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BYU offensive lineman Brady Christensen runs during the school’s Pro Day workout for NFL scouts March 26 in Provo, Utah. Christensen could help solidify the left tackle position for the Panthers.

Area hospitals earn high performance scores

Nash UNC Health Care has earned a second A rating in a row from the Leapfrog Group, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that collects and reports hospital performance data.

Hospital officials announced last week that Nash UNC Health Care earned an A rating for the Spring 2021 reporting period after also earning an A on the Fall 2020 report card. These scores are a significant improvement over the D rating the hospital received in the Spring 2017 reporting period.

“I am proud to report that Nash UNC Health Care has earned an A for two consecutive reporting periods,” Nash UNC Health Care President Lee Isley said. “Thanks to the leadership of our Board of Commissioners, collaboration with our medical staff and our entire Nash UNC team’s dedication to our patients and community, we were able to obtain an A score in the Fall of 2020. We are excited that all of those efforts and a renewed focus on quality and our community has allowed us to maintain an A rating for the Spring 2021 reporting period.”

After receiving a D in the spring of 2017, the hospital has focused on a robust plan to improve their quality metrics, Isley said.

“We have shown steady improvement in our scores since that time. We are pleased that our score now reflects the high quality of care Nash UNC provides to its patients,” he said in a news release.

The Leapfrog Group is a national nonprofit organization that collects data from hospitals and works with national experts to establish standards to which all participating hospitals are measured against.

According to The Leapfrog Group, survey results are used to educate consumers and purchasers about the quality and safety of hospitals in their community. The Leapfrog Group states that hospitals that voluntarily submit their data to the Leapfrog Hospital Survey are to be commended for their commitment to transparency and educating their patients about the quality and safety of the care they provide.

With the spring scores, Nash UNC saw additional improvements in two specific categories: Communication About Medicines and Discharge Information.

“A special thank you to our nursing teams and care management staff for helping us improve our scores in those two specific categories since our last survey. Their hard work and dedication resulted in the improvements outlined in our spring score,” Isley said.

Isley credits the work of the entire hospital staff for the improved measures.

“I am very proud of the entire Nash UNC team for working together to maintain excellent patient care day to day. The Leapfrog A score for two reporting periods in a row is evidence of the commitment our hospital has to quality, patient and family advocacy and engagement and our community as a whole,” Isley said in the release.

Vidant Edgecombe Hospital in Tarboro also received an A rating on its most recent Leapfrog scores. Four of the last six scores that hospital has received were A ratings.

City studies options for affordable housing projects

Interim City Community and Business Development Director Peter Varney told the City Council he believes there are opportunities the municipality could look at regarding making affordable housing more available in Rocky Mount.

After Varney spoke, there also was much discussion about how to make a certain municipal housing grant program more available to homeowners.

During the City of Rocky Mount’s 2021 annual retreat early last month in Asheville, Varney suggested looking at the area of the Beal Street Square apartment complex and the area of the Holly Street neighborhood for having additional affordable housing.

Varney showed parcels of land the municipality still has along Grace Street between Beal and Thomas streets; along Thomas from just west of Middle Street to Howell Street; on the east side of Howell from Thomas just past Beal; and at the northwest corner of Howell and Sunset Avenue.

Varney said he believes those parcels are available for redevelopment and could be transformed into single-family lots. To do so, he believes the municipality needs to do a land survey and reconfigure some of the lots in part because some of the land is zoned commercial and needs to be zoned residential.

“I’m getting calls from people, mainly in the Raleigh and Durham areas, looking for property to develop,” he said. “And so I’m saying to them, ‘I think I’ve got some I can put together in the next several months that you could be interested in.’”

In the area of Holly Street, Varney showed that there are many lots where municipal code enforcement action is occurring.

Additionally, Varney noted that every house on the west side of the 500 block of Myrtle Avenue is abandoned, that a couple of houses in the 400 block of Myrtle are abandoned and that there are abandoned structures in the area of Carolina Avenue and Goldleaf Street.

Varney said that what he wants to try to work on, if he could, is acquiring those boarded-up houses and looking into renovating them if possible. He said that if they are in bad shape, then he supposes the municipality could look into demolishing them and engaging a developer to construct new houses at those locations.

He also said he was looking at the idea of a redevelopment project at the former O.R. Pope Elementary School and the immediate area of the buildings and grounds.

He said his concept would be, if possible, to have an architectural and engineering evaluation of the former Pope site and some of the land area right around the buildings and grounds to see whether trying to do some kind of a housing project would make sense.

The discussion became extensive after Varney switched to talking about housing grant programs, namely a municipally funded one dating back to fiscal year 2018 and offering rebates.

According to that program, the house has to be at least 50 years old, occupied by a tenant or a homeowner, have homeowner’s insurance and the tax payments on the house have to be current.

Varney said if one wants to do, as an example, a $25,000 improvement project, then the municipality would pay up to $12,500 after completion of the work.

Varney showed utilization of the program by homeowners started out at 59.3 percent and dipped to 18.2 percent before increasing to 33.3 percent. He showed utilization of the program by investors started out at 40.7 percent and increased to 81.8 percent before dipping to 66.7 percent.

He said he has been spending a bit of time trying to look at tightening some of the accountability provisions of the program’s policy and get the details to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney’s office.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell said his assumption was that people who were in line to receive that investment from the program were living on the properties and said he is hearing from those people that the money for the program has run out.

Blackwell said it looks to him like those getting the first crack at the matching rebates are the investors. He said there is nothing wrong with that as long as they are not increasing the rents on the property with the city’s investment.

Varney said the program’s policy does not have any text about rent amounts for investor-owned properties, but he said that could be added as a condition because the demand for the program is there.

As for the statement by applicants saying there is no money, Varney said that is right because from July to October funding will be committed.

Councilman Andre Knight expressed concern about an imbalance between access to money by homeowners compared to investors and about those lacking $12,500 for a $25,000 project facing barriers to benefit from incentives.

Varney emphasized the homeowner has to have the $25,000 up front to do a $25,000 project, but he said he does not know many low-to-moderate income households that have $25,000 “tucked under the mattress” or that can easily get a loan.

Varney said one of the things the city may want to look at in addressing the program’s policy is to ask if there is something the municipality can do to make it possible to allow homeowners easier access to money.

Knight emphasized that he and fellow officials do not want to create “extra layers of bureaucracy” that prevent or deter people from getting the grants.

Blackwell spoke about the possibility of having a type of program for investors with separate allocations and objectives and a program for the homeowners and the people occupying the houses, with the latter including multiple factors subject to change.

Blackwell also asked whether the municipality has any appetite to finance improvements to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems of houses, given that Rocky Mount has so many old houses and that the leakage of cooled or heated air causes high utility bills.

Blackwell wanted to know from Small-Toney whether she and her team can look at what other municipalities are doing.

Knight also said he believes the coffers of the City of Rocky Mount Public Utilities are healthy and spoke of the possibility of using funds or offering grants from that fund to help residents who see sharp increases in their utility bills.

Blackwell went further and asked about financing the improvements of HVAC systems at houses with repayments to the municipality via the monthly utility bills.

Small-Toney said she and her team can take a look at this and noted the utility fund supports the general fund anyway.

Small-Toney did make clear there needs to be assurances before providing such funding that people’s houses have attics, roofs, walls and windows fitted to reduce the amount of power needed to cool or heat the structures.

“So we would want to look at this as a complete energy-efficient program for these houses,” she said.

The council majority in February made clear it wanted the city’s 2021 annual retreat to be in Asheville so they could learn how the Buncombe County seat is addressing housing issues.

Nash County tops tax revenue projections

Nash County Manager Zee Lamb on Monday presented county commissioners with a rosy economic forecast in the form of higher-than-expected county revenues during a roughly eight-hour Nash County Board of Commissioners meeting.

“We mentioned on Thursday night that the county’s revenues were coming in good,” Lamb said. “That is proving to be true.”

After seeing the data from nine months of the current fiscal year, from July 2020 to March 2021, the county is collecting significantly more money than expected for this point in the fiscal year, Lamb said.

One example is sales tax revenues. The projected sales tax revenue for the current fiscal year is roughly $13.5 million through March, he told Nash County commissioners.

“We are about 10 percent ahead of the budget projections for sales tax revenue,” Lamb said. “We budgeted nearly $16 million for this entire fiscal year and we are currently more than $1.5 million ahead of the same point last year.”

At the end of the current fiscal year in June, Lamb said he expects that sales tax revenues will be between $1.5 million and $2 million more than originally expected.

Lamb said he is especially pleased with motor vehicle tax revenues.

“I think we had our biggest month ever for motor vehicles,” Lamb told commissioners.

March motor vehicle tax revenues, some of which were collected in April, amounted to $841,688, Lamb said. So far, the county has collected roughly $5,543,000 in motor vehicle revenue during this fiscal year. The budget for the entire current year is roughly $6,062,000.

“That is roughly 91 percent of the budgeted revenues that we have collected so far. We are now projected to bring in more than $7 million in these revenues in the current year,” Lamb said in a later interview. “For motor vehicles, we are doing very well.”

As far as ad valorem taxes, including property taxes, the county is already almost $2 million above budget projections, Lamb said.

“We budgeted about $97.5 million for ad valorem tax revenues. We usually expect to have about $75 million collected at this point. At the end of the year, I think our ad valorem taxes, including motor vehicles, are going to be about $3 million or $3.5 million over the budget projections,” Lamb said. “It is very much a true statement that our revenues are coming in very strong this year.”

Lamb said in a later interview that collections on delinquent prior year taxes also were higher than projected. So far, more than $587,559 of these taxes have been collected, significantly more than the $425,000 projected in this year’s budget.

Lamb credited the increase to several factors, including improved tax collections and brighter economic conditions than expected.

“Our overall tax collection rate is 99 percent,” Lamb said. “Our collection methods are working well, and we have a good citizenry which sees the importance of paying taxes.”

Online sales this year also have helped during the pandemic as most of these sales tax revenues eventually trickle down to the local economy.

“People were home more during the pandemic, and they were bored. Online sales tax revenues more than made up for anything we lost through traditional local sales tax,” Lamb said.

Overall, Lamb said he is grateful the economic picture turned out better than planned.

“Intuitively, as we were planning for this year, we thought we would take a hit on sales tax and other revenues, but that didn’t happen,” he said.

County board Chairman Robbie Davis also presented a brief new home construction report at Monday’s meeting.

“There were 28 in the month of April. That was down just a little bit. But there were a total of 88 general construction permits, which was up somewhat. That does not include any trade permits, so we are still going very strong,” Davis said.

Nash County commissioners will hold a second board meeting this month at 1:30 p.m. on May 24. County commissioners will be reviewing the recommended budget for the coming fiscal year.

Police investigate reports of gunfire

Police are trying to find the person or persons responsible for gunfire breaking out recently in broad daylight in the 2100 block of Mobile Drive at the mobile home village in the Cross Creek area on the north side of the city.

Officers about 4:10 p.m. on April 13 responded and discovered multiple shots were fired between two vehicles, police Cpl. Ricky Jackson said.

The vehicles were gone before the officers arrived, but there were homes and vehicles that sustained property damage, Jackson said.

The Telegram found out about the incident by backtracking the list of postings of incidents on the local Police to Citizen (P2C) online link and asking Jackson for follow-up information.

Meanwhile, police are continuing to respond to reports of forcible breakings and enterings of businesses and residences.

A business that was the scene of a forcible breaking and entering was Coy’s Mini Storage in the 500 block of Cooley Road on the southwest side of the city.

Officers responded about 7:50 a.m. on April 18. The reporting person, Ken Webb, told them he was checking the property during his morning routine and saw that numerous storage units had been damaged, Jackson said.

A copy of the police incident report posted on P2C said that a generator, a leaf blower, a saw and a weed trimmer were missing and that at least a dozen vehicles had been victimized.

Another business that was the scene of a breaking and entering was the Internet Cafe in the 1800 block of Stone Rose Drive in the Stoney Creek area.

Officers responded about 5 a.m. on April 14. The business manager, Rosa Cook, told them that when she arrived for work, she noticed someone had broken in and removed cash and gaming equipment, Jackson said.

A copy of the police incident report posted on P2C said that five gaming machines, cash and ammunition and firearms were missing.

Police also are investigating breaking and enterings of residences at three locations.

Officers responded about 1 p.m. on April 14 to the 1800 block of Bedford Road in the Meadowbrook area. The reporting person told officers of having returned home and discovered someone had broken in and taken personal belongings, Jackson said.

Officers responded about 6 p.m. on April 17 in the 200 block of South Howell Street in the Villa Place area.The reporting person told officers of having returned home and discovered someone had broken in and removed all of the tools from the residence, Jackson said.

A copy of the police incident report posted on P2C said that the list of missing items was extensive. The list included at least four saws, three chargers, a drill, a framing nailer, a palm sander, a stapler, a shop vacuum and a variety of batteries for power tools.

Officers responded at 4 p.m. on April 18 in the 800 block of South Tillery Street in the Little Raleigh area. The reporting person told officers someone had broken in and taken cash, Jackson said.