A1 A1
Pitt County is moving to negotiate with Greenville-ENC Alliance

Pitt County officials are taking steps to negotiate with a new economic alliance that county leaders pulled away from last year, according to a report at the Board of Commissioners meeting Monday.

County Manager Scott Elliott told the board that officials were pursuing a memorandum of understanding with the Greenville-ENC Alliance, a group that aligned the economic development efforts of several public and private entities, including the City of Greenville, Greenville Utilities and the Pitt County Committee of 100. Initial plans for the alliance included the Pitt County Development Commission, but county leaders voted against the development commission’s formal membership, which would have included a substantial financial commitment.

Elliott said that the chairman and vice chairman of the Board of Commissioners, officials from the Pitt County Development Commission and county staff met on Jan. 6 to discuss possible ways that the Development Commission can collaborate or partner with the alliance. The group agreed to ask the alliance to propose language that would be appropriate for a memorandum of understanding.

Scott Darnell, the executive director of the development commission, is reaching out to the Greenville-ENC Alliance about the memorandum, Elliott said.

“Our understanding is that they are designating a point person on this topic so it sounds like they are willing to consider it,” he said.

Elliott recommended postponing a proposed joint meeting between the Board of Commissioners and the development commission board.

“We are contacting the alliance, asking them to propose some type of language that this smaller group can come back and examine that would be included in an MOU, potentially that both groups could agree upon,” Elliott said in a telephone interview following the meeting.

There were no questions or comments from the commissioners for Elliott following his report.

However, during the commissioners’ comments section at the end of the meeting, Lauren White, District 6, read a statement in which she said she has confidence in Darnell.

“I look forward to continued conversations with the industrial development commission and the Greenville-ENC Alliance to encourage collaboration and partnership,” White said. “I support the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding — MOU — between the county, the industrial development commission and the alliance that will create transparency and assign roles and responsibilities on matters of economic development while maintaining the independence of the governing and taxing authority of the industrial development commission as is required by law.

“I am in favor of the development of an MOU for the county’s consideration so that we may work with our partners toward a stronger economy for Pitt County in the future,” White said.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved unanimously a request from Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance for a grant adjustment so the sheriff’s office can hire a full-time social worker at the Pitt County Detention Center.
  • Approved unanimously a motion to appropriate $15,000 from the contingency fund to the town of Bethel to assist in repairs of its closed senior center.
  • Approved unanimously a request from Pitt County Solid Waste & Recycling to enter into a memorandum of understanding with East Carolina University that will allow ECU to operate a small composting facility on one acre of land at the transfer station.
  • Approved appointments and re-appointments to boards and councils, including the Pitt County Board of Adjustment and the Pitt County Planning Board.
  • Adopted a proclamation recognizing January 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month.
  • Approved unanimously the December 2019 Tax Collection Report as presented by Sam Croom, county tax administrator.
  • Met in closed session to discuss matters relating to the location or expansion of industries or other businesses and to prevent the disclosure of privileged or confidential information.

The board of commissioners will meet for a capital budget workshop at 8 a.m. on Jan. 27.

The next regular board of commissioners meetings will be at 9 a.m. on Feb. 3 and at 6 p.m. on Feb. 17 in the Eugene James Auditorium on the second floor of the Pitt County Office Complex, 1717 W. Fifth St.

Governor, Vidant leaders urge legislators to add Medicaid expansion to state budget

Nearly a dozen officials from Vidant Health, the business community and elected leaders joined Gov. Roy Cooper to talk about the need for Medicaid expansion on Monday.

The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene at noon today, so the governor and secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, came to Greenville to keep the public’s attention focused on negotiating an expansion deal.

Vidant Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum, ECU Vice Chancellor for Health Services Dr. Mark Stacy and state Republican Rep. Chris Humphrey were among the participants.

“It’s very clear that zip code matters more than your genetic code,” Waldrum said. “The environment you are born into or live in affects your health and well-being more than your genetic code.”

Looking at longevity data, Waldrum said, it is clear that people who live in the Raleigh area live more than a decade longer than individuals who live 100 miles east along U.S. 64.

Multiple rural hospitals in the state are at risk of closing because they are saddled with large populations that can’t pay for health insurance, Cooper said. There also are numerous families struggling with bankruptcy after incurring large health care bills after an illness.

It is time North Carolinians reclaim the taxes they have paid the federal government by receiving federal spending for Medicaid expansion, he said.

“We’ve seen a laboratory of the 37, now 38, states and we’ve seen how it works for a number of years,” Cooper said. “We saw a 7 (percent) to 11 percent drop of insurance premiums for private companies with expansion in these other states.”

Reducing the amount of uncompensated care should reduce costs across the board, he said. States with expansion also saw decreases in opioid abuse deaths, Cooper said.

“We need to find a path for reasonable people to close their coverage gap,” Cooper said.

“This is a really hard health care market where people have been underserved historically,” Waldum said. “It’s important that we do close this gap. It’s important for all people in eastern North Carolina to have coverage.”

More than one million people in North Carolina do not have health insurance, according to a statement later released by Vidant Health.

The statement also said that the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University reports that expanding Medicaid for the state would result in more than $11 billion in additional federal funding from 2020-22, with more than 600,000 North Carolinians becoming eligible for Medicaid coverage.

Cooper vetoed the $24 billion state budget because it did not contain Medicaid expansion. The House overrode the veto but the Senate’s Republican leadership needs one Democrat to pass an override vote.

The legislature’s Republican leadership have said Medicaid should be negotiated separately from the budget and the budget should be approved before expansion talks begin.

“I am here to learn about health care in rural North Carolina,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey, who represents Lenoir County and part of Pitt County, is an insurance agent and has clients who are farmers and small business owners who struggle to afford health insurance.

However, his office has received few comments from individuals who want Medicaid expansion. Most people are more concerned about affording their utilities, he said.

Humphrey said he would relay Monday’s comments to the Senate but called the body a “tough, tough sell.”

The House is more open to pursuing some form of Medicaid expansion, he said. There is legislation in committee that would expand Medicaid but it has a work requirement, as do several states that receive federal expansion dollars.

Humphrey also thinks people should pay a small premium, maybe 2 percent, to cover administration costs, and there should be a wellness requirement.

“We can’t give you health care and expect you to eat four cheeseburgers a day and drink a 12-pack of beer every night. You’ve got to have skin in the game,” Humphrey said.

If the state approves Medicaid expansion, it must pay 10 percent of the cost. Cooper said Cohen and others in his administration have secured an agreement that insurers, hospitals and providers will pay that 10 percent match.

When I became governor I had a CEO mission statement ... That mission is to make sure we have a North Carolina where people are better educated, where they are healthier, where they have more money in their pockets and they have opportunities to live lives of purpose and abundance,” Cooper said. “The issue we are talking about here today will further that mission.”

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is scheduled to hold a news conference at 10 a.m. today to discuss the budget veto override.

Subscribers can visit reflector.com to read additional comments about funding a new Brody School of Medicine.

Budget override tops North Carolina Senate GOP wish list

RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly returns to Raleigh briefly today with a short to-do list, topped by another Republican attempt to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the budget more than six months ago.

Senate GOP leaders announced on Monday they again will put a budget veto override on their floor debate calendar.

Republicans only need one Democrat in the chamber to vote to override or two Democrats to be absent to get the necessary supermajority. Neither occurred last fall when Senate Republicans threatened similar votes, and there’s little to indicate the political math has become any easier for the GOP.

While the House rammed through a successful override in September at a moment when dozens of Democrats were absent, the inability of GOP legislators to complete the override and enact their preferred budget became the symbol of the 2019 session.

All of Cooper’s vetoes were upheld last year as Democratic leverage improved, thanks to seats gained during the 2018 elections.

Still, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger keeps trying to pitch the positives for Democrats to turn their backs on Cooper, arguing it’ll be the only way for teachers to get significant raises this school year. The vetoed budget also includes money for school construction and local pork projects.

“Democrats have a choice to make. If they want us to have the state move forward with the construction projects that are in the budget, with the teacher pay raise that’s in the budget. They can,” Berger said. “Tell us that they’re prepared to vote for the override.”

But Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh said he’s “pretty confident” the chamber’s Democrats will remain united with Cooper, even as a new Democrat gets sworn in Tuesday. Durham County Democrats chose retired 20-term state Rep. Mickey Michaux to fill the term vacated by Sen. Floyd McKissick, who resigned last week to serve at the state Utilities Commission.

Although McKissick and three other Senate Democrats actually voted for the GOP budget in June, the chamber’s party caucus have closed ranks since to support Cooper. And Michaux said on Monday that he would “definitely” side with Cooper and sustain the veto.

Cooper and other Democrats oppose the two-year budget written by Republicans because it contained corporate tax cuts and lacked Medicaid expansion. Cooper also proposed average teacher pay increases that are double what the GOP offered.

Cooper wants Republicans to stop trying to override and instead work with him on carving out a better, separate pay plan for teachers and other school personnel. Berger has said that’s not going to happen.

“I hope that the veto will hold,” Cooper told reporters last week. “But I also hope that the Republican legislature will take us up on our offer to negotiate a compromise.”

While a vetoed budget means many GOP conservative policies have been blocked, state government continues to operate. Lawmakers spent the summer and fall passing several stand-alone spending bills for many key agencies, and Cooper signed nearly all into law.

Republicans point out that Cooper vetoed one such bill that would have given teachers the average 3.9 percent raises contained in the blocked budget. Senate Republicans also announced on Monday that today’s schedule will include potential override votes for the standalone teacher pay bill and a regulatory measure Cooper also vetoed.

Berger and House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis said legislation also could pass during the expected one-day session to close a funding shortfall for a college scholarship program for the children of wartime veterans. Lewis said the House also may consider some largely technical tax legislation.

After today, legislators are not likely to meet until at least April, when the chief activity of the “short session” will be to draw up and approve spending alterations for the fiscal year starting July 1.

911 calls: Screams, gunfire heard at birthday party

In 911 calls released Monday, gunshots can be heard in the background as people scream and take cover at a birthday party that turned into a chaotic crime scene on Sunday morning.

The shooting took place about 1:40 a.m. in the parking lot of the Brookside West apartments, near building 2609 on MacGregor Downs Road. The complex is west of Arlington Boulevard.

One man was killed and a teenager was injured in the incident.

The man who was killed, Tre’von Fitzgerald Tyson, 21, 604 Howell St., had been arrested the night before along with several others involved in an altercation on Fifth and McKinley streets.

Jacori Moye, 18, of Greenville was struck by gunfire but was treated and released by Vidant Medical Center.

Maj. Kenneth Laws said on Monday afternoon that between 50 and 100 people gathered at a small apartment.

“Sometime during that party, an altercation occurred,” Laws said. “Whether it was verbal or physical, we’re not sure. The people that were at the party began to leave the party and shots were fired striking two individuals.”

In one of several 911 calls, a woman told the dispatcher that hundreds of people were at the apartment complex.

“There’s gunshots on MacGregor Downs Road,” she said. “I don’t know if anybody’s been shot, I have no idea. I’m assuming there is. There’s people on the ground.”

The woman said she heard at least 20 gunshots, and the dispatcher asked her how many people were down.

“I saw at least two people. I’m telling you, there’s lots of people over there. It’s hard to see,” the woman said.

In another call, a man told dispatchers that a birthday party had been taking place.

“There was an argument and then shots were fired; lots of them,” the man said.

The dispatcher asked if he saw anybody with a gun.

“I have no idea, it happened downstairs in the parking lot,” the man said.

“Can you tell if anybody’s actually been hit or anything like that? Are they moving?” the dispatcher asked.

“I think somebody’s been hit. Yes sir. Send an ambulance,” the man said.

Three other women can be heard on the recordings including a dispatcher who said someone had been shot.

Another woman can be heard yelling, “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!” as a dispatcher tries to ask her to tell him what’s going on.

Laws said the department is working on some leads but said he needs witnesses who fled the shooting to talk.

“There was numerous people out there when it occurred,” Laws said. “We know a lot of people left as soon as the shots were fired so we’re still trying to find any witnesses that we can.”

No weapons were recovered on the scene, however, several 9 mm casings were recovered.

Laws said that police are looking into the possibility that the shooting was gang related, but noting is certain yet.

“At this point, we’re looking into that aspect; we’re not sure,” Laws said. “We do know we have people that didn’t like each other, some type of altercation started.”

Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Major Crimes Detective Walker at 329-4186 or CrimeStoppers at 758-7777. CrimeStoppers offers up to a $2,500 reward for information that leads to an arrest.