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Dollar General store could have new location in development deal with city, church

The Winston-Salem City Council on Tuesday altered the terms of an agreement with a local church so that the church can go forward with the sale of land for a new Dollar General store in northeastern Winston-Salem.

The land is at the intersection of Old Walkertown, Carver School and Motor roads.

The complicated arrangement approved Tuesday will give the city a deed of trust on 18.5 acres of land it sold to Greater Tabernacle Worship Center for $200,000 in 2013. The city is also committing to paying the church close to $300,000 toward the future construction of a community center on the land.

A developer and city leaders called the deal significant for the chance it gives to stimulate economic growth in the challenged northeastern part of Winston-Salem.

“Business loves other businesses,” Steve Hufstetler told the city council. “The most difficult development is when you are first in.” Hufstetler is president of Teramore Development LLC, based in Thomasville, Ga., which is developing the Dollar General on 1.5 acres from the original 20-acre tract the city sold the church.

Hufstetler shared drawings of what the new Dollar General will look like, and said it could spur other development.

“The Dollar General will be a center of activity,” Hufstetler said, adding that it will create the potential of “other interested tenants to come to this area and help revitalize it.”

Hufstetler mentioned the prospect of another part of the church’s land hitting the market for $400,000.

Council approval was unanimous for the new deal with the church.

Northeast Ward Council Member Vivian Burke, in whose ward the church property is located, said after Tuesday’s meeting that the church’s late pastor, Apostle Brenda “B.J.” McCloud, always wanted the land to be a center of economic development as well as a site for church and community uses.

“It wasn’t just going to be a church,” Burke said. “It was a resource center, with stores and offices, and maybe a small bank could come in there. The church wanted to make an economic impact.”

McCloud died in the summer of 2018, but the church remains active.

The deal has been evolving since 2007, when the city authorized the sale of 33 acres, including the present 20-acre tract, to the church for almost $600,000. At that time, the church talked of using the land for a new sanctuary, an arena and retirement housing.

The church later trimmed its request to the existing 20 acres, and in 2013 the price was agreed at $200,000. That was a discounted price from the tax value of $360,000, but city officials said at the time that the higher valuation was based on the land being used for industry.

Greater Tabernacle Worship Center obtained a $200,000 bank loan to buy the land.

Then in 2017, the church decided to sell 1.5 acres of the land it had bought from the city so that a developer could build a Dollar General at the intersection. The church was to make $300,000 in the sale.

To do that, the church had to get the city to agree to release the 1.5-acre parcel from “public purpose” restrictions that had been placed on the entire site. That in turn would have also required the church to pay the city most of the $300,000 it was to be paid by the Dollar General developer.

In December 2017, the city agreed to release the land restrictions on the 1.5-acre part of the site. While the church would have to pay the city $295,000 as the fair market value of the 1.5 acres, the city agreed to grant the church about $285,000 toward the future public use the church said it would create.

In advance of Tuesday’s meeting, Angela Carmon, the city attorney, informed the council that a snag had come up in the church’s plans: The bank holding the mortgage, First Citizens Bank, was demanding repayment of its loan, rather than agreeing to accept a release of the 1.5 acres from its deed of trust. The bank’s deed of trust includes both the 20-acre site the church bought from the city, and the church’s current home at 1410 Attucks Street.

Under the terms approved by the city council on Tuesday, the 2017 deal has been revamped. The city will use the $300,000 the church is getting for the Dollar General sale to pay off the First Citizens mortgage of $204,000. The city will essentially assume the loan, but charge the church no interest.

The remainder of the money, about $96,000, will go into a fund to be tapped by the church when it moves forward on community center plans. Meanwhile, the money the church pays the city to pay off the $204,000 debt will also go into the same fund.

Carmon said the city’s position is protected by the first lien deed of trust in favor of the city that will be placed on the 18.5 acres the church is not selling.

North Ward Council Member D.D. Adams expressed confusion over the deal on Tuesday, but after everything was explained made the motion to approve it.

Northwest Ward Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said that should the church default on its payments, the city would be protected by holding the deed of trust.

Southwest Ward Council Member Dan Besse asked when the church would actually build something on the property, and said the time may come when the city will have to decide what to do if nothing happens on the site. Carmon said she understands the church is putting together a plan for action.

New superintendent sworn in for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

Angela Pringle

The new superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Angela Pringle Hairston, officially started her first day on the job Tuesday morning after a swearing-in ceremony.

Hairston comes to the school system from Richmond County Schools in Augusta, Ga., where she had been superintendent since September 2014. She has more than 30 years of experience in public education in Virginia and Georgia.

She is the seventh person to become the superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and the first African American to head the local school system in a non-interim capacity.

Kenneth Simington, who retired Aug. 31, served as interim superintendent while the school board searched for a replacement for former Superintendent Beverly Emory.

After six years as superintendent, Emory announced in February that she was leaving for a job with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh.

On Tuesday, after being sworn in, Hairston met with members of the media.

She said she has already been calling on local schools.

“I’ve had some very good school visits,” Hairston said.

She said the principals are excited to share things with her.

“We’ve talked about literacy a lot (and) the climate, the school culture,” Hairston said.

In regards to equity for children of all ages within the district, she said the school system will work to provide supports so that children graduate on time.

When asked a question about the type of superintendent she would be for homeless students, Hairston pulled from her experience, saying that “wraparound services” look different depending on the needs of children.

“The key right now is to access what the needs are, to not make assumptions about what the needs are, and to help staff at each school understand how we can best serve the needs,” Hairston said. “So there may be a variation in supports from the district. There may be a large number of community members who come together to provide support.”

She said her message to teachers on her first day as superintendent is that both children and teachers matter.

“Everything we do has to really focus upon creating a positive, successful classroom experience for teachers and for students,” Hairston said.

She plans to present her superintendent entry plan shortly to the school board “so we can begin the work on closing some of the gaps that we see.”

At the swearing-in ceremony, she was joined by her husband, Ronald Hairston. Afterward, he talked about how excited his wife was to be starting her new job.

“She’s very focused and very driven and she loves children,” Ronald Hairston said.

“They say it takes three to five years to change a culture,” he said. “But it’s my strong belief that she will have almost an immediate impact on the system.”

He said his wife is also familiar with outside resources and has the ability to connect with them.

“I think some of the things that she’s got in the hopper, you guys are going to be very surprised with,” Ronald Hairston said.

Malishai Woodbury, the chairwoman of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board, said she is excited that Hairston will be leading everybody in the school system in order to educate children.

“It is such a privilege to be a member of the board at this time, to bring in a new superintendent to lead our school district in the 21st century so that every child will have access to an excellent education, because, as she said, all children matter,” Woodbury said.

She also stressed the importance of teachers in the process of getting students where they need to be in their educational endeavors.

School board member Leah Crowley said she was excited to witness such a historic moment for the school system.

“Everything she said here is what we heard resonated through the interview process,” Crowley said.

“We continue to be impressed and can’t wait to see her in action,” she said.

North Carolina judges toss districts drawn for GOP advantage

RALEIGH — A North Carolina judicial panel rejected state legislative district maps Tuesday, saying legislators took extreme advantage in drawing voting districts to help elect a maximum number of Republican lawmakers. The judges gave lawmakers two weeks to try again.

The three-judge panel of state trial judges unanimously ruled that courts can step in to decide when partisan advantage goes so far it diminishes democracy. Their ruling comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June in a separate case involving North Carolina’s congressional map that it’s not the job of federal courts to decide if boundaries are politically unfair — though state courts could consider whether gerrymandering stands up under state laws and constitutions.

The state judges found that the way the majority-Republican General Assembly redrew legislative district maps in 2017 violated the rights of Democratic voters under the state constitution’s equal protection and freedom of assembly clauses.

“Partisan intent predominated over all other redistricting criteria resulting in extreme partisan gerrymandered legislative maps,” the judges wrote. “The effect of these carefully crafted partisan maps is that, in all but the most unusual election scenarios, the Republican Party will control a majority of both chambers of the General Assembly. In other words, the court finds that in many election environments, it is the carefully crafted maps, and not the will of the voters, that dictate the election outcomes in a significant number of legislative districts and, ultimately, the majority control of the General Assembly.”

Rep. David Lewis, a chief defendant in the case, declined to comment. Senate leader Phil Berger said senators would follow the court’s instructions and adopt “a nonpartisan map,” but his prepared statement didn’t explicitly rule out a possible appeal.

The court gave lawmakers until Sept. 18 to again redraw maps to be used in next year’s elections. The judges said they would appoint an outside referee to advise them in next steps, including drawing maps if lawmakers miss their Sept. 18 deadline.

The judges also raised the possibility they would postpone the state’s March primary for legislature or other offices if they feel it’s necessary.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing voting districts for state legislatures and Congress after every decennial census. Gerrymandering describes when the redistricting is slanted to give one political party a majority in as many districts as possible. North Carolina’s legislative districts were redrawn in 2017 after a federal court determined they were an illegal gerrymander that sought to weaken the voting strength of minority voters.

But the group Common Cause and more than 30 registered Democratic voters sued, saying the 2017 districts were still so gerrymandered they unconstitutionally insulated Republicans from changes in voting behavior.

Lawyers for Republican state legislators argued there was no clear way for judges to know what kinds of map-making are unacceptable, since “redistricting is political because of what it is, not because of who does it.” Any complaints about how districts were drawn would vanish if Democrats could lead some GOP voters to change their minds and voted with them, GOP lawyers said.

If state courts ultimately rule in favor of Democrats, they could order new district maps for next year’s legislative elections. Lawmakers winning those elections will draw up maps after the 2020 census to last for the following decade, again influencing political power in the country’s ninth-largest state.

The lawsuit contended that most of the 170 House and Senate districts drawn in 2017 violated the plaintiffs’ free speech and association protections under the state constitution.

The three-judge panel agreed Tuesday that part of the state constitution was violated.

Roll-out of new Medicaid program delayed until February

State health officials said Tuesday they will delay until Feb. 1, 2020, the rollout of Medicaid managed-care changes in the Triad, Northwest North Carolina and Triangle that had been scheduled for Nov. 1.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Service now projects a statewide debut Feb. 1.

That decision by the N.C. secretary of health, Dr. Mandy Cohen, comes after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto Friday of House Bill 555, a legislative funding bill that contained at least $218 million in start-up financing for the initiative and is tied to the long, ongoing stalemate over the 2019-20 state budget. The new fiscal year started July 1 without an approved spending plan.

The $218 million also is contained in HB966, the Republican state budget compromise that Cooper veoted June 28.

HB555 represents an attempt to free up money for the Medicaid changes through what have become known as “mini-budget” bills, despite not having a state budget in place.

“The timeline has been adjusted because DHHS cannot implement critical actions to go-live with managed care (Nov. 1) under the current continuing resolution budget,” the agency said in a statement.

Cohen said that even though DHHS has made progress in some rollout areas, being fewer than 60 days from the Nov. 1 rollout goal forced it to accept “the practical realities” of the state budget stalemate.

Cohen said the next critical timeline will be mid-November “for needing certainty about the budget with statewide launch of coverage, as we will lose time because of the holidays.”

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has said he is willing to wait until December to initiate a veto-override vote on the state budget.

“It appears as though the governor is going to be going all-in on demanding if not a full at least a partial Medicaid expansion in exchange for changes to Medicaid sought by Republicans,” said Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University.

“It also suggests the governor is more than willing to engage in a similar tit-for-tat strategy as the Republicans have had with respect to attempting to override his vetoes, and hope that time will be his ally rather than his enemy, especially as we approach the next general election next year,” Madjd-Sadjadi said. “I would place the chances of a Medicaid transformation rollout on Feb. 1 at this time at less than 50-50,” he said. “More likely, we will see another delay towards the end of the year.”

Roundtable talks needed

In his HB555 veto message, Cooper chided Republican legislative leaders for their unwillingness to consider Medicaid expansion legislation that could affect between 450,000 and 650,000 North Carolinians, giving them better access to medical care.

Medicaid expansion is one of two key actors — along with a difference in how big of a raise public-school educators should get — that led to Cooper’s June 28 veto of HB966, the GOP-drafted state budget compromise passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Medicaid currently serves 2.1 million North Carolinians. Of those, 1.6 million are scheduled to be enrolled in the new managed-care system under a federal waiver approved in October 2018.

“What we have lacked is everyone siting around the table simultaneously” with Cooper and Republican legislative leaders “to hammer out this solution,” Cohen said.

She said she has had one-on-one conversations with most legislative and executive leaders “where I have seen a fair amount of agreement on certain issues.”

“We’re glad the General Assembly is taking a break (this week) and I hope they can recharge. ... We have time to find a compromise landing place, but not a lot of time,” she said.

State Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, the House’s leading health-care expert and main budget writer, said Tuesday that Cohen’s decision was the realistic after veto.

“Several bills filed to attempt to keep it alive and on schedule did not move through both chambers,” Lambeth said.

“I am concerned that February may not be workable unless the budget is approved soon,” he said. “The staff at DHHS has a tremendous amount of work to do that I don’t believe most legislators can appreciate.”

What is managed care?

Managed care is a system under which people agree to see only certain doctors or go to certain hospitals, as in a health maintenance organization, or HMO, or a preferred provider organization, or PPO, health-insurance plan.

The new managed-care plans will pay providers a set amount per month for each patient’s costs. The DHHS will reimburse the plans.

The three-year contracts with plans are expected to be are worth $6 billion a year. With two optional one-year extensions, a contract could be worth a total of $30 billion.

Cohen said DHHS tried to learn from similar Medicaid transformation initiatives in other states in opting for a two-phase rollout.

“The next set of activities that must be implemented depend upon budget action,” DHHS said.

That includes making a final decision on the rates to pay health plans and providers; making sure health plans have enough providers in their networks to meet the needs of beneficiaries; deploying a complex algorithm to assign Medicaid beneficiaries who do not self-select plans and doctors to one of each; and obtaining federal approval to begin.

“On-going budget uncertainty has been an impediment to health plans finalizing contracts with doctors and health providers,” the DHHS said. “An essential component of a well-run managed care system is the strength of the health care network available to beneficiaries.”

Lambeth said the PHPs are the groups most affected by the delay.

“They have been hiring staff and setting up call centers, etc., to meet the early phase-in dates, and now they are left having to cover their start-up cost and no way to recover it,” he said.

“The patients who will benefit from this innovative care model are also losers with any delay.”