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Duplin County approves new electoral districts

KENANSVILLE — The County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to approve the redistricting of Duplin County during the Board of Commissioners meeting and public hearing on Nov. 15.

“The new districts have been approved by resolution by both the Board of County Commissioners and the Board of Education,” said Davis Brinson, County manager.

“Barring any unforeseen events or litigation, the new electoral districts will be used beginning with the primary election scheduled to take place in March 2022,” he said.

The new electoral districts will be used to elect members to the Board of County Commissioners and the Board of Education.

The redistricting process was a collaborative effort between the Board of Commissioners, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the County Attorney, the County Manager, and Rep. Jimmy Dixon, who offered the assistance and expertise of the General Assembly’s staff in redrawing the electoral districts and developing a redistricting plan that was satisfactory to all the involved parties.

“The next step will be for block assignment files to be sent to the Duplin County Board of Elections and the Tax Office’s GIS Division as soon as possible,” said Brinson.

“These are electronic text files of Census data that will be used to determine in which district individual voters reside.

“If it is determined that it is necessary then, the County Attorney will further be authorized to seek approval of this plan by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina since a 2014 federal court order required that the districts be adjusted if necessary after the 2020 census.

The goal of the 2014 federal court order is to maintain districts that are equal in population.

Robert Moore, Duplin County Chapter of NAACP president, addressed everyone in attendance and spoke about the purpose of the public hearing and the important considerations and guidelines that must be followed during the process. He also explained Duplin’s five electoral districts that coincide with the County Commissioners and the Board of Education.

“I want to thank you for meeting us at the table on this monumental occasion because we came together for the good of the citizens of Duplin County,” Moore said as he addressed county officials and introduced attorney Allison Riggs, with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Riggs conducted an educational presentation to educate the public on the redistricting process and the new voting district map.

According to Riggs, census data from the 2020 census for Duplin County showed a significant population loss and showed that the overall deviations were 16.8 %, the new map dramatically reduces deviations down to 4% overall.

“Compared to the current map it reduces split precincts, there were nine split precincts in the previous map and eight in this one,” said Riggs. “And keeps the same number of municipalities.”

After the presentation, Tim Wilson, County Attorney thanked Dixon for getting the ball rolling and providing a starting point for the collaboration between all involved parties.

“Mr. Dixon arranged for us to go to Raleigh and meet at his office with his resources, they had the software and licensing up there,” said Wilson.

“He was instrumental in getting us to where we are, and perhaps more importantly he was instrumental in saving a lot of money for the county.”

Wilson explained that thanks to Dixon, the county saved more than $20,000 as that was the baseline front-end cost they were looking at for the process.

“And that was if everything went perfectly and if you didn’t have to do extra maps,” he added. “So that was a big cost saving for the county and one that I think should be recognized.

“We’re able to ultimately reconfigure it in a way that was satisfactory and most important like Allison pointed out — legal,” Wilson said.

The County Attorney thanked everyone who collaborated in the redistricting process and gave a special thank you to the County Commissioners.

“I thought they handled it with a professional open-mindedness, more so than I ever could’ve even dream or ask for,” said Wilson. “As you can see, we got a diverse board. They don’t all look the same, they don’t all come from the same backgrounds, they don’t all think the same way or agree upon everything… “What you do have here, is five intelligent guys, who at the end of the day, they’ve all got the same common goal of doing good for Duplin County.”

He commended their ability to “put aside some of the divisive and controversial things that you see on the news when it comes to this topic,” said Wilson.

“I think these guys did a good job of setting all that to the side and handling it with respect and dignity as they treated each other and approached each other and also as they approached the other side and Mr. Brinson and me as well.”

“It truly was a non-partisan collaborative effort by everybody in the room and we were pleased with that,” said Wilson.

Random act of kindness

ROSE HILL — Jovan Stone, a personal care aide at The Gardens at Rose Hill will welcome this holiday season with a new car thanks to a random act of kindness on Friday, Nov. 19.

“I am so thankful to receive this new car. I feel so blessed to work for a community that is so giving and caring toward their employees,” said Stone. “This means the world to me — it is truly life changing.”

According to an employee at The Gardens at Rose Hill, about a week ago, the company owner came from Hickory to tour the community building. While he toured the installation, he noticed Stone’s vehicle in poor shape parked outside and asked the administrator about Stone.

A few days later Alisha Edge, The Gardens of Rose Hill executive director, received a call letting her know the community owner wanted to do something special for Stone.

“I was so excited when our community’s owner called me and said he wanted to gift Jovan with a car,” said Edge.

“Jovan is definitely deserving of this gift — a kind and caring gesture for a kind and caring employee,” Edge added. “It was wonderful getting to help in the process of gifting Jovan with her new car, and to see this act of employee appreciation unfold.”

The Gardens of Rose Hill is an exceptional senior assisted living community located in Rose Hill. To learn more about The Gardens of Rose Hill, visit duplinseniors.com or call 910-289-2435.

Newly-elected mayor shares plans for Wallace's growth, prosperity

WALLACE — Jason Wells will be sworn in as the newly elected mayor for the Town of Wallace on Thursday, Dec. 9. Wells won the municipal race capturing 97.63% of the total votes.

“I am looking forward to working with the citizens of Wallace along with the Wallace Town Council to bring smart growth to our area,” said Wells.

“I truly believe our town is at an unprecedented time in history where we will see all the hard work of the current mayor and town council come to fruition whether that be the development of our park, the expansion of our airport, and all the new businesses and homeowners that will come to our area in the next four years.”

Wells, who served on the Wallace Town Council for the last six years, comes armed with a wealth of knowledge as someone who has been working collaboratively with other town officials to lay the foundations for the town’s continued growth.

When asked about his immediate priorities, Wells said housing is at the top of the list.

“The housing market in Southeastern NC is booming right now and people are looking to areas like Wallace for affordable housing options and less traffic compared to Wilmington,” said Wells.

He pointed out the town has employers who can’t expand due to housing limitations and stated the need to have available housing for future employer groups.

“New businesses are forming in rural counties in this part of the state at an unprecedented rate and we need to take full advantage of this opportunity,” Wells said.

Wells also highlighted the town’s need to accelerate the development of Boney Mill Park, which he plans to accomplish by utilizing a combination of Park and Recreation Trust Funds with other sources of funding.

“The park will be unlike anything else in Duplin County,” said Wells as he spoke about the benefit to the quality of life and its potential to attract visitors for years to come --all while providing a place for children and adults alike to get outside and take full advantage of a “truly hidden gem.”

The elected mayor and Wallace native made emphasis on the need to continue pushing forward with the town’s clean-up efforts to address abandoned and dilapidated buildings.

“I am extremely thankful for this opportunity to serve as mayor of our town. It’s not a task that I take on lightly,” said Wells.

“We still have a lot to do and the heavy lifting has only just begun. We have neighborhoods that need to be built, roads that need to be paved and repaired, and families that need good-paying jobs close to home.

“I want people to know, regardless of whether you live inside the city limits, or many miles away, Wallace is open for Business!

He encourages residents to work together and to keep pushing forward toward making Wallace a town they feel proud to call home.

“Now is the time to work together, to roll up our sleeves as a community to work alongside both our major employers in the area as well as the small businesses that help drive our local economy, to see Wallace become the type of town our future generations will want to return to and call home.

“None of this will be easy. Tackling our town’s issues at hand will require consensus and compromise. It will also require commitment from all our community stakeholders to see our town move forward.

“I look forward to spearheading such an effort and I thank the Town of Wallace community for making our town such a wonderful place to live and serve others.”

The Wallace Rose-Hill 1995 graduate, has a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington and a Master’s Degree in Business Management from East Carolina University.

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State Budget a monumental win for Duplin County with more than $52M in funds

KENANSVILLE — The recently approved State Budget marks a historical precedent for Duplin County as it will provide more than $52 million in funds to support the improvement, growth and development of the county.

“This is huge for Duplin County,” said Carrie Shields, Economic Development Commission director as she shared some of the highlights Duplin County will receive:

  • Duplin County Sheriff’s Office will receive $21,300,000 for a detention facility.
  • James Sprunt Community College will receive $9 million.
  • Duplin County Emergency Management Facility will receive $7 million.
  • Wallace will receive $6 million for infrastructure upgrades.
  • $4 million is allocated toward a North Carolina Forestry Service Region One Headquarters that will be build adjacent to the airport.
  • The Duplin County Events Center will receive $500,000 for parking lot construction
  • The Town of Faison will receive 320,000 for infrastructure upgrades to their water and sewer system
  • The Duplin County Health Department will receive $140,700 for building repairs
  • The Duplin County Veterans Museum will receive $62,500, of which $37,500 will be for an elevator and $25,000 for a mural
  • Duplin County Services for the Aged will receive $2 million
  • Duplin County will receive $1 million for the Northeast Cape Fear Riverbank restoration project

According to Shields, the Northeast Cape Fear Riverbank restoration project will help prevent flooding in the future with funds going toward dredging and clean up.

“With two back-to-back catastrophic hurricanes that have demolished our county in so many ways, this is just one step to help clean that up, and ensure that we do what we can to prevent flooding in the future,” she said.

Shields also spoke about the $2 million appropriations that will help address the needs of the Duplin County Services for the Aged to better serve the needs of Duplin’s senior citizens. The 3,600 square-foot building currently in use was built in 1875 and is in need of repairs.

“(It) does not allow for the agency to obtain any kind of a senior center or any kind of a Merit of Excellence for certification, so that really kinda handicaps us,” said Shields. “And of course with COVID-19 the demand has increased 56% for nutrients and deliveries.”

“We are just over (the) capacity,” said Shields. “The building there is in much disrepair and it definitely needs a new location.”

According to Shields, the Duplin County Services for the Aged Senior Center will be at the Duplin Commons along with the new Duplin County Emergency Operations Center.

“Underway right now, we have a new animal control facility — that has received funding — that will be built there as well as a new transportation center,” said Shields.

The Duplin Commons is slated for Duplin County government growth and is an area where residents will see a lot of development.

“We’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said Shields. “We are very grateful for Senator Brent Jackson and Representative Jimmy Dixon.”

The Duplin Times approached Dixon for comments.

“For many decades Duplin was a one Party only county always voting straight Democrat ballots. We have changed that over the last decade and we now have a seat and a strong voice on the Appropriation Committee,” said Dixon. “This budget is a reflection of our strong Republican efforts in the General Assembly.”

Dixon shared that the funding will be available as soon as the state budget is certified, which takes about a month. “The monies will be available on some predetermined construction drawdown schedule as the county proceeds with these projects,” Dixon added.

As we move into 2022, there will be more details released about the above-mentioned allocations. Among other changes people can expect to see with the approval of the state budget are 5% raises for nearly all state employees over the next two years and a lower personal income tax rate of 4.99% in 2022.

Beulaville moves toward establishing ABC store

BEULAVILLE — In the two years since Beulaville residents voted in favor of establishing an ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Service) liquor store in the small town, the Board of Commissioners and other town officials have been working diligently to make the idea a reality, said Mayor Hutch Jones.

“I feel like we have methodically gotten to where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of questions from the public about what is taking so long, but it is a thorough process through the state. We are beginning to develop a budget and have had a feasibility study. The board is working through that now.”

The creation of an ABC store in Beulaville is part of a strategic economic development plan, the mayor explained. The town board proposed in 2019 that alcohol sales be placed on the municipal election ballot. Three items related to alcohol sales within town limits were approved by voters: 59.05% voted in favor of establishing an ABC store, 59.41% voted in favor of allowing malt beverage sales inside restaurants, and 58.08% voted to allow mixed beverage sales in restaurants.

Jones said that liquor sales are just one of several revenue streams that municipalities can use to fund parks, fire services, law enforcement and other needed town services. “We have talked about different things we can do to increase the town’s revenue, and alcohol sales are a good way to do that,” he added.

In addition, the sales tax from alcohol and liquor sales would also help to bolster the town’s coffers. “Over the past few years, Beulaville has seen a dramatic increase in sales tax revenue,” Jones said. “An ABC store would be a great way to continue that increase.”

That sales tax increase is due in large part to the heavy traffic that comes through Beulaville via NC Highway 24, or Main Street. In all likelihood, the Highway 24/Main Street corridor is where the new ABC store will be located, Jones said, though a specific site has not yet been identified.

“Our feasibility study indicated that signage or a location on Highway 24 would be the best place for it,” he added. “However, any speculation about spots or locations is just that at this point — speculation.”

As far as feedback from the public since the 2019 election, Jones said that there has been no formal communication either for or against the ABC store, though he and the town commissioners occasionally hear from residents that are either for or against liquor sales, just as part of regular conversation.

“The people of Beulaville have voted,” he said, “so we need to keep moving forward, and that’s what we are doing.”

Although alcohol sales in restaurants were also approved in the 2019 election, so far only two restaurants have applied for and received the required permit — Taquiera and La Vera Curzana.

For more information on alcohol sales and other town business, contact Town Hall at 910-298-4647.

The Beulaville Board of Commissioners meets on the first Monday of each month at 6 p.m., and residents are always welcome to attend.