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florence-95closed-1024x683-1(Carolina Journal)  The N.C. Department of Transportation overspent its budget by $742 million last year, a new state audit report shows.

The DOT is in hot water over poor money management, which, in 2019, sent its bank accounts plummeting close to a legally required cash floor. The department planned to spend $5.94 billion last year, but exceeded that amount by more than 12%, says a May report from State Auditor Beth Wood. Transportation officials overspent because they didn’t base their budget on actual cost estimates for projects. The department also failed to monitor or enforce its spending plan at DOT’s 14 highway divisions.

Operations and maintenance make up the largest part of that $742 million overspend, costing the department an extra $578 million. Construction projects cost DOT $124 million more than planned. Two miscellaneous categories make up the remaining $108 million.

Review the full feature HERE>

still0504_00001-e1588610995366(Raleigh News & Observer)  North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a financial-relief package Monday, two days after state lawmakers unanimously approved it as a response to the coronavirus. The governor also said details about what he calls Phase One of his reopening plan will be announced by Wednesday.

The General Assembly passed two bills on Saturday — one about policy and one about funding — to spend $1.57 billion of federal funds coming to North Carolina for coronavirus relief. The state receives $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus money from the CARES Act.

Cooper signed the bills during a news conference Monday morning, accompanied by Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson. Cooper, Blue and Jackson are Democrats; Berger and Moore are Republicans.

Read the full story HERE>

medicare-logo(Asheville Citizen-Times) A local laboratory company allegedly tested patients’ feces unnecessarily and billed the federal government, leading to charges of Medicare fraud. Now, they’ll pay between $17-43 million to settle those allegations and others, according to the Department of Justice. A spokesperson for Genova Diagnostics Inc. said the company denied any guilt or wrongdoing and settled the suit “to avoid considerable distraction and expense.”

Genova allegedly violated the False Claims Act, a Civil War-era law that outlines punishments for businesses that defraud the government.  A lawsuit filed in federal court alleged Genova improperly submitted claims to Medicare, TRICARE (the government health care program for service members and their families) and the federal employee health program for tests that weren’t medically necessary.

Full story HERE>

cd936a03-842a-4134-8199-f65e908bebde-greenesentencing_08282019_142(Asheville Citizen-Times) A former Buncombe contractor serving 37 months in prison for participating in a fraudulent kickback scheme with the county’s highest-appointed officials will serve significantly less time after a federal judge reduced his sentence.

His attorney, David Brown, told the Citizen Times that he hopes to get the former engineer out of prison altogether due to the risk of COVID-19.

Earlier this month, prison administrators denied Wiseman’s request for a compassionate release, Brown’s letter revealed. The attorney said Wiseman, who has Type II diabetes, is at high-risk in the Butner facility.

“Mr. Wiseman received an appropriate sentence of 37 months, but he did not receive a death sentence,” Brown said.

Read the complete report HERE>

f80c9389-c3bb-41c1-a728-2bfcc89987cf-large16x9_a3f25247069d4158be48517b6316f8a8large16x9_importedfromlakana(WLOS News 13) The North Carolina General Assembly began its annual session Tuesday by turning immediately to legislation to distribute COVID-19 federal relief funds, operating under unprecedented rules with social distancing in mind.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger gaveled in their floor sessions with about 20% the 170 legislators present, a contrast to full chambers on a traditional session’s first day. Absent lawmakers either were in their offices or working from home for now to avoid high-risk activities. A few on the floor wore face masks.

Even with in-person legislators scarce, hundreds of demonstrators angry with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s extended statewide stay-at-home order greeted them as a large “ReopenNC” group rallied for a third Tuesday in a row.

Read the complete report HERE>

636108390688545055-hoodtalkforum-0013(Asheville Citizen-Times) The chief deputy at the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office is accused of stealing a firearm from a local firearms store, according to the State Bureau of Investigation. No charges have been filed to date, an SBI representative said.

Don Eberhardt serves as second-in-command under Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller, according to a command structure provided on the BCSO website.

The larceny allegedly occurred on April 9, according to the SBI’s Angie Grube. On April 21, Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams requested the SBI investigate the incident, she said.

Eberhardt was placed on paid administrative leave effective April 24, the BCSO said. “The Sherriff’s Office will have no further comment pending the conclusion of this investigation,” according to an April 25 release.

Read the full story HERE>

1611-600x896(Little Things Blog)  Have you ever been walking through the woods and noticed an oddly shaped tree? If you’re like me, chances are you probably didn’t give it any thought and simply continued on your way.

But once you learn about about Dennis Downes, I guarantee you’ll never look at trees the same way again!

For nearly 30 years, Dennis has been touring America’s countryside, searching for and documenting unique trees. He’s even built a special society around them!

But these trees, totally inconspicuous save for their strange shapes, have a very special place in America’s history — and serve a fascinating purpose! Over 100 years ago, these trees were purposefully bent, and their odd shapes communicate very important messages.

Read the full article by Cassandra Morris HERE>

636241335041793646-wncdrinkingwater-008(Asheville Citizen-Times) The city is proposing $1.3 million in fee hikes for a range of services used by residents and visitors alike.

The increased fees and charges would be for things such as drinking water, stormwater system maintenance and fire inspections. Fees make up more 35 percent of all money taken in by Asheville, just behind property taxes, at 36 percent. The total operating budget for this fiscal year, ending June 30, is $180 million.

The most direct impact to residents will be increases in water rates and a fee charged to maintain stormwater systems, which deal with rainwater draining off homes and other buildings.

Read the full report by Joel Burgess HERE>

a867e117-e14c-41bf-b3db-3b3ea7c4da16-ab_tech_tax_celebration

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College supporters cheer Nov. 8, 2011, after finding out voters narrowly passed the quarter-cent sales tax referendum. (Photo11: Citizen Times file)

(Asheville Citizen-Times) A deal passed in a split vote Tuesday night doesn’t seek to recover funding spent on what Chairman Brownie Newman called “frankly, poor decisions,” but it could move officials past a longstanding dispute over how to use money that was promised to fund new construction at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and nothing more.

That’s despite the fact that Buncombe County transferred more than $15 million of the revenue to its own coffers and later used the money to pay employees, including corrupt administrators Greene and Jon Creighton, and to fund operational needs long before commissioners voted to expand the use of the tax.

Newman and commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Amanda Edwards voted against the proposal Tuesday night.  Dissenting commissioners said the county should take more time to deliberate an official vote on the deal, which falls short of a $130 million plan for new construction that was pitched to voters during the 2011 referendum. They also acknowledged the handling of the tax has damaged relations between the county and A-B Tech — and the public.

Read the full report by Jennifer Bowman HERE>

Archive:

Voters were promised a sales tax would be for A-B Tech projects alone. That didn’t happen.

636407287903952148-ashbrd-03-08-2016-act-1-a007-2016-03-07-img-ashevilleoutlets-003-1-1-i4dmc302-l773256555-img-ashevilleoutlets-003-1-1-i4dmc302(Asheville Citizen-Times) I did indeed ask Asheville Police Department spokeswoman Christina Hallingse for crime stats at Asheville Outlets going back five years, and she delivered. Keep in mind that the Outlets opened in May 2015, so the data from 2014-April 30, 2015 is for the previous tenants or unfinished property.

“Thirteen percent (220 calls) involved shoplifting, larceny and business breaking and entering, crimes consistent with major retail areas,” Hallingse said. “Of these calls for service 0.3 percent of incidents (six total incidents) are categorized as violent crimes —rape, homicide, robbery and aggravated assault.”

Hallingse also noted that Asheville Outlets is located within the Police Department’s Adam District, which encompasses West Asheville.

Read John Boyle’s full column HERE>

e4f13896-bc24-4501-8d0d-88cb0cce7be3-pjimage_2(Jennifer Bowman)  More than $400,000 of sales tax revenue that officials said would fund only new construction at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College instead was diverted to pay county employees, including corrupt administrators Wanda Greene and Jon Creighton.

Buncombe government also began using the revenue to pay for A-B Tech operations long before county commissioners decided to expand use of the tax.

Records released to the Citizen Times show none of the nearly $16 million transferred to the county’s own coffers was spent on capital projects. That amounts to about 20 percent of all revenue generated by the tax, a pot of money that community leaders promised would fund a $130 million building plan at A-B Tech when they pitched it to county voters almost eight years ago.

Read the full report by Jennifer Bowman HERE>

EXTRA COVERAGE:
Commissioners take up question of A-B Tech funding (Mountain XPress)