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Avery Commissioners Adopt 2021-22 Fiscal Year County Budget

June 11, 2021. On June 7, the Avery Board of Commissioners approved the county’s budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. The new budget is $31-plus million with an exact amount of $31,463,999. Taxes for Avery County residents will not increase. The county’s General Fund tax rate remains at 48 cents per $100 valuation and the fire tax rate remains at seven cents per $100 valuation. The county’s overall tax rate will remain at 55 cents per $100 valuation for the coming fiscal year. This marks the fifth consecutive fiscal year that there is no tax increase for Avery County taxpayers. A fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The new budget total is an $1,226,128 increase from the 2020-2021 fiscal budget of $30,237,871. Commissioners (Chairperson) Martha J. Hicks, Vice-Chairman Tim Phillips, Dennis Aldridge and Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr. each voted in favor of approving the 2021-22 budget as presented by County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. and County Finance Officer Caleb Hogan. Commissioner Blake Vance was absent from the meeting. By Tim Gardner

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Avery County Heritage Festival to be Held June 26 on The County/Town of Newland Square

June 3, 2021. The highly-popular Avery County Heritage Festival will be held this year on Saturday, June 26 on the Avery County and Town of Newland Square, located across from the Avery County Court House in downtown Newland. Admission is free to the event, which will start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 3:00 p.m. Those attending can visit booths and vendors while tracing their ancestral roots from the county. “Excitement about the Heritage Festival is extremely high and I hope all who can will attend the celebration as it will offer displays, exhibits and many other interesting and fun things about, and related to Avery County and its heritage and history,” said Virginia “Tense” Banks of the Avery Historical Society. Nationally-renowned genealogists, artisans in a variety of media and traditional mountain musicians will gather on the square to collectively help celebrate Avery County’s rich and storied history, which spans 110 years. By Tim Gardner

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Avery County Memorial Day Ceremony Held to Honor and Remember Its Perished Veterans

June 1, 2021 On Monday, May 31, Avery County held its annual Memorial Day celebration to remember and honor its natives who perished while fighting for our nation. The ceremony was held on the Avery County/Newland Town Square which features its veterans’ monument with names of all county natives who served during a military conflict and in which war. The county/town square also highlights Armed Forces flags displays and gardens and the Fallen Officers, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Ten Commandments monuments. Avery County’s Memorial Day Ceremony is organized and conducted every year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Auxiliary, Pat Ray Post 4286, in Newland. Approximately 150attended this year’s event. By Tim Gardner

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Avery County’s “Dive-In” Swimming Pool to Open Saturday, May 29


April 26, 2021 The sound of splish, splash will soon be heard on Shady Street in Newland. That’s because the Avery County “Dive-In” Swimming Pool will be opening for the season on Saturday, May 29, at 10:00 a.m. This swimming season for the county’s pool will be open 100 percent in compliance with per state Coronavirus (COVID-19) regulations announced recently by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. But because of COVID-19, the Avery County Parks & Recreation Department wants anyone using the swimming pool to understand that the health of all Avery County Citizens is its top priority. Several rules will be in place for those on the swimming pool’s premises. Mask-wearing will be required for anyone while inside the pool building. On the pool deck, loungers will be spaced six-feet apart per COVID-19 guideline unless the group is a family group. No one on the pool deck will be required to wear a mask. Taped lines on the floors at the swimming pool’s check-in area and its restrooms also will indicate proper social distancing of six-feet. By Tim Gardner

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Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. Receives First Friends of Education Award


April 22, 2021 If you were looking for the quintessential Avery Countian, Phillip Barrier, Jr. would be a good choice. It would be difficult to find anyone with more passion for his native county nor an individual with more dedication, commitment, skill and innovative ideas while leading its day-to-day government operations as County Manager the past four years. His governmental peers and others across the county and the State of North Carolina are aware of Barrier, Jr.’s expertise in his chosen profession. And he recently added another prestigious accomplishment to his list of accolades as County Manager. At the April Avery County Board of Education meeting, Barrier, Jr. was honored for his leadership throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as the Board of Education presented him with its first-ever Avery Friends of Education award. This honor recognizes those in the county who make significant contributions to the Avery County School System. Board of Education Chairman John Greene presented the award to Barrier, Jr. and Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman expressed his gratitude to Barrier, Jr. for the county’s efforts to vaccinate Avery County Schools staff members to combat Coronavirus (COVID-19). By Tim Gardner

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Avery County Farmers’ Market in Banner Elk Opens Today for the 2021 Season at 4 p.m.


April 22, 2021 Thursday marks the opening day for the Avery County Farmers’ Market at the Old Banner Elk School. The market opens at 4 p.m. and will remain open until 7 p.m. “It’s cold but some of us will be there anyway,” said Bonita Smith of Smith Family Farm, one of the vendors who will be at the farmers’ market. “We never know about April or May weather and sometimes June and July it rains every Thursday, but you can’t control the weather.” Throughout the year, Smith says that vendors will show up in small numbers and continue to increase as the years go on. “We have a good number of vendors, we’ll start out with four or five and then add on vendors according to when their produce or whatever they are selling gets ready,” she said. “The more vendors we have, the more of a crowd we will draw.” By Nathan Ham

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Over 2,400 COVID-19 Vaccines Administered in Avery County; Officials and Community Members Hoping That Number Continues to Increase


February 10, 2021 When Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier spoke to members of the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk last Tuesday, the message was simple when it came to the number of Avery County residents that have held off on getting the vaccine. “It’s a trust issue.” Barrier spoke at the club’s monthly meeting held at Holston Presbytery Camp, both to people in person and a lot of others attending the meeting via Zoom. “It’s an individual choice to get the vaccine,” Barrier said. “It’s the same with masks, you can’t send anyone to jail for not wearing a mask.” Barrier is rightfully proud of his county’s efforts in getting COVID-19 vaccines out to several thousands of county residents. He also is rightfully saddened by the illness and death the virus is causing, and the bitter feelings breaking friends, families and even churches apart because of misinformation about both the virus and the vaccine. “Together we are Avery County,” he said. “Together we are strong!” By Nathan Ham

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Avery County Schools to Have Wide Area Network Internet Access through SkyLine/SkyBest Beginning this School Year

July 8, 2020 SkyLine/SkyBest announced that they have been working with Avery County Schools to provide Wide Area Network (WAN) high-speed internet access to all the schools in the county. “We have partnered with SkyLine/SkyBest for many years to provide network services to portions of Avery County Schools, and we are very happy to be able to expand that partnership to cover our entire district-wide area network,” said Dennis Brown, the Executive Director of Human Resources with Avery County Schools. “The expansion of network services to our schools provides opportunity for both our schools communities to enjoy quality high-speed internet service.” Installation of fiber networks has been ongoing in Avery County and this will allow for the network to be operating as schools begin the 2020-21 year. By Nathan Ham

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One Additional Confirmed Case of COVID-19 in Avery County; Total Now up to 10

June 22, 2020 Avery County has reached double figures in confirmed cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The Avery County Health Department, part of Toe River Health District, was notified that this tenth resident of the county tested positive for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). The announcement about the infected individual was made on June 21. The individual is in isolation and this specific case is not related to any of the county’s other COVID-19 cases, according to TRHD officials. To protect individual privacy, no further information about this case will be released. Of Avery County’s 10 COVID-19 cases, 5 are active, while 5 of the individuals who contracted the disease have recovered, the TRHD noted. By Tim Gardner

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Avery County Sheriff’s Department Featured on WBTV for Delivering Essential Items to the Elderly


March 30, 2020 Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye announced on Wednesday, March 18, that the Sheriff’s Department will assist with delivering groceries, prescriptions and other items in the county during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Their positive effort for the community led to WBTV putting together a story on what Sheriff Frye and his department are doing to help those in need throughout Avery County. In a previous High Country Press story, Sheriff Frye announced that the service began on March 19 and has helped the elderly and those with immune system problems be able to get food and medication without having to get out of the house.

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Visitor Restrictions Remain in Effect at Appalachian Regional Healthcare Facilities Because Of High Increase in Flu Cases; 217 Patients Diagnosed Locally in 21-Day Period

February 21, 2020 As of Friday, Feb. 21, visitor restrictions remain effective in the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System hospitals–Watauga Medical Center in Boone and Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville –to help limit the spread of the flu as the number of flu cases has dramatically increased in recent weeks. “Flu cases have shown a steady increase as we enter the height of flu season,” said Dr. Danielle Mahaffey, Chief Physician Executive for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System in a press release a few weeks ago. “The flu virus spreads mainly person to person through coughing and sneezing. For the health and safety of our patients, we are asking the community to refrain from visiting to help protect the patients in our facilities.” Community members may visit if they: Are 18 years or older; Are healthy and do not have the flu or influenza-like illness, and do not live with anyone who has been diagnosed with the flu or influenza-like illness. The medical teams at Watauga Medical Center and Cannon Memorial Hospital may make exceptions on a case-by-case basis for siblings of newborn babies and families of hospice or end of life patients.  By Tim Gardner

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Volume of Early Voting in Avery County Has Been High

February 20, 2020 The Avery County Board of Elections is still reminding its residents that 2020 Primary Election Early Voting is underway in the county. And according to election officials, the county has witnessed a large voter turnout so far. Avery County Board of Elections Director Shelia Ollis said that a huge volume have taken advantage of Primary Election Early Voting to cast their ballots, which numbered 344 as of 12:00 Noon on Thursday, February 20.  That’s an average of approximately 63 per day. Primary Election Early Voting in Avery County began Thursday, February 13 and runs through Friday, February 28, excluding Saturdays and Sundays except for Saturday, February 29 when Early Voting will also be open. All Early Voting in the county must be done at the Avery Board of Elections Office, located in the Avery Court House Annex at 200 Montezuma Street in Newland.   By Tim Gardner

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Early Voting in Avery County Open For 13 Days, Starting February 13

February 7, 2020. The Avery County Board of Elections is reminding its residents that the time period for early voting in the county begins on Thursday, February 13 and runs through Friday, February 28, excluding Saturdays and Sundays except for Saturday, February 29 when its Early Voting will also be open. All Early Voting in the county must be done at the Avery Board of Elections Office, located in the Avery Court House Annex at 200 Montezuma Street in Newland. The 2020 Primary Election will be held on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. “We’re expecting a very large voter turnout in Avery County this year, with many voters here taking advantage of Early Voting,” said Caleb Hogan, Assistant Director of the Avery County Board of Elections. Those who missed the regular voter registration deadline may still register and vote in Avery County during the early voting period, February 13-29. At an early voting site, registered voters may update their address, but not their party affiliation. Registered voters who wish to change their party affiliation were required to do so no later than February 7.  By Tim Gardner

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Flu Death Total Climbs to 63 in North Carolina as Appalachian Regional Hospital System Puts Visitor Restrictions in Effect and Ashe County Closes All Schools and Activities Until Feb. 10

February 7, 2020. Nine more North Carolinians have died during the current 2019-2020 flu season, increasing the total to 63, the N.C. Division of Public Health officials said in their weekly flu report Thursday. Five deaths were reported for the week that ended Feb. 1, along with four deaths from previous weeks. Of the additional deaths, six were for individuals ages 65 and older, along with three ages 50 to 64. N.C. Department of Health and Human Services cautions the weekly report count does not represent all flu-associated deaths in the state because many go undiagnosed or unreported. The division does not release a victim’s hometown, county, age or gender for legal privacy reasons. According to the Division of Public Health, of the 63 who have died in this season to date, 37 were 65 or older, 15 were ages 50 to 64, 10 were ages 25 to 49 and one was ages 5 to 17.  By Tim Gardner

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Avery Community Paramedicine Program Receives $290,000 Grant from the Duke Endowment

January 31, 2020. Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital in Linville recently received a three-year grant from The Duke Endowment totaling $290,000. These grant funds will allow Cannon Memorial Hospital and Avery Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to establish a Community Paramedicine Program to serve Avery County. Community Paramedicine is an innovative new healthcare model that seeks to provide underserved patients with improved access to public health and preventative healthcare services. Through the program, specially trained Community Paramedics visit patients in their homes to assess their overall health, living conditions, support structure and other social determinants of health. Avery EMS and Cannon Memorial Hospital will identify potential program participants through primary care referrals and by analyzing the highest utilizers of emergency services. By improving this populations’ health, the program will also reduce unnecessary EMS calls and emergency department visits, freeing up these services for true emergencies. By Tim Gardner

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Avery County is a Gun Sanctuary County

January 30, 2020. Any debate over whether or not Avery County should declare itself a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” has long been over as its County Commissioners and County Manager have expressed a single resounding opinion: yes, it should. In fact, the Commissioners have adopted a resolution in support of the protection of The Right To Bear Arms. The Avery County Commissioners currently consist of: Chairperson Martha Hicks; Vice-Chairman Tim Phillips; Blake Vance, Dennis Aldridge; and Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr. Avery’s County Manager is Phillip Barrier, Jr. Vance was Vice-Chairman of the County Commission when it adopted the resolution last year (June Board of Commissioners meeting). The resolution cites The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and Article 1, Section 30 of the Constitution of the State of North Carolina, both which state: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.” By Tim Gardner

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Number of Affected and Fatalities from Influenza Continues to Rise Across NC

January 28, 2020. An additional eight North Carolinians have died during the current flu season, raising the total to 41, the N.C. Division of Public Health has reported. Six deaths were reported for the week that ended Jan. 18, along with two deaths from previous weeks. Of those deaths, four were for people ages 25 to 49; three were those 65 and older, and one was 50 to 64. It was the largest weekly victim total to date during the 2019-2020 flu season for the 25-to-49 age group. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services cautions the weekly report count does not represent all flu-associated deaths in the state because many go undiagnosed or unreported. The division does not release a victim’s hometown, county, age or gender to the public due to legal privacy reasons. By Tim Gardner

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Avery County Citizens Come Together to Organize a Winter Coat Drive with Special Event January 12


December 31, 2019. As the ball drops on another year in the High Country, it’s never too late to consider how you might be able to help those less fortunate in your community. Avery County native Elizabeth Hempfling along with the High Country Charitable Foundation and Feeding Avery Families are pooling their resources together and asking the community to help out by donating new coats, jackets, gloves, hats, and other winter items to help make life a little easier for those that may be struggling to stay warm. “I grew up in Banner Elk so this is home to me. I’m not ashamed to admit I put socks on my hands to go play outside in the winter. It hit me that as it turns to winter up here, I don’t think there’s much attention given to the fact that there are people that don’t have jackets, don’t have gloves and don’t have the essentials to stay warm throughout the winter,” said Hempfling. Hempfling reached out to Jim Ward with the High Country Charitable Foundation to help launch this coat drive and get the word out.  By Nathan Ham

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Avery County Sheriff’s Office Made Christmas Joyous for Local Children


December 27, 2019. Megan Phillips’ husband, Ridge Phillips, is a narcotics detective for the Avery County Sheriff’s Office.  Quoting Megan: “I have had the privilege to be a part of Shop with a Cop for 3 years now. It is truly one of the most rewarding traditions I get to experience during the holiday season. “Being a teacher at Banner Elk Elementary, I get to see the smiles on the kids’ faces when they come into school wearing their new clothes, coats, and boots. Many of these kids don’t ask for much, some ask for a battery-powered toothbrush, pillows, play dough, socks and underwear, things that most of us take for granted every day.” In addition to helping kids have a Merry Christmas, participating officers also help give children a positive impression of law enforcement personnel as friends and neighbors who care for them. Avery Sheriff Kevin Frye believes the program is good not only for local children but also for his personnel and family members.  It is a way they can give back to the community.

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Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce Donates Funds Collected at Inaugural Polar Plunge


December 26, 2019. Banner Elk Chamber President Jo-Ann McMurray announced the donation of funds collected at inaugural Polar Plunge to Banner Elk Fire Chief Tyler Burr. Pictured here, left to right: Megan Lewis, Joseph Silver, Tyler Burr, Jo-Ann McMurray, Carol Seitz and JC Steinbaugh. The Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce is located on 100 Main Street at the streetlight in downtown Banner Elk and is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Summer) and 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (Winter).

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Multitude of Candidates Have Filed for Avery County, State and Federal Government Offices; Foxx No Longer Will Represent Avery Following Court Ruling

December 20, 2019. Filing for the 2020 government elections ended at 12:00 Noon on Friday, Dec. 20 and dozens of candidates from the area filed for Federal, State and local offices, including sixteen for county-wide government seats that will be open in Avery County. For Clerk of Court, Interim Clerk of Court Teresa Benfield filed, along with Theresa Lewis King, Lisa Vance and Linda Webb.  Benfield has served in the interim role since the retirement earlier this year of longtime Clerk of Court Lisa Daniels. All four candidates have worked in various capacities in the judicial system.  By Tim Gardner

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Inaugural Avery County High School Reunion Set for Saturday, October 26 in the School Gymnasium


October 23, 2019. Did you attend or graduate from Avery County High School? Would you like to reconnect with former classmates and friends? Would you like to visit with old friends in other classes? Then the First Annual Avery County High School Reunion is for you! The three schools that consolidated to form ACHS (Newland High, Crossnore High, and Cranberry High) have had annual reunions for many years. Avery County High School has been in existence now for 50 years and there has never been an annual reunion for all classes. But finally, one will be held this Saturday, October 26, the day after Avery’s Homecoming Celebration and Football Game. The reunion will take place in the ACHS Gymnasium, located at 401 High School Road in Newland. It is free to attend and doors will open for fun and visiting at 1:30 p.m. The reunion will last until 5:30 with a special program at 2:30 p.m. By Tim Gardner

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Avery County Commissioners Hear Report on Domestic and Sexual Violence

October 9, 2019. Details of the past year’s work of OASIS, the organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Avery and Watauga counties was the headline topic of a light workload during the Avery Commissioners meeting on October 7. Commissioners–Martha Hicks (Chairperson); Blake Vance (Vice-Chairman); Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.; Tim Phillips; and Dennis Aldridge were present. Other leading county officials attending included: County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; Finance Officer Tim Greene; Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Board Cindy Turbyfill; and County Attorney Michaelle Poore. OASIS stands for Opposing Abuse with Service, Information, and Shelter, and is a private, non-profit entity. Its spokesperson Tiffany Moon gave the annual report to the commissioners, which is considered fitting as October is Domestic Awareness Month. By Tim Gardner

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Avery High School Students Volunteer and Take College Tours with Mountain Alliance


October 4, 2019. A select group of eight Avery County High School students recently had the opportunity to both prepare for their academic future and lend a helping hand. Through the non-profit organization Mountain Alliance, eight students from the high school toured N.C. State University, UNC-Wilmington and Campbell University, and spent time volunteering in Wilmington with the Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM). “We are proud to offer this trip to students as we feel that touring colleges allows students the opportunity to envision themselves on a college campus,” said Brittany Starbuck, the Program Director at Mountain Alliance. “We try to include colleges that have differences so students can compare and think about what type of college they would be most happy and successful at.”  By Nathan Ham

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Abigail Swanger Chosen to Elite Class of 15 ‘Afterschool Ambassadors’ in America


October 1, 2019. Abigail Swanger is an interesting and highly-accomplished individual with a tremendously deep passion to help and be a mentor and positive influence on children. And her honorable efforts are being recognized across the nation—literally. The Afterschool Alliance has announced that Swanger, Family and Community Coordinator at WAMY’s Community Kids Afterschool Program for Avery County, has been selected to serve as an Afterschool Ambassador for the Afterschool Alliance in 2019-2020. Swanger, a Greenville, SC native and Appalachian State University graduate, is one of just 15 leaders in the United States chosen for this prestigious honor this year. Ambassadors will continue their work supporting local afterschool programs while serving the one-year Afterschool Ambassador term, organizing public events, communicating with policymakers and community leaders and in various other ways increasing awareness and support for afterschool and summer learning programs. By Tim Gardner

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