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Officials: Onslow County faces challenges, sees change

By Amanda Hickey, The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 26--Onslow County is facing challenges -- from revenue declines, budget hardships and construction -- according to information presented this week at the annual State of the Community Breakfast.

The 19th annual breakfast, organized by the Jacksonville-Onslow Chamber of Commerce's Governmental Affairs Committee, featured officials from Camp Lejeune, New River Air Station, Onslow County, Jacksonville, Onslow Memorial Hospital, Onslow County Schools and Coastal Carolina Community College addressing how they fared in 2013 and what 2014 has in store.

Video of the presentations will be available through the city of Jacksonville's website, jacksonvillenc.gov, and youtube channel as well as the Jacksonville-Onslow Chamber of Commerce, jacksonvilleonline.org.

Onslow Memorial

Chief Executive Officer Ed Piper said the state of Onslow Memorial Hospital is a bit more bleak than many may expect.

According to Piper, the hospital had an income of $618,000 but due to investment write offs, the net income was more than $49,000.

In 2013, OMH wrote off $56.6 million in uncompensated care to include $14 million in charity care and $42 million in bad debt -- nearly $12 million more than in 2012.

"We're finding more folks without insurance. Those with insurance have such a high co-pay they aren't able to pay their bills," he said.

Those bills are then written off as uncompensated care.

Piper also told the group that the Affordable Care Act will lead to a downturn in both volume and reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid and TriCare -- a trend that is being played out across the country.

He said he expects to see a $6 to $8 million deficit by early 2015.

The hospital is creating a strategic plan committee to look at options to ensure future sustainability. A recommendation is due by the end of 2014, he said.

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Onslow County

The theme for 2014 in Onslow County is simple: Change is here, according to Onslow County Manager Jeff Hudson.

"Challenge is a great way to describe the last several years in Onslow County. There's probably not been a more challenging time in this community in the last 50 years," Hudson said.

The county is seeing less residential construction with permits down 35 percent since last year and a 172-percent increase in commercial permits since 2009, he said.

"With all the new construction it would be easy to assume that property tax revenues would be at an all-time high," Hudson said. "Unfortunately, our county's property revaluation has exposed a decline in value of the countywide tax base of approximately 3 percent. This number includes real and personal property, public service companies and registered motor vehicles."

But Hudson said Onslow County is fortunate because while the average single family home has fallen, the increase in construction has made up for some of the overall loss.

While residential growth is slowing, Hudson said that does not mean that Onslow County has stopped growing.

"Evidence of this lies in our school system, where the student population increased by 258 students since last year," he said.

Jacksonville

According to Jacksonville Mayor Sammy Phillips, the city is in a good place.

Phillips said there are challenges that are going to be faced in the coming year but the city is working to iron out the "bumps and bruises" and ensure that Jacksonville continues to be a "great place to live, work and play."

Instead of a speech, Phillips shared a video created by city staff highlighting some of what is happening within the city limits, including investing in the downtown area, demolition of Fisherman's Wharf, plans to complete the Vietnam Memorial in March, construction of Jacksonville Landing and work to improve area parks and recreation facilities.

Schools

According to Interim Superintendent Ron Singletary, the school system is one of the area's major economic anchors with 35 schools, more than 25,000 students and 3,500 employees.

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The anchor, he said, has an "all time high" graduation rate at 87.2 percent in 2013 while the dropout rate continues to decrease and was at 2.32 percent in the 2012-13 school year.

Meanwhile, the number of students taking advanced placement classes continues to increase with 265 students enrolled in 2010 and 411 in 2013.

Growth, he said, is something the school system is familiar with since more than 300 new students have arrived annually since 1949.

"I'm confident though that the oncoming growth challenge will be embraced through a joint team effort by our commissioners and our board of education. Will the solution be easy? No. Is it important that this important that this community develop one? Yes," he said.

Coastal Carolina Community Coll ege

Coastal Carolina Community College President Ronald K. Lingle kept his remarks brief.

Lingle told those gathered that the college is about educational quality, student success and "not about much of anything else."

The college, he said, has been a leader in state performance measures and continues that legacy.

MCI-East

Col . Jim Clark, the deputy commander for Marine Corps Instalations East and Camp Lejeune, said the area is one community where "what affects one affects all for good or bad."

Clark said it's the picture of what's to come can get cloudy.

"Forecasting is very difficult ... it's tough to know what the future holds," he said.

Since last year's State of the Community, there has been sequestration, government shutdown and budget uncertainty.

Clark said that the Marine Corps has gone from 202,000 to 193,000 personnel and plans to be a 175,000-member service.

While the Marine Corps invests in Joint Strike Fighters and replacement Amphibious Fighter Vehicles, they will also maintain the Marine Corps Special Operations Command.

Clark said the overall cuts of 10,000 to 12,000 personnel by 2017 will be felt at Camp Lejeune and at other area Marine installations.

He also said that MCI East expects to see deployments increase as Marines deploy to sites across the globe in response to security contingencies.

Camp Lejeune

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Clark said there are 270 ongoing projects aboard Camp Lejeune and New River totalling $2.2 billion. Another $110 million in construction projects were completed in November and December while $340 million in projects are slated to be complete in 2014.

He said there's a 90-percent housing occupancy rate aboard the base with another 400 residences to be complete this year. His t orically, the base had 4,500 housing units available but the installation is moving toward having 5,200.

The Marine Corps barracks plan calls for two Marines per room and will be met, he said, with sergeants and below being required to live on base with few exceptions.

Clark said the new Camp Lejeune entrance project is expected to be complete by summer 2015.

Other projects aboard the base include a new dining facility at French Creek and new barracks at Courthouse Bay.

New River

New River Air Station's Commanding Officer Col. Timothy Salmon said the station can expect a 10-percent personnel increase as two squadrons from Cherry Point -- Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467 and Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 -- move to the area. The move will bring about 800 Marines to the area, according to previous Daily News reports.

In the last year, the station has built a new front gate, a new entrance to the School of Infantry aboard Camp Geiger, constructed a new child development center and built a new hangar.

The air station has also built a new waterfront community center near the marina and is expanding the combat aircraft loading area and building a new squadron hangar and parking garage in the Perimeter Road area.

"When this construction is done at the end of this year, we'll have spent $330 million with much of that going to the local community," Salmon said.

According to information from New River Air Station, it would go to the local community through jobs and material purchases.

Salmon said there is another $46 million in construction spending planned for 2014, including a new training center and barracks renovations.

Am and a Hickey is the government reporter at The Daily News. She can be reached at amanda.hickey@jdnews.com.

___

(c)2014 The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.)

Visit The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.) at www.jdnews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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