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City & State briefs

Mayor requests funds to battle crime

Durham Mayor Bill Bell called on the city staff Friday to make crime-fighting the city's top spending priority for the next year.

The statement comes about two weeks after Bell's State of City address, in which he challenged Durham to rededicate itself to fighting violent crime and its causes. During the speech he cited drugs, guns and a lack of economic opportunity for those clinging to the lowest rungs of society.

His words Friday were answered with enthusiastic applause from members of the City Council, the police chief and high-ranking city staffers.

Overall, the city's violent crime-including homicides, rapes and robberies-has increased 6.7 percent over the last six months.

As parts of his plan to reduce crime, Bell has suggested increasing the size of the city's summer jobs program for youths considered at-risk, encouraging local businesses to hire ex-felons seeking fresh starts, hiring more police officers, paying city employees to mentor children and expediting the construction of new community centers and recreational facilities to be built with the $110 million in bonds approved by voters in November.

Unemployment drops in Durham in 2005

Thousands of workers joined Durham's labor force last year as the average number of employed county residents hit 123,975 for 2005-the most ever, according to North Carolina Employment Security Commission statistics.

The numbers were helped by an active December that saw 700 fewer unemployed residents than the previous month. The result: Durham's unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 percent in December, the lowest rate since May 2001. Durham's jobless rate was 4.3 percent in November.

December was also the fifth straight month that Durham's unemployment rate dropped.

The number of workers in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area grew by 27,891 in 2005 to 762,933 at the end of December, according to the ESC. The Triangle had an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent in December, its lowest since May 2001.

UNC administrator takes over top spot at Arizona

Robert Shelton, the executive vice chancellor and provost of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will leave his post soon to become the president of the University of Arizona.

Before coming to Chapel Hill, Shelton spent 14 years at the University of California at Davis as a professor, chairman of the physics department and vice chancellor for research.

Shelton will succeed Peter Likins, who is retiring June 30. UNC-CH Chancellor James Moeser said he would move quickly to find a replacement for Shelton.

After on-board shooting, DATA buses still busy

Ridership on the Durham Area Transit Authority has remained steady following a Jan. 7 shooting on a bus traveling the No. 2 route through downtown, the system's daily passenger counts suggest.

The system usually has served between 15,000 and 16,000 riders on weekdays since the shooting, which occurred on a Saturday afternoon and put a teenager in the hospital.

The Monday following the shooting was the system's busiest day since mid-December, with 16,897 boardings. The passenger count dipped to 15,235 on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and 14,390 on Wednesday of that week, but bounced back to 15,231 that Thursday and 15,451 on Friday.

Carrboro fire chief violates order again

Outgoing Carrboro Fire Chief Rodney Murray has been charged again with violating a court order to stay away from a former girlfriend.

Durham police said someone reported seeing Murray near the Chownings Street home of Gina Ambrosecchia about 10:20 p.m. Wednesday. Murray was taken into custody Thursday morning and was being held with his bail set at $1 million.

The arrest came a week after Murray, 57, pleaded guilty in a Durham court to two counts of violating a domestic violence protective order taken out by Ambrosecchia.

At the Jan. 19 hearing, a Durham District Court judge granted a new year-long protective order that required Murray to stay away from the neighborhood where Ambrosecchia lives. Murray has been on medical leave after suffering a heart attack in November.

He has been Carrboro's fire chief for 12 years and worked for the Chapel Hill Fire Department for 25 years before that. Earlier this month, he told Carrboro officials that he would retire effective March 1. He will remain on full-time medical leave until then.

Bond vote on school funding may come early

Because Durham Public Schools will likely be at least 120 percent of capacity in three years, a bond referendum planned for 2009 may come as soon as the fall of 2007. The referendum would be the third for school construction bonds in the last ten years.

In 2003, voters approved a $105 million school-bond issue for construction, renovation and land acquisition. In 1991, voters approved $125 million in bonds for school construction by the then-separate city and county systems. The two systems were merged to create DPS in 1992.

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