Sossamon To Participate In Area Juneteenth Activities

information courtesy of the office of Rep. Frank Sossamon

There are a couple of Juneteenth celebrations taking place in the area this week to mark the day – June 19, 1865 – when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, TX with news that the Civil War had ended, which also brought enslaved people their freedom.

One event will take place at the venue Back to Eden on Wednesday, June 19 and will feature activities that commemorate the historic day. The event begins at 12 noon and will include the laying of a wreath and a mock funeral. The event will feature speaker, live entertainment, food trucks, tours and fireworks.

The second Juneteenth celebration is the Henderson Vance Recreation & Parks Department’s 4th Annual Juneteenth Festival on Saturday, June 22. The event will take place at the Vance County Courthouse Square in Henderson from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. This festival has become a cornerstone of the community’s celebration, bringing together people from all walks of life to honor African American heritage through music, food trucks, vendors, bingo, craft making and live performances.

“Juneteenth is a time to reflect on our past, celebrate the progress we’ve made, and commit ourselves to the ongoing work of achieving true equality for all,” said Rep. Frank Sossamon. “I am honored to be a part of these celebrations and look forward to engaging with our community as we commemorate this pivotal moment in history.”

Sossamon plans to attend both celebrations and hopes they will help to highlight the significance of Juneteenth and the ongoing journey toward equality and justice. Both events are open to the public, and all community members are encouraged to attend.

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TownTalk: County Budget Deliberations

In a budget work session last week, the Vance County Board of Commissioners worked to reach consensus to raise the tax rate by 10 cents – to 71 cents per $100 property valuation – a move that will provide cost-of-living increases for staff and have funds for capital projects and a possible salary study.

The consensus, though not an official vote, was reached with four commissioners in favor.

It’s estimated that the additional 10 cents will generate $4.3 million in additional revenue.

According to County Manager C. Renee Perry, the revenue-neutral rate of 61.3 cents per $100 valuation would not be enough to support any capital projects that are needed in the county, including work on a new jail, 911 call center, a northern end EMS station and more.

Perry broke it down this way: 1 cent will be for an additional 3 percent COLA increase (for a total of 7 percent), and the other 9 cents would be for addressing capital needs and the salary study.

Commissioner Sean Alston said the county must pay attention to salaries that would be more competitive with surrounding counties.

“We have to move for the future,” Alston said.

Commissioner Leo Kelly concurred. “If we don’t grow the budget, we don’t grow the county.” Kelly said it is critical to take advantage of the revaluation to keep the county moving forward. “This is the time to do it,” he said of increasing the tax rate.

Chair Dan Brummitt said he is willing to entertain ideas about the budget but said he does not support a tax increase.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said, adding that the county should not grow the government; rather, “leave the money in people’s pockets” and let them invest in the county to grow the economy.

Commissioner Archie Taylor said he is in favor of raising salaries to help the staffing shortages across county agencies, including the Department of Social Services, sheriff’s office and the jail – which has had almost two dozen vacancies for the past two years, according to Vance County Sheriff Curtis Brame.

In addition to salary increases, Commissioner Yolanda Feimster said the county has to keep an eye on quality of services. “We can’t keep prolonging the situation – we’ve got to get people hired” so county residents can have the quality of services they desire and deserve.

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Fire Departments Could See Additional Funding

The county’s volunteer fire departments stand to gain an additional $30,000 annually as commissioners and County Manager C. Renee Perry hammer out details of the FY 2024-25 budget.

Commissioners held a budget work session last week, with sights set on June 24 as a possible date to adopt the $57 million budget.

Each department, as well as the rescue squad and the Vance County Fire Department, would see $130,000 in county funding and the new hourly pay rate for part-time firefighters would increase to $17 an hour, up from $15 an hour.

To achieve these goals, the county’s fire tax would be bumped from a revenue-neutral rate of 5.9 cents per $100 valuation to 7 cents per hundred, as recommended by Perry.

This increase will generate and additional $300,000 in revenues.

That amount, matched with a one-time disbursement of about $300,000 from the fire tax general fund, would provide for the additional funding. The current total fire tax fund balance is about $625,000.

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STEM Early High School Gets Solar+ Schools Grant

-information courtesy of Vance County Schools Chief Communication Officer Aarika Sandlin

STEM Early High School in Vance County is one of nine schools across the state to receive a grant from NC GreenPower to install a rooftop solar array as part of a solar education package.

With backing from the State Employees Credit Union, the Solar+ Schools Award will pay for all of the project’s construction costs, expected to be between $55,000 and $75,000.

The educational package includes a 20-kilowatt solar array, STEM curriculum, teacher training and more.

Schools should raise $3,500 to cover any future operations and maintenance expenses. The included weather station and data monitoring equipment will incorporate live  information from the arrays into classrooms, and teachers will be able to compare weather  scenarios and involve students in reading and interpreting the energy data.

Northern Granville Middle School in Granville County also is a recipient of the Solar+ School Award.

In 2024, the Solar+ Schools program accepted applications from public K-12 schools in Tier 1 and 2 counties in North Carolina. For the awarded schools, the installed 20-kW photovoltaic systems will serve as educational tools and will provide an energy impact depending on each school’s arrangement with its local electric utility. Since Solar+ Schools’ introduction in 2015, program recipients have saved about $100,000 cumulatively in electricity expenses, and the STEM and solar curriculum training has benefited more than 280 teachers and 62,000 students  throughout the state.

The member-funded State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) Foundation has been a long-time advocate of NC GreenPower and continues to generously back the Solar+ Schools program. In  2022, the SECU Foundation contributed a grant of up to $600,000 extending through 2024 to  provide additional funding and assist with installation costs for awarded schools.

“NC GreenPower’s Solar+ Schools initiative is a unique and innovative project that continues to  produce energy savings and educational benefits for our schools and our state,” said SECU  Foundation Executive Director Jama Campbell. “We couldn’t be more pleased to help outfit nine schools with a working solar array system for students and our communities to learn more  about solar power’s impact as an alternative energy source for today and years to come.”

TownTalk: Around Old Granville: Architects

Lovers of historical architecture could come up with the analogy that if Old Granville County – what is now the four-county area that includes Vance, Warren, Franklin and Granville counties – were an art museum, then all the lovely homes that dot the towns, cities and countryside certainly are works of art to be admired and enjoyed.

Continuing that analogy, it was architects and craftsmen like Jacob Holt and Thomas Bragg and James Burgess who are just a few of the state’s premier artists whose creations still stand -and are still admired – today.

“They were able to express their aesthetic and the community’s idea of the aesthetic,” said Mark Pace, local historian and North Carolina Room Specialist at the Richard Thornton Library in Oxford.

Pace and WIZS’s Bill Harris talked about a number of homes, some standing and some long gone, that can be attributed to Holt, Bragg and Burgess in Thursday’s TownTalk segment of Around Old Granville.

Holt moved to Warren County in the 1840s, having worked with William Howard, an acolyte of Thomas Jefferson, in Prince Edward County, Va. He estimates that as many as 80 Holt houses still stand, a tribute to the craftsmanship Holt and his team of artisans poured into each build.

“If you’ve got a Holt house, it’s not a ramshackle mess,” Pace said.

He set up shop in Warren County and soon laid claim to having the second-largest non-agricultural work force around, Pace said.

Among his workers were enslaved persons as well as freedmen. “He had the talent and he had the crew,” he said.

And although it wasn’t his first build, the William Eaton House is what put Holt on the map.

With motifs of Greek Revival, complete with columns, cornices, elaborate mantelpieces and sidelights, the Eaton house remains “one of the showplaces of Warrenton,” Pace said.

Montmorenci is another well-known home in Warren County, and was built by James Burgess in 1822.

Much of the interior of Montmorenci was dismantled and sent to be part of the DuPont estate called Winterthur in Delaware, Pace said, including incredibly engineered spiral staircases and intricate mantelpieces.

Thomas Bragg was also a contractor and architect who worked in the area in the 1820’s through the 1840’s, Pace said. He did significant work in Wake County and designed the William Polk House there.

The home Bragg built for his family still stands in Warrenton. Some of Bragg’s children went on to achieve fame in their own right: Thomas, Jr. became a governor of North Carolina and Braxton was a general in the Civil War – it’s for him that Fort Bragg, now Fort Liberty, was named.




North Carolina Teacher Retention – NCAE

Teacher pay and a moratorium on private school vouchers are two of the tangible issues that the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators has on her radar. But Tamika Walker-Kelly also is calling on legislators to join her as she and other public school advocates seek to restore a culture of respect for the thousands of teachers who work in public schools.

Yes, salaries have gone up – it’s about $41,000 for starting teachers, Walker-Kelly acknowledged on Thursday’s The Local Skinny! But North Carolina has lost ground to other states and now is ranked at 38th in the nation for teacher pay.

“We know our legislators in Raleigh could do more,” she said, adding that higher pay is a critical component when it comes to recruitment and retention, but teachers deserve to have respect restored to their profession – “they want to be valued and be heard, and their contributions… are respected and valued,” she said.

The 2024-25 school year marks the fifth year that Walker-Kelly has led the NCAE, which she said is the largest education advocacy group in the state.

She is a proud product of North Carolina public schools and has taught music all of her 18 years in Cumberland County.

“I was inspired by my high school chorus teacher,” she said. “I wanted to be a music teacher just like her.”

Public school teachers interact with more than 1.5 million students across the state’s public school districts – that number accounts for about 85 percent of all children in the state.

The legislature’s private school voucher program stands to siphon off upwards of $500 million dollars, a move the NCAE opposes.

“As an organization, the NCAE continues to be in opposition to vouchers,” she said, adding that taxpayers’ money should go to public schools.

Supporting universal breakfast and lunch programs, mental health programs for students and additional tutoring are other areas of interest for the NCAE, and Walker-Kelly said “education should be everybody’s issue. It should be a bipartisan effort, she said, adding that the NCAE would continue to be a voice for public schools in the General Assembly, across the state and in local communities.

She ranks visiting schools across the state as one of her favorite things to do in her role as NCAE president.
“We should never let people forget that great work goes on in public schools every single day.”


One Man Charged In Weekend Shooting At Pool Party

– Press release from the Vance County Sheriff Curtis Brame

On June 9, 2024, the Vance County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to a gunshot victim at 1305 Pool Rock Road, Henderson, NC 27537.

Upon arrival, deputies observed a crowd at a pool party, but were unable to immediately locate a gunshot victim. A few moments later a male with a gunshot wound to the leg arrived at Maria Parham Hospital. The male was identified as 21-year-old Qualil Champion of Henderson.

Vance County Criminal Investigations Division responded to the scene to conduct an investigation into the incident.  As a result of the investigation, an arrest warrant was taken out on James Scott Jr. (B/M, age 31) of Henderson for the charge of Assault with a Deadly Weapon with Intent to Kill, Inflicting Serious Injury.

On June 12, 2024, Scott surrendered himself to the Vance County Sheriff’s Office and was served with the warrant. Scott was presented before a district court judge and received a $300,000 secured bond for the charge.

The investigation into this incident is still ongoing and anyone with additional information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the Vance County Sheriff’s Office at 252.738.2200, or Henderson-Vance Crime Stoppers at 252.492.1925 or through the P3 app.