North Carolina’s Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said that firefighters continue to battle wildfires in western North Carolina due to drought conditions. Since November 1, there have been 622 wildfires burning state and private land in the region. Though not fully contained, Troxler reported to the November Council of State meeting on Tuesday that firefighters are doing well in protecting lives and property. 

“We have shifted assets from all over North Carolina to the West and also have about 80 personnel from out of state, primarily from the West Coast, and I think we have one group out of Massachusetts here, but I do appreciate your state of emergency declaration and the work of EMS to help us get through this difficult situation,” Troxler said. “While we don’t have a burning ban statewide like we do in the western third of North Carolina, I would ask people to please don’t burn unless it’s absolutely necessary. Please be patient, and let’s wait until we get some rain.”

The North Carolina Fire Service has frequent updates on Facebook to keep area residents informed of any danger, and offers an interactive map on the status of forest fires. Troxler ended his comments by encouraging everyone to buy a fresh North Carolina Christmas tree for the holidays. 

state treasurer

Also providing updates in the meeting of North Carolina’s ten elected Council of State members, State Treasurer Dale Folwell warned of the rising costs of the State Health Plan (SHP) and the state’s pension plan. 

Folwell told the Council that the weight loss drug Wegovy could potentially cost the SHP $170 million next year or almost equal to the 4% bonus that was just paid out to all state retirees. 

“So that bonus went up to over 200,000 retirees,” he said. “There’s less than 22,000 people who consume this drug. Medicaid does not cover this, and Medicare does not cover this, but it seems that there is a possibility that about 2.6% of the North American profits of this company that we’re all glad exists in North Carolina called Novo Nordisk are from prescriptions coming from your state health plan.” 

Folwell said the stock market value of the Denmark-based company is now more than the gross domestic product of the whole country of Denmark. He said they are looking at how those on the SHP can pay the same as what the people in Denmark pay for it.

He also discussed the potential problems facing the SHP and state pension plan from UNC Healthcare and Eastern Carolina, leaving both plans due to changes made by the General Assembly in the last budget that would allow both to create their own health plan and pension plan. 

“The liability that they want to leave behind is over a billion-and-a-half dollars,” Folwell said. “The reason that should matter to you is that that billion-and-a-half-dollar liability is going to be paid by all of your agencies over a period of time.”

He said the move has the potential of “torpedoing” the SHP and the state pension plan.

praise for beth wood

Folwell also led a wave of accolades for outgoing State Auditor Beth Wood, who announced on Nov. 10 that she would be resigning from office on Dec. 15. The announcement came three days after Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced that a grand jury indicted Wood for allegedly using a state vehicle for personal purposes. 

The four-term auditor announced on Nov. 1 that she would not be running for re-election next year. 

Wood was absent from the meeting.

“Auditor Beth Wood is not here today, but I want to say in the event that we do not have a meeting in December, how honored I’ve been to serve with Beth Wood and will miss her wisdom and her experience as a member of this Council of State and as a member of the Local Government Commission.”

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and Attorney General Josh Stein followed suit by thanking Wood for her years of service and wishing her well in her future endeavors. 

secretary of state update

North Carolina has once again broken records for new business creations. 

“We broke a third-quarter record for new business creations from July through September of this year,” said Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. “There were 44,219 new businesses created. The previous third quarter record was in 2021, which was not quite 43,000, and to give you some context, the last pre-COVID third quarter in 2019 was 26,000.”

She said the state is on pace to have the second-highest year on record in new business creations, with the number through October at 148,806. 

Marshall also mentioned the results of a two-week operation conducted last month by her office’s Anti-counterfeit Task Force, mainly in the eastern part of the state. It netted $170,000 worth of THC-infused snacks using counterfeit branded packaging that were either seized or surrendered from store shelves. 

She said the operation focused mostly on vape and tobacco shops, with most located within a mile or less of a school. In addition to the edibles, weapons, and illegal drugs were also seized, which resulted in arrests in New Hanover County. 

Marshall stressed to parents and other adults who may have such types of THC-infused snacks to lock them up in their homes like they would medications or cleaning products. Otherwise, the end result could prove deadly for children. 

“We know that last year, a four-year-old boy in Virginia tragically died after eating a whole package of THC-infused gummies that his mother had left out,” she said. “She was charged in that case with manslaughter. We also know of an emergency room visit by two young children living in Wake County that was reported recently on one of our local television stations. 

Marshall said the counterfeit items also pose a danger to the state’s innovation-based economy and the countless jobs that are based upon that economy, as well as the health and safety of consumers in America. 

“Since the establishment of the task force, we’ve worked more than 7500 cases, resulting in taking more than $190 million worth of counterfeits off the streets,” she said.