Local News

Commemorative event honors the fallen

13Memorial Day weekend is often considered a magical time, a time for barbecues, judicious application of sunscreen and the long-awaited re-opening of the local water hole.

But for many families across the nation, especially here on Fort Bragg, it is, first and foremost, a time to remember.
Fort Bragg Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, in partnership with Army Community Service, will host the Fort Bragg Run, Honor, Remember 5k on May 21, starting at 7:30 a.m.

This commemorative, family-friendly run/walk will occur at Hedrick Stadium on Fort Bragg and is open to Department of Defense cardholders and their guests.

A tradition started after 9/11 to recognize the ultimate sacrifice of those lost in combat zones during that time; the walk has only grown in popularity and significance since then.

The walk has been on hiatus since 2019 because of the pandemic, making this year especially meaningful for those coordinating the run.

"This is one of our favorite events," said Jennifer Fayson, special event coordinator, FMWR. I think it is so important to reflect upon how many servicemen and women have laid their lives down for us and remember the sacrifice of their families. It's especially important as we head into the memorial day weekend."

Over 7500 pairs of boots will be placed on the field at Hedrick Stadium to honor those soldiers who never returned home. The boots will stay on display for the entire Memorial Day weekend. It's a sight Fayson strongly urges people to come and experience for themselves.

"It's so moving to see them out there," Fayson told Up & Coming Weekly. "About 175 of them have been decorated by service members' families. I think that's my favorite part."
Home to over 500,000 active-duty soldiers, many families in the area know what it means to see a father, mother, son or friend walk out the door to serve their country. Many families also know that their loved ones' safe return is not guaranteed.

The Run, Honor, Remember 5k is a time when the community comes together to acknowledge that freedom has a cost and give thanks to those who pay it.

"Fort Bragg is a strong community and very supportive of our military in general," Fayson explained. "I love seeing the community come together. It's always such a large turnout because people want to show their support. They want to honor and remember soldiers who have given their lives in the ultimate sacrifice."

The event invites walkers, strollers, amblers and runners of all ages, fitness levels and abilities. There is no charge to participate, and no registration is required.

"It's open to anyone who would like to come," said Fayson. Family members, community members, spouses, kids—we invite everyone; it's a great event."

The pre-event ceremony for the Run, Honor, Remember 5k starts at 7:30 a.m., while the event itself is scheduled to end at 10 a.m.
Hedrick Stadium is located at Sedgewick Street on Fort Bragg.

For more information, call, 910-908-5977.

City unveils scoring system for grant applications

12Fayetteville officials on Monday, May 9 unveiled the scoring criteria for applicants to a grant program that they hope will decrease crime in the community.
As Carolina Public Press previously reported, the city’s Community Safety Microgrant program, for which the City Council approved $250,000 in funding last fall, elicits ideas from the community for addressing crime. The program launched last week.

Earlier this year, the Fayetteville Police Department released crime data from 2021, showing that violent crime had increased in the city as part of a national trend.
At a meeting last month regarding the program, Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins said that the microgrant program was inspired by a similar one in Charlotte.

“We all understand crime is a big problem to deal with,” Hawkins said. “A lot of different issues.”
While the program is open-ended, the police chief presented several examples to the City Council of what could come from the program.

These examples included conflict resolution, opportunities for youths, family stability and ways to address implicit bias, among others.

These are just examples, though, Hawkins emphasized. Applicants to the program can implement any idea through the program’s funding as long as they can show it will address crime and meet the program’s scoring standard.

“This is a community initiative,” Hawkins said. “They have the idea. They have the game plan. They have a program, and they grow this.”

Once an applicant submits an idea, a panel will evaluate the submission and render a score with a maximum of 100 points.
Four elements will be considered in the scoring process — inclusivity, collaboration, resourcefulness and innovation.

“Scoring is a pretty time-intensive process based on the number of applications we get,” said Chris Cauley, Fayetteville’s economic and community development director.
The ZIP codes 28314, 28305, 28303 and 28301 will also receive priority, receiving bonus points.

The panel that determines the score is made up of one representative each from the Fayetteville Redevelopment Commission, the Citizen Police Advisory Board, the Human Relations Commission, the city’s mental health sector and someone within the public school system.

“We are giving direction to not choose one entity to decide who will get the awards,” said Council Member Shakeyla Ingram. “We are compiling a community-based board or advisory committee to be able to decide who will get (the funding).”

Mayor Mitch Colvin said the program allows various community stakeholders to get involved in reducing crime.

“There are a lot of partners that played a role in this process,” he said. “Everybody is needed at the table in order for this to be successful.”

Any nonprofit organization with an operating budget of less than $100,000 can apply for the program. For-profit entities cannot participate.
Individuals can apply as well. Cauley said the program is designed for anyone of any educational level to apply.

He said anyone can call the city’s Economic Development Department at 910-433-1590 to get help with the application process.
More information for applicants is available at fayettevillenc.gov/microgrant.

Fayetteville City Council to seek voter approval of bond package on November ballot

11Voters in Fayetteville will be asked in November’s election to approve a bond package that would address public safety, infrastructure and affordable housing in the city.
The City Council unanimously voted May 9 at the regular Monday meeting to put the bonds on a referendum.

The bonds would be valued at $97 million, according to city documents, but the city could decrease that number over the next few months as the council finalizes the details of the package.
The amount, however, cannot go above that amount approved on Monday before the election in November.

Any amount approved by the voters would require a property tax increase, city officials said at a special council meeting late last month dedicated to the discussion of the bonds.

“The voters would be able to give us their say on it,” City Manager Doug Hewett said at April’s meeting. “If they say yes, then of course, we would have to raise the tax rate to honor the debt payments that the bond would generate.”

Residents will be able to vote on each area — public safety, infrastructure and housing — separately, as each will have its own portion among the $97 million maximum.

“(The referendum) gives the council full authority, and it also gives the voters and taxpayers in the city of Fayetteville the authority as well to tell us if that’s something they want us to do in these areas,” Hewett said.
The funds from the bonds would not be associated with any federal funds that the city has received from recent federal legislation, such as the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
Assistant City Manager Jay Toland said one-time funds from ARPA to be used for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic have already been obligated to various city projects.

“It’s not like we’re going to take these projects or this amount here and then supplant it with the ARPA money,” he said. “This is (for) additional needs outside of that.”
The funds from the bonds would be used for more recurring expenses, according to city officials.

“Despite all of the federal money that we have and the very careful financial planning that we do here as the city, we find that we have capital needs, which far exceed our ability to fund,” Hewett said.

“To address the significant public safety, unfunded needs, and not to mention potentially any housing, affordable housing issues that the council wishes to take, we would need a different funding method.”

Tax increase

If the bonds are approved by voters, it would cause an increase in property taxes in Fayetteville.
With each cent increase to the property tax, the city could fund $1.45 million in annual costs of repaying the bond, Toland said.
If the maximum $97 million is eventually put on November’s ballot, it would require an annual increase in property tax of just under 4 cents, based on a presentation Toland gave to the City Council.

Property taxes are calculated by dividing the value of the home or property by 100 and then multiplying by the cent increase.
A $200,000 home, for instance, would see a one-time annual property tax increase of about $80 under the 4 cents scenario, or a monthly increase of just under $7. If the total bond amount is decreased, though, the taxpayer burden will go down as well.
If the voters approve the bonds, the tax increase would not occur until fiscal year 2024 starts next summer, Toland said.
Aside from the bonds issue, there will be no tax increases in the upcoming city budget for the next fiscal year, Hewett said.

“There will not be a tax rate increase proposed in my budget that I’ll present to you in May,” he told the council at April’s bonds meeting. “There will not be an increase proposed in the budget for transit, solid waste or stormwater.”

The city had previously considered an increase in solid waste fees, Carolina Public Press reported earlier this year.

How each area will be funded

The maximum amount that could be approved for public safety, infrastructure and housing is $60 million, $25 million and $12 million, respectively.
The preliminary plans for the public safety portion is to construct and renovate various fire stations across the city and to build a police call center that would cost over $30 million.
Hewett said that the call center “is a must.”

Fayetteville Fire Chief Mike Hill said that the fire station locations are based on need, according to various data collected by the Fire Department.
The $60 million, though, would not cover all the construction. Details of which projects the bonds will fund will be determined over the next few months before the referendum is filed to the Board of Elections later this summer.

The $25 million infrastructure portion would cover new sidewalks, intersection improvements, new bike lanes and street repaving.

The remaining $12 million would be used to provide and rehabilitate multifamily and single-family housing within the city. It would also fund “programs to provide loans and other financial assistance” for housing-related costs, according to city documents.

The housing funds within the bonds would be used to benefit people of low and moderate income. Details for how that will be defined have yet to be determined.

At April’s bonds meeting, when the City Council approved of an additional housing portion, Mayor Mitch Colvin cited a previous city study, when advocating for the housing funds, that showed Fayetteville is short 20,000 homes for workforce level housing.

Cumberland school board approves 2022-23 budget

The Cumberland County Board of Education on Tuesday night, May 10, unanimously approved the superintendent’s proposed budget for the 2022-23 school year.
Based on Superintendent Marvin Connelly’s recommendation, the board is requesting $88.2 million in local funding from the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. That represents an increase of 6.2%, or $5.1 million, over the 2021-22 appropriation.

In other business, the school board voted 5-4 to continue with its optional mask policy. The board is required to vote on the policy each month.
Before the regular meeting got underway, a public hearing was held on the proposed closure of Lillian Black Elementary School and Ireland Drive Middle School. No one spoke on behalf of either school, and the board did not take any action on the proposed closures Tuesday night.

Budget priorities for the next school term include a minimum wage beginning at $15 an hour for bus drivers and other staff.

The money needed to meet the proposed salary goals might require a property tax increase by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, the school board has said previously.

The school district’s local funding request will now be submitted to the county board by May 15 for consideration.

The total proposed budget for the school system is $699 million, which is a drop of 8% from 2021-22.

The State Public School Fund accounts for the largest portion of the budget at $348.2 million, or 49.8% of the total budget. Federal programs, Enterprise Fund and grants account for an additional $232.6 million, or 33.6%.

The federal budget makes up 26.6% of the district budget at $185.9 million. The capital outlay budget is approximately $13.6 million, or 2%, of the district budget.
The capital outlay budget is the primary source of funding for buildings, land and improvements, furniture and equipment, and vehicles, according to a release from the school system. This budget is funded by designated sales tax revenues with annual allocations from Cumberland County government.

The proposed salary schedule complies with a state-mandated minimum wage for all employees and eliminates the salary compression in the present schedule while increasing the local supplement of certified staff by an average of 2%, a release said.

The board’s Budget and Finance Committee previously OK'd the proposed budget by unanimous vote before it was passed on to the entire school board Tuesday.

“We remain committed to our students,” Connelly said during the board's regular monthly meeting. “Nearly three years ago, we made several commitments, and we determined to see them through. While a lot has changed since school in our strategic plan in 2019, our hope and aspirations for our young people have remained the same.

“Despite a global pandemic that has ravaged our world,” he said, “we remain resolute in the commitments detailed in our strategic plan – 'Together, We Will Rise!' We are reimagining the Cumberland commitment and working innovatively to educate our young people.”

Much of the budget invests in the system’s workforce, Connelly said.

As such, a large chunk of the local funding request focuses on investing in the district’s 6,000-plus employees and implementing cost-of-living and supplemental increases. The board is seeking approval from the commissioners to launch a funding model to support the implementation of competitive salary and supplement schedules for the district’s employees.

The superintendent said he was recommending that the full board seek approval from the county commissioners to implement the state-required $15 per hour minimum pay for all employees.
High-quality educators and staff are choosing to retire and transition to different careers, he said. Some are leaving for higher-paying career jobs. As a result, he said, it’s important that Cumberland County Schools remain competitive with other school districts statewide by recruiting and retaining highly qualified employees.

The key, Connelly told the board, is collaboration.

“By investing in our premiere professionals,” he said, “we are invested in the success of our students. It is more important than ever that we invest in our future – the future of our students is at stake. It is imperative that we then move forward with the budget proposal for the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners that we can all stand behind."

Commissioners briefed on community programs

County Public Health Director Jennifer Green on Monday, May 2, gave the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners an overview of the planning process needed to acquire the county’s portion of money from a state opioid lawsuit.

Dr. Green gave county commissioners a number of options to consider when requesting the funds and will ask for the commission’s guidance during their upcoming May 12 agenda planning session.

North Carolina is part of a $26 billion settlement that will provide money to help bring relief to communities affected by opioid addiction. The state, its 100 counties and 45 municipalities joined the agreement. The money agreement is a result of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies deemed to have been responsible for creating and fueling the opioid epidemic.

Green told commissioners that the state will keep 15% of the money, with the remainder going to North Carolina counties and municipalities who are part of the agreement. She said Cumberland County will get about $16.9 million, and Fayetteville will get about $2 million. The state will distribute the money over an 18-year span.

A memorandum of agreement between the state and local government directs how the opioid settlement funds are distributed among the recipients. To access the money, local government must conduct annual meetings within each county; establish a special revenue fund, which cannot be co-mingled with other county funds; adopt a budget resolution that authorizes spending money, to include amount and time period, a spending strategy and forwarding information to the opioid settlement board. The requirements also include filing an annual financial report and annual impact reports.

Additionally, the MOA requires local government to choose a plan of action, giving two options.

Option A allows local governments to fund one or more strategies from a shorter list of “evidence-based, high impact strategies to address the epidemic.”

Option B allows local government to fund one or more strategies from a longer list of strategies after engaging in a collaborative strategic planning process involving a “diverse array of stakeholders”.

Green said the County could start with Option A and then switch to Option B, but it could not switch back and forth.

The next steps to getting the funding underway is to get the Commission’s guidance at the May 12 Agenda session; complete stakeholder and community feedback sessions scheduled for May and June; analyze the data, align the proposed strategies, and feedback from various stakeholders; and present the total findings to the county commissioners.

The funding flow starts immediately, with $652,543 becoming available this spring, $1,435,068 later this summer, and the remainder increments each following summer until 2038.
Commissioner Charles Evans asked if the money could be used to treat people addicted to other substances, such as crack cocaine. Green responded that the money has to be used for addiction treatment for opioids.

“That’s where the settlement comes from,” she said.

The commissioners also heard from Sharon Moyer, community engagement administrator for the Partnership for Children of Cumberland County. Moyer updated the commissioners on the Family Connects Program.

The program provides in-home or virtual nurse visitation to families with newborns in Cumberland, Hoke and Robeson counties. The visits occur about three weeks after the baby is born. There is no cost to the family.

The visits reduce hospital visits and have decreased child abuse reports by 44%, Moyer said. The program addresses issues like postpartum depression, household safety and parent-child relationships, among others. Moyer said Cape Fear Valley Medical Center now allows trained nurses to contact new mothers and provide them with an informational card prior to leaving the hospital.

In other action, the Commissioners unanimously agreed to extend another three-year lease to Coastal Horizons Center, Inc., a Wilmington-based non-profit providing substance abuse treatment. The organization is housed in the county-owned building at 412 Russell St. The county’s pretrial services and state parole and probation agencies also occupy the building. Coastal Horizons Inc. will pay the county $18,180 a year for 1,212 square feet of office space.

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