New Bern received a mediocre score for family friendliness in North Carolina from WalletHub, a website that produces data-driven articles ranking various subjects in various categories.
In ranking North Carolina cities for “2019’s Best Places to Raise a Family in North Carolina,” New Bern ranked 56th out of 87 cities. The top-ranked city was Cary, while coming in at 87th was Laurinburg.
In Eastern North Carolina, Havelock — you read that right — was the highest rated city in the survey, coming in at 35th. Other Eastern NC cities were Wilmington (44th), Greenville (53rd), Jacksonville (59th), Wilson (70th), Elizabeth City (75th), Tarboro (77th), Goldsboro (81st), and Kinston (84th).
Taking just Eastern North Carolina cities into account, then, New Bern ranked fourth, just behind Greenville and ahead of Jacksonville.
The rankings took into consideration 10 metrics, of which New Bern did better than average in just three: violent-crime rate per capita, unemployment rate, and playgrounds per capita.
New Bern ranked low in several categories, including percentage of families with children under age 17, median family income, and high school graduation rate. It rated near the bottom — 72nd — in housing affordability.
New Bern appears at the top of many lists, from Top Charming Small Towns to Top Small Retirement Towns, but these are typically niche categories. Raising a family is about as fundamental to a city’s purpose as you can get, and New Bern’s ranking, indeed rankings of all Eastern North Carolina cities, should raise some red flags and help policymakers in making decisions.
The data used in these rankings is entirely publicly available, and is the same information that companies look at when determining expansion and relocations.
True, New Bern is constantly looking for ways to up its game. But take one example, the planned Martin-Marietta Park. New Bern already ranks high for playgrounds per capita (24th in the state). Martin-Marietta Park won’t move the bar one iota in rankings such as these, even if it’s a park that is physically larger than most of Craven County’s smaller cities.
The focus should be where New Bern and Craven County are average or weak — median family income, quality of school system, high school graduation rate, poverty rate, and perhaps foremost, housing affordability.
Here are specific rankings for New Bern:
Raising a Family in New Bern (1=Best; 43=Avg.; 87=Worst)
64th– % of Families with Children Aged 0 to 17
57th– Median Family Income (adjusted for cost of living)
State Rep. Michael Speciale is seeking to fill the late Walter Jones’ unexpired seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Other candidates who have announced plans to run include Phillip Shepard and Philip Law. Michele Nix, vice-chairman of the NCGOP, is also reportedly preparing to announce her candidacy.
“After much encouragement and prayer, Michael Speciale of Craven County has decided to run for the U.S. House seat for District 3. This seat was left vacant by the untimely passing of Walter B. Jones,” Jones said in a news release.
Jones died Feb. 10 and his funeral was held Feb. 14. N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper must declare a vacancy on the congressional seat to exist and set a date for a special election to fill the remainder of Jones’ two-year term.
Speciale said he is known for standing up for what he believes is right for the people of his district. However, he has also said he does not represent people in his district with whom he disagrees. More on Speciale here, here, and here.
During his time at the state House of Representatives,
Speciale has backed legislation banning gay marriage, arming school teachers, and restoring North Carolina’s ability to leave the country.
According to Wikipedia, during a debate for an Anti-Puppy Mill Bill, which was a central focus for the First Lady of North Carolina, Ann McCrory’s legislative interests, Speciale stated: “Exercise on a daily basis – if I kick him across the floor, is that daily exercise? ‘Euthanasia performed humanely’ – so I should choose the ax or the baseball bat?”
Speciale said in his news release that he believes in God, country, family, the free market, personal responsibility and smaller government.
“He is unapologetic for what he believes and has made media headlines for standing strong for those positions. He is a strong constitutional conservative who remains true to those values that have made America great,” he said in his release.
Speciale is in his fourth term as the representative for the North Carolina House District 3 seat, which covers a large portion of Craven County.
He previously represented Beaufort and Pamlico Counties as well.
Speciale is Chairman of the Homeland Security, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, Vice-Chairman of State and Local Government, and a member of the Transportation, Elections & Ethics Law, Appropriations and Appropriations Justice, and Public Safety committees.
Speciale is the founder and chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.
Speciale is a retired Marine and a member of Freedom Baptist Church in Havelock.
He was twice elected as the Craven County Republican Party Chairman, is a former chairman of the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association (CCTA), as well as a graduate Fellow of the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership (NCIOPL).
He is a graduate of Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) at Craven Community College, and he has an Associate in Applied Sciences in Business Management/Operations Management.
Speciale is a Life Member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA).
He and his wife Hazel live in the New Bern area and have been married nearly 45 years. They have two children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The impact of the 2018 tropical systems in North Carolina wasn’t confined to coastal areas. Near the state’s geographical center, the route of N.C. 42 through Carbonton runs under floodwaters from the Deep River on Sept. 18, in eastern Chatham County, near Lee and Moore counties. Courtesy of the N.C. Department of Transportation.
CAROLINA PUBLIC PRESS | Hurricanes Florence and Michael caused school districts in their paths to miss several days of school. The state is helping districts avoid official penalties, but educators across the state are divided about the long-term wisdom of losing so many days of instruction.
As school districts recovered from Florence, Gov. Roy Cooper signed legislation Oct. 3 to grant calendar flexibility to schools in districts with federal disaster declarations. This allows the districts to waive up to 20 days of absences if they choose to. That choice isn’t necessarily automatic.
According to the N.C. Department of Public Safety, 30 counties have been federally declared for both individual assistance and public assistance, and 11 counties have been declared for public assistance only. School districts located in counties with either of these types of declarations can take advantage of the waiver policy. Although the legislation originally applied to those affected by Florence, it also covers districts with declarations due to Michael.
Valita Quattlebaum, chief communications officer for New Hanover County Schools, said her district will be using this waiver in addition to creating a new calendar to recoup days. Hurricane Florence heavily affected the coastal district’s schools and means of transportation, she said.
“We were out 17 days,” Quattlebaum said. “We had to get our buildings cleaned up, we had to clear up debris and make our campus safe enough for students to go into. We had repairs to do, get rid of damaged furniture, things that had gotten wet.”
Gov. Roy Cooper directed $25 million from the North Carolina Education Lottery Fund on Tuesday to speed repairs to K-12 public schools damaged by Hurricane Florence.
“Students need to get back to learning and educators need to get back to teaching, but many school districts can’t afford the repairs schools need,” Cooper said. “The lives of thousands of students, teachers and families are on hold and they need our help to recover.”
While many schools have reopened since Hurricane Florence struck last month, seven North Carolina school systems remain closed, keeping more than 130 schools out of operation and nearly 90,000 students out of class.
Just four of Craven County’s 23 public schools were open for class on Monday. Three schools in Jones County will have to be entirely rebuilt.
Several affected school districts have depleted most of their contingency funds and need immediate financial assistance to repair roofs, flooring and electrical wiring, eradicate mold and mildew and replace furniture to get schools reopened.
The emergency funds will be administered by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Priority will be given to district and charter schools in Brunswick, Craven, Duplin, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender and Robeson counties that have immediate repair needs and are not currently in operation.
Some of the repairs should be reimbursable by federal disaster recovery funds. Transferring the money now gives schools quicker help and allows them to retain contractors to speed repairs.
George Alsberg, age 103, of Wilmington, was one of the oldest voluntary evacuees of Hurricane Florence. Photo credit: Taylor Knopf
NORTH CAROLINA HEALTH NEWS |
That’s the takeaway from a state-compiled list of the adults who died as a result of the catastrophic storm. It shows that two out of three North Carolinians who died during or as a result of Florence were 60 or older, and nearly half were 70 or older. The median age of adults who died during or as a result of the storm was 67, while the statewide median age is 38.3.
“Vulnerable adults are more likely to be impacted because of their social isolation, or not having the supports they needed in areas like transportation,” said Heather Burkhardt, program coordinator at Resources for Seniors in Raleigh.
The list of deaths tied to the catastrophic September storm grew to 39 on Oct. 1, when Gov. Roy Cooper announced two deaths, one of a Pender County man, 69, who fell off a roof Sept. 22 while repairing storm damage. A list supplied by the Department of Public Safety showed that people older than 65 represented:
Six of 11 people who drowned in motor vehicle accidents,
Five of six people who died of medical causes such as cardiopulmonary distress or COPD
A couple, 86, who died in a fire caused by the use of candles while power was out.
Three of the victims were infants and two others did not have listed ages. Of the 34 adult deaths with ages attached, 21 were older than 65.
Perhaps the most poignant death was that of a man, 82, who committed suicide in Carteret County after Florence devastated his home. “Shot self when house condemned,” read the terse DPS account of the death.
LONGLEAF POLITICS | Hurricane Matthew struck eastern North Carolina on Oct. 9, 2016.
A full 18 months later, some of the first federally funded repairs are slated to begin this June.
Hurricane Matthew has re-emerged as a political issue in Raleigh as thousands of people in eastern North Carolina await public money to rebuild.
The storm was one of the most devastating in North Carolina’s history, killing 31 people and caused more than $4.8 billion in damage. Matthew set rainfall records in 17 counties, and 2,300 people were rescued from floodwaters.
Why is recovery taking so long?
It mostly has to do with the processes set up to distribute the roughly $1.7 billion in recovery aid expected from the federal and state government.
While the initial response from the N.C. National Guard and FEMA came quickly, North Carolina has been in no hurry to distribute money intended for longer-term recovery.
And as it turns out, there’s a huge difference between money that’s been approved — and money that’s actually been used.
The breakdown of funding sources is an alphabet soup of agencies, each with its own policies and mechanisms and hoops to jump through. State governments have incentives to get roads repaired quickly. Homes, not so much.
Here’s a quick explanation of how disaster recovery works. It’s ordered by how quickly money has been distributed.
Analysis by the Environmental Finance Center compares water and sewer revenues with operation and maintenance costs. Gray dots show municipal systems that have enough revenue to cover expenses. Peach-colored pentagons show show those with enough revenues to cover their combined expenses and debts. The bright red squares represent those without enough revenue to cover regular operating and maintenance expenses. Almost a quarter of systems across the state fall in those categories coming up short. Thanks, in part, to Florence and Matthew, many of those are clustered in the east.
CAROLINA PUBLIC PRESS
Taking stock of what it will take to rebuild after Hurricane Florence, it’s important to remember that even before this year’s hurricane season started, the finances of dozens of water and sewer systems throughout North Carolina were already underwater.
Some were damaged in prior storms. Many more across the state are caught in a long-term downward spiral of declining jobs and population.
As policymakers begin to shape the state’s rebuilding program in response to Hurricane Florence, they must deal with the already distressed systems and those damaged in the most recent storm. They must also come up with a long-term solution to a chronic statewide maintenance backlog.
These will be the key steps toward building resiliency, especially in the hard-hit eastern region of the state.
At a recent General Assembly committee meeting in Raleigh, Edgar Starnes, legislative liaison for the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, said 37 water and sewer systems in Florence disaster areas are going to need significant help dealing with the damage.
“The repairs they’re going to face are going to be very expensive,” he told members of a joint House and Senate committee studying water and sewer systems in a post-storm assessment held in late September. “They’re in a lot of trouble because of the flood right now.”
The damage to those systems and the floods that followed resulted in tens of millions of gallons of wastewater and sewage spills.
Some of the systems were the same as those damaged in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew roared through many of the same communities.
The Center for Environmental Health, The NC Conservation Network, Cape Fear River Watch, Working Films, and a coalition of environmental groups throughout North Carolina are holding a statewide screening tour of The DevilWe Know . A screening in New Bern is at 6:30 p.m. today.
In this new documentary film by Stephanie Soechtig, citizens in West Virginia take on a powerful corporation after they discover it has knowingly been dumping a toxic chemical — now found in the blood of 99.7 percent of Americans — into the local drinking water supply.
New Bern screening is at 6:30 p.m. today (Wednesday) at The Harrison Center, 311 Middle St. It is hosted by The Carolina Nature Coalition.
Brian Powell, communications director for the NC Conservation Network, outlined how the issues in the film are all too familiar for NC audiences: “The Devil We Know serves as a compelling and ominous prequel to the water contamination crisis impacting North Carolina as a result of widespread chemical dumping — particularly as it relates to GenX contamination of the Cape Fear River from the DuPont spin-off corporation Chemours.”
Emily Sutton, Haw Riverkeeper, and host of the Greensboro screenings said, “While The Devil We Know is about West Virginia, perfluorinated compounds are contaminating drinking water supplies throughout the state of NC as well. These are compounds that do not break down in traditional drinking water treatment. Many are known to be toxic to human health. North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency have carelessly allowed industry to dump toxins into public water supplies for decades. It is time to take action to protect human health and the health of our waterways.”
Each event will feature post-screening discussions led by local organizations that will show audiences how to stand against these toxic waste practices including demanding that PFAS chemicals get listed in the US database for toxic releases, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) – ensuring that companies must disclose when they release these chemicals into the environment.
NORTH CAROLINA HEALTH NEWS | Farmer markets around the state will have another month in the busy summer growing season to figure out how to keep accepting food assistance benefits electronically at their stands.
The National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP) announced Thursday it will send a month’s worth of operating funds to technology company Nova Dia Group to keep its MarketLink software running until the end of August, according to a news release sent out Thursday.
The move came just two weeks before 1,700 farmers markets around the county, including 45 in North Carolina, would have to stop accepting the Electronic Benefit Cards (EBT) that many depend on. No permanent solution has been announced.
At farmers markets around North Carolina, the tables are piled high with tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, peaches and more.
But even as the growing season is peaking, some folks who might want to buy will have a harder time bringing those fresh fruits and vegetables home.
That’s because the technology company that currently processes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) benefits at 40 percent of the country’s farmers markets will stop doing so at the end of July.
Left in the lurch in North Carolina are 45 farmers markets, farm stands and mobile markets and the low-income customers that use their SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer cards to buy that produce through a purchasing program that runs off of Apple iPads and iPhones, according to Lisa Misch, a program coordinator who works on food access issues for the Pittsboro-based Rural Advancement Foundation International.
In the waning days of this year’s legislative work session, lawmakers abruptly revived and passed a bill aimed at revising North Carolina’s laws to address the flood of people with mental health crises in hospital emergency departments.
Officials from the state’s hospital association had convened administrators, advocacy organizations, academics, mental health professionals and others over several years to examine some legislative fixes. Those leading that effort say they’ve come up with a bill that will improve processes for people who find themselves in crisis.
“We did this because we were tired of seeing these people, these humans trapped in a system that there really was no escape, this system of [involuntary commitment],” said Julia Wacker who leads mental health policy analysis for the North Carolina Healthcare Association. “This is far too often the way of treatment … stick these folks in handcuffs, put them in a squad car, and take them to the emergency department.”
But trust is hard to come by in North Carolina’s mental health system, and people who have been part of that system as consumers of services say they feel let down by a process that excluded their voices, as many of the state’s most prominent self-advocates were not invited to participate. They say any result will fail to account for the pain they’ve experienced as a result of the state’s fractured behavioral health system.
“They did not tell us about this bill,” said longtime advocate Martha Brock, who has been hospitalized for mental illness in the past.
Brock, who serves on the state Consumer and Family Advisory Committee, which informs the Department of Health and Human Services on behavioral health issues, said that she was frustrated after being shut out of the negotiations around the bill. She also has problems with some of its provisions.
Another longtime advocate Laurie Coker complained that the bill was revived suddenly, moved quickly, and that they were given little time to respond to changes made in the final draft. Both women expressed concern about definitions of “incompetence,” about who gets to make decisions for a person once they’re engaged in the behavioral health system, and about the privacy rights of people in that system.
And their complaints hint at some of the long-standing divisions within the mental health advocacy community itself, as well as the problems that come when institutions communicate with a limited pool of advocates.