Airfield is a staging area and launch site for the 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force. Paratroopers can deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours of notification. Lawmakers are worried Fort Bragg’s lift capabilities are being underfunded, The Army Times first reported. The airfield is now part of Fort Bragg. The Army took it over from the Air Force in 2011. “These infrastructures serve as primary training airfields for USASOC — United States Army Special Operations Command, JSOC — Joint Special Operations Command and others, including the immediate response force,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said funding has already been planned for the airfield, and more is on the way. “We have an approved project of $25 million for airfield lighting repair, and in the 2021 budget we plan to spend $65 million to repair the runway and taxiways,” the secretary and chief said in a joint statement.

05 03 PWC LinemanLocal electricity rates decline 

Fayetteville’s Public Works Commission has approved a reduction in electricity rates for residential customers as well as small and medium business customers, effective May 1. The off-peak rate was reduced from 9.1 cents to 8.4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Off-peak rates apply during 88% of the average week. On-peak rates, which remain the same, occur four hours a day during weekdays. A typical PWC residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours of power per month would see a decrease of $5.20. The rate reduction comes after a renegotiation of PWC’s contract with electricity provider Duke Energy, resulting in $33 million in savings. “We will not begin to see the financial savings of the contract changes until January 2021,” said PWC CEO/general manager David Trego. “However, it’s important to note that providing these savings to our customers was of the utmost importance, and the PWC Board wanted customers to receive the savings benefit as soon as possible and set the decrease to begin May 1, 2020.” 

05 04 Rental ScamRental housing scam
Fayetteville police are seeing a resurgence of cases involving real estate fraud involving social media and classified rental property ads. The listings are not from established property management companies and are usually listed as for rent by owner. “This fraud scheme may even involve a written “lease” that appears legitimate, but the communications and paperwork will not be done in person,” said police spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Glass. The suspect will ask prospective tenants to send the rent money through a cash application, like PayPal or the United States Postal Service, usually before written leases are provided. Glass said scammers will not be available to meet in person. They will ask you to mail, wire or using a cash-sending appl to send money. Listings often include poor grammar, typographical errors and excessive punctuation.

Staying connected to something positive — online education at FTCC

10 onlineclassesEvery day for the past few weeks, we’ve all awakened to a new way of life. We continue to navigate our days with modified lifestyles, including staying at home as much as possible to protect ourselves and others during this COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past weeks, I have found myself often being reminded about the incredible accomplishments that are occurring as a result of everyone moving together in harmony to follow the important health and safety guidelines currently in place. This spirit of comradery and teamwork seems to make things that are heavy feel much lighter and things that are rough feel much smoother. It’s always good to focus on positivity and look for opportunities to help us strike a healthy balance between optimism and the realities we face, and now is a time for us to stay connected to something positive in our lives.

At Fayetteville Technical Community College — even during this pandemic, our faculty and staff members have not stopped performing their jobs to continue the mission of our college: to serve our community as a learning-centered institution to build a globally competitive workforce supporting economic development. I am very proud of our faculty and staff who share the belief that education changes lives in positive ways and continue to effectively serve our students through distance education to prepare students for their futures.

FTCC ended the first week of April with two great pieces of news: 1.) The college provided thousands of items of personal protective equipment to Cape Fear Valley Health System and donated gloves to the North Carolina State Veterans Home, and 2.) the college was awarded a $961,200 grant by the Golden LEAF Foundation to renovate and equip an existing space into a dedicated simulation suite for training nursing students. The Golden LEAF grant will help FTCC train more nurses and represents a wonderful opportunity for FTCC to contribute significantly to our community by increasing access to high-quality healthcare — a vital area whose importance has been highlighted during this pandemic. Our healthcare providers are the heroes working the front lines, and we thank them most sincerely and are very proud of them.

The pandemic is a crisis situation unlike anything we’ve experienced before — certainly not in recent years. It’s important for us all to remain optimistic and follow up with positive actions. It is uplifting to see how this experience is bringing us closer together, not only in our local communities but also across the globe. Even though some of the news stories now may cause anxiety and uncertainty, we have opportunities to balance our mental health and awareness by staying connected to something positive. At the heart of our mission at FTCC lies an important objective, to remain — during good times and difficult times — the smart choice for education. As we continue to navigate life each day with new challenges, we at Fayetteville Technical Community College stand committed to serving you and thank you for this privilege.

High school seniors out for the year

08 EarlySchoolDismissalAlice Cooper’s “School’s Out (for Summer)” was a hit song a generation ago. In a nutshell, it describes the situation today for thousands of North Carolina high schoolers. The North Carolina State Board of Education has approved a recommendation from the state Department of Public Instruction to pass high school seniors if they were passing their classes as of March 13.

“We have aligned our local graduation requirements for the 2019-2020 school year with the recommendations issued by the State Board of Education,” said Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr. Cumberland County school officials agreed to reduce the number of semester hours required for seniors to graduate. They will receive grades for fall courses that will count in their final grade point averages.

Gov. Roy Cooper ordered that public schools statewide will remain closed for in-person instruction until at least May 15. “I know that these actions cause hardship and heartache for a lot of people, but (they) are necessary to save lives,” Cooper said at a news conference.

Cooper said he wasn’t giving up on the school year, and education officials are working on online instructional assistance. End-of-year exams would normally be held a month from now, with classes ending May 22. Students will either “pass” or “withdraw” based on their grades March 13, the last day they were in school.

School districts are providing online opportunities for students who had failing grades so that they can improve their scores. If grades are not improved to “passing” by the end of the school year, students would not be eligible for graduation. The state Board of Education has told districts that they cannot require students to earn any more than a minimum of 22 credits to graduate. Normally, Cumberland County schools require 28 credits for graduation.

“We encourage students to continue completing assignments from their teachers,” school spokesman Lindsay Whitley said.

“Although teachers are facilitating courses remotely, the content is still important and will help students prepare for their postsecondary aspirations. School administrators or teachers will reach out to students and parents to develop a plan for students to improve their grades if they were not passing a course needed for graduation as of March 13.” Cumberland County Schools comprise North Carolina’s fifth-largest school system of 115 districts in the state, with roughly 50,000 pupils.

Cumberland County workers paid while out of work

Private business owners likely wish their employees could be paid by the government when they’re out of work. Dozens if not hundreds of Cumberland County’s “full-time and part-time employees who receive benefits are being paid,” said Assistant County Manager Sally Shutt. “No county employees have been furloughed.”
Shutt said the county has an Emergency Closure Leave policy. It prescribes that when an emergency closing of a county workplace occurs, such as the courthouse, schools and libraries, the county provides paid time off for employees. The policy governs the guidelines of closings that result from emergency declarations. Shutt also noted that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires the county to provide its employees with paid sick leave and expanded family medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

Gas prices approach a modern low

Gas prices could still drop 15-35¢ per gallon in the weeks ahead. An OPEC deal to cut oil production will not have a near-term impact on prices, according to Gasbuddy.com. The most common gas price across the country stands at $1.79/gal. As of this writing, 14 states had gas prices at 99 cents a gallon. A Fayetteville gas station is in the top 10 in North Carolina, with the lowest prices at the pump. The Circle B station, at 802 Bragg Blvd., was selling regular unleaded gas at $1.21 a gallon, Gasbuddy reported. North Carolina prices would be even lower if not for the fact that our state has one of the highest gas excise taxes in the country.

Veterans Affairs is in more hot water

More than a million veterans will receive instructions from Veterans Affairs officials on how to determine if they are eligible for thousands of dollars in medical cost reimbursements as the result of a court decision last fall. Tens of thousands of veterans were turned down for financial relief for bills they received for nondepartmental emergency medical care. That move comes over VA objections concerning an ongoing lawsuit over the issue, which could add billions in new costs to the department’s budget. Last fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled that the department’s current regulation for veterans who seek nondepartment medical care violates federal law. The court ordered the VA to reexamine more than 72,000 rejected claims and update its rules. The case centers on veterans whose unpaid emergency room expenses were denied under existing policies. The plaintiffs both had part of their bills paid for by other insurance but were left with thousands of dollars in personal costs. VA officials argued in court that they did not need to handle the unpaid balances because the veterans were primarily covered under other insurance plans. The VA is considering appealing the ruling.

Fort Bragg soldiers are on COVID-19 deployment

Soldiers with Fort Bragg’s 82nd Sustainment Brigade are ready for deployment to assist communities battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The brigade’s 249th Composite Supply Company received “prepare to deploy” orders three weeks ago, according to Sgt. 1st Class Jaquetta Gooden, a brigade spokeswoman.
Gooden said the entire company of 162 paratroopers is prepared to join the fight against the virus, if needed. The unit is equipped with general supplies, fuel support, water purification and shower and laundry services. About 270 Fort Bragg soldiers have already deployed in support of operations at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. The 44th Medical Brigade troops are helping local officials move patients in and out of the Javits center’s temporary hospital facility, according to brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Fergus Joseph. The Army said Fort Bragg units are supporting local, state and federal operators under the joint leadership of U.S. Army North and the U.S. Northern Command.

Railroad grade crossings being repaired

CSX Corp. has informed the North Carolina Department of Transportation that it will temporarily close several railroad crossings in Cumberland, Robeson, Harnett and Johnston counties for track maintenance. The railroad began work in Robeson County last week. In a few weeks will move northward into Cumberland, Harnett and Johnston counties. A crossing closure typically lasts three to five days. Because of the scope of work and the use of several crews, it’s impossible to say in advance which railroad crossings will be closed. Drivers should use caution on roads near any railroad crossing and be prepared for a temporary closure. Detour signs will be posted.

Hogs & Rags: Kickstands down. See you next year!

08 HogsNRags34th0POSTPONED 1For 14 years, the Hogs & Rags Annual Spring Rally has only gotten bigger and better. Already known as one of Eastern North Carolina’s largest motorcycle, car and truck rallies, organizers of this year’s event were taking it to even greater heights. They were adding more excitement and community involvement with a particular emphasis on honoring the thousands of military veterans living in the Fayetteville/Cumberland County community. This year’s ride was scheduled for Saturday, April 25, as part of the 39th Annual Fayetteville Dogwood Festival. Well, as most of our readers know by now, neither of these events will happen — thanks to COVID-19.

If you are not familiar with the Hogs & Rags motorcycle and car rally, it is Fayetteville’s premier charity fundraising event that supports three important local nonprofit organizations serving Fayetteville, Fort Bragg and Cumberland County. The Hogs & Rags Rally raises money for the local branch of the American Cancer Society; the Special Forces Charitable Trust Foundation, which supports our brave Special Forces soldiers and their families; and the Kidsville News Literacy and Education Foundation, which provides reading and educational materials (free of charge) to children in all Fort Bragg and Cumberland County Schools.

For 14 years, hundreds of motorcycle, car and truck enthusiasts, volunteers, sponsors and law enforcement agencies have come together in support of these causes to make this community a great place to live and work.

 Good things last, and this charitable event is no exception. Two of the original organizers of the rally are still active participants. It is the hard work, dedication and perseverance of people like Gardner Altman and Bobby Bleecker of Bleecker Automotive Group fame —  who have mentored the organization —that have enabled the event to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for these community charities. Their concept at the inception of the rally was to create a countywide event that was a win/win for everyone involved. Although the money raised benefited local charities, the other objective was to bring people and organizations together for fellowship in support of a common goal — to make the Fayetteville/Cumberland County community a better place to live, work, play and raise a family.

The objectives and success of this event caught the eye of another community-centric citizen, Tammy Thurman, Eastern North Carolina’s community relations manager for Piedmont Natural Gas. Seeing the impact the H&R event had on such a large segment of the community, PNG got involved by becoming the 2020 H&R presenting sponsor. Next year, PNG hopes to expand the charity ride to additional eastern Carolina cities. As the presenting sponsor, Thurman would have led the ride accompanied by two distinguished guests serving as the 2020 H&R Grand Marshals — the Honorable North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army Dan Dederick. Their dedication and contribution to our country, state and community are a matter of record, and their support of the rally is reflective of their goodwill, generosity and commitment to humanity.

We have an entire year to recover from this COVID-19 situation, so here is a sneak peek of what you can expect in 2021. The rally fun always begins with an official Hogs & Rags Welcome Party on the Friday before the event. This fun-filled meet-and-greet starts around 6:30 p.m. and is sponsored and hosted by Rodney Sherrill and his staff at Rodney Sherrill/State Farm Agency. This pre-rally party is a tradition filled with food, fun, fellowship and great music, featuring Fayetteville and Cumberland County’s most popular, talented, patriotic and award-winning band, Rivermist. Admission is free with registration.

The next day, Saturday, at 7:30 a.m., the action starts at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum. After registration, coffee and doughnuts, hundreds of motorcycles, cars and trucks will get into position as participants fellowship and greet the rally’s special guests. Opening ceremonies begin with a greeting from  Fayetteville’s mayor followed by a prayer and the Rivermist’s acapella rendition of the national anthem as the Special Forces Association Parachute Team performs a spectacular aerial demonstration while delivering a huge American Flag.

Immediately following the presentation of colors, event sponsor Fort Bragg Harley-Davidson’s local HOG Chapter Road Captain gives the safety briefing. Then it’s kickstands up, start your engines, and everyone sets out on the first leg of the rally, with a full police officer escort, which will end up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The first stop is Rock’n-A-Ranch in White Oak, North Carolina, where dozens of dedicated volunteers will have cooked up one of the most memorable and outstanding low-country Southern breakfasts you’ve ever had. It’s here that we again thank our rally sponsors and introduce our special guests. Then we are back on the road and headed to Myrtle Beach. After a short water break in Tabor City, we reach our final destination — Wild Wing Café in North Myrtle Beach. Here, the party starts as participants listen to great music and enjoy an awesome lunch as event organizers recognize the rally sponsors, give away prizes, have a live auction and announce the winner of our 50/50 and gun raffles. The raffle and auction items are outstanding every year and usually include three or four rifles and pistols, valuable artwork — like a signed and numbered limited-edition David Uhl HD painting — and our traditional exclusive one-of-a-kind handmade Hogs & Rags quilts. No one is ever disappointed.

Well, that’s the sneak preview of next year’s event. Will it happen exactly as described? Who knows? We do promise an experience you will never forget. Just remember, all the money raised each year stays here in Cumberland County and benefits local charitable organizations. Also, the Hogs & Rags Rally is an all-inclusive community event — this means cars, trucks and any kind of motorcycle you ride (on two or three wheels) is welcome. Everyone is invited. Come solo, bring a passenger — or the entire family — you will be among friends, and you will make friends while having the time of your life.

Next year, the cost of the ride will remain the same at $50 per person, and what a great value that is. You get to support three charities, fellowship at the  Friday Night Welcome Party with the live band Rivermist, partake in doughnuts and coffee, take home an official H&R T-shirt, enjoy a low-country breakfast at the Ranch and have a great meal and party at Wild Wing Café. There will also be door prizes, raffles and an auction. Wow! What’s not to like?

We missed you this year, but don’t miss us next year. Mark your calendar for Saturday, April 24, 2021, and join Piedmont Natural Gas, State Farm Insurance, Fort Bragg Harley-Davidson, the band Rivermist and the entire Hogs & Rags committee as we rally for three great charities and a wonderful Fayetteville/Cumberland County community.
Stay in touch with us at www.hogsandrags.org, and check out our Facebook page at Hogs and Rags of Fayetteville for more information. In the meantime: Stay safe, healthy and get ready to ride next year when you hear “KICKSTANDS UP!”


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