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While you were gone

US Airways assumes Midway operations

Midway Airlines Corp., which filed for bankruptcy last year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has signed a letter of intent to become a part of US Airways.

One of Raleigh-Durham International Airport's largest carriers, Midway will operate as part of US Airways Express, flying a fleet of regional jets beginning in October to Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

Midway said that it will eliminate the rest of its fleet of six Boeing 737 aircraft, and lay off 400 workers. The airline suspended flights last week to prepare for the transition, and many passengers complained about having to fly standby on US Air. Robert Ferguson, Midway's chief executive officer, said he hoped to eventually rehire at least two-thirds of the Midway employees being laid off.

Midway had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in August 2001 citing a drop in number of passengers. At the time, the Morrisville-based carrier listed assets of $318 million and debts of $232 million. Midway continued flying on a reduced schedule but stopped operations altogether after Sept. 11. It resumed flying Dec. 19 after receiving a $12.5 million grant from the federal airline bailout program.

Primaries set for Sept. 10

North Carolina's primary elections, already delayed two months due to fights over new maps of state House and Senate districts, will be held Sept. 10 under legislation approved last week.

The compressed election schedule is the result of a protracted lawsuit brought by Republicans, who successfully challenged new legislative districts drawn by Democrats. Primary elections scheduled for May 7 were indefinitely delayed after first a lower court judge, then the state Supreme Court, ruled that state House and Senate districts were unconstitutional. The State Board of Elections chose to delay all voting, including primaries in the critical U.S. Senate race to succeed Jesse Helms, in order to spare local election districts the expense and trouble of holding voting on multiple days.

The legislation would allow the top vote-getter in all races to win the party's nomination regardless of the margin. Ordinarily, a candidate has to win 40 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

The compressed schedule is also causing havoc among General Assembly candidates, who must file again with the Board of Elections because of redistricting.

Lottery vote may come soon

State House Speaker Jim Black said last week that a vote on a lottery referendum bill will be held before the General Assembly adjourns for the year, after he skipped a vote on the issue for the fourth time.

Black made the comment at the close of a week in which the legislation remained on the floor calendar but was never taken up. He cited a need to balance the state budget for next fiscal year without relying on lottery revenue. Gov. Mike Easley is pushing a lottery as a way to avoid major cuts in social programs, particularly in his education initiatives.

A vote on a bill allowing for a statewide lottery referendum in November was delayed last week after supporters were at least three votes shy of passage.

'Canes bring out hockey fandom

For a few brief weeks in June, North Carolina took a break from a sweltering summer and all eyes fixed on the state's first major ice hockey playoff run.

The Carolina Hurricanes played in their first Stanley Cup finals in franchise history, only to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in five games, including one of the longest games in playoff history.

Tickets for home games at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Raleigh sold out on the Internet within minutes of going on sale, and retail sales for the team skyrocketed as the team advanced through the playoffs.

The 'Canes open the 2002-2003 season Oct. 10 at home against the New York Rangers.

Council votes down domestic partner coverage

The Durham City Council came within one vote June 17 of being only the third city in the state to allow medical benefits for domestic partners, including same-sex partners. The proposal would have made domestic partners, homosexual and heterosexual, eligible for city health and dental coverage.

The council voted the proposal down 4-3 after finishing the budget process for the 2002-03 fiscal year. Mayor Bill Bell and council members, Howard Clement and Cora Cole-McFadden, supported the measure. John Best, a council member who opposed the measure, said he did not think most Durham residents approve of homosexual lifestyles.

Two city employees had requested the benefit and the city budget and planning office recommended the coverage, on the basis of the city's non-sexual discrimination policy.

Helms has heart surgery, returns home

U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms returned home last week for the first time since he had heart surgery almost three months ago.

Jimmy Broughton, a Helms spokesperson, said the senator, 80, left a rehabilitation center in Raleigh last Tuesday morning.

Helms, R-N.C., had surgery April 25 to replace a worn-out pig valve that was installed in his heart 10 years ago. The original pig valve was used to replace Helms' mitral valve, which guards the opening between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. Helms was hospitalized until June 10, when he was moved to unidentified rehabilitation center in northern Virginia. On June 26, he moved to a rehab center in Raleigh.

City, County raise taxes, wages

Durham residents will pay a slightly higher property tax next year, but city and county employees will still receive a raise, in the two Durham budgets approved last month. City Council members increased the property tax by just over 2 percent from 53.4 cents to 54.6 cents per $100 of property value. Two years ago, the council approved a 1.5 percent tax hike for downtown revitalization, and last year, a 3.2 percent tax increase was set aside to pay debt on bonds approved in past referendums. Durham County Commissioners approved a $558.9 million budget for the 2003 fiscal year, which included a 3.3 percent hike in property taxes. The tax rate increase amounts to 2.4 cents more per $100 of valuation, pushing the new tax rate to 75.3 cents. Commissioners said the increased tax revenue will pay for county capital improvement projects, such as new library branches, which voters approved in a referendum vote in November. Many of the county?s 1,900 employees will see a 5 percent raise as of January.

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