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Avery Board of Commissioners Appoint Strategic Economic Development Committee Members

By Tim Gardner

In perhaps one of the shortest meetings ever by an Avery County Board Commissioners (thirteen minutes and thirty-four seconds) on September 18, a new Strategic Economic Development Committee was named to highlight action taken on an agenda with only a few items.

Commissioners present for the bi-monthly meeting were: Chairwoman Martha Hicks, Vice-Chairman Tim Phillips, and Dennis Aldridge.  Other top Avery officials present were: County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr., Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Board Cindy Turbyfill, County Finance Officer Caleb Hogan, and County Attorney Michaelle Poore. 

Commissioners Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr. and Robert Burleson were absent from the meeting due to being on vacation, according to Barrier Jr.

The Strategic Economic Development Committee was developed for Ad Hoc (specific and immediate) purposes and issues. By unanimous (3-0) vote of commissioners present, they appointed the following seven members to the committee: Jennie Harpold, Terri Melton, Jerry Moody, Dinah Cuthbertson, Alice McKinney, and Commissioners Phillips and Aldridge.

With assistance from the North Carolina Department of Commerce and the Appalachian Regional Commission, agencies for promoting economic development and prosperity, the committee will help develop economic development strategies for the county.  The committee’s work is projected to be short term and then the committee will be dissolved, according to the County Manager.

Avery has a permanent Economic Development Committee that is known for having much success in the retention and expansion of existing businesses within the county area, helping with local infrastructure projects, working to attract new business opportunities to increase the local tax base, and improving the quality of life for county residents. The Strategic Economic Development Committee will add assistance and support to the permanent  Economic Development Committee’s work.

Additionally, the commissioners unanimously (of members present) adopted the following three budget amendments as requested by Hogan that included their respective details and monetary amounts: 

*The Emergency Management Department received a cybersecurity grant in the amount of $93,000.00 from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety that will help the County assess, create, and implement policies and procedures to prevent and protect against cyber-attacks.

*The Transportation Department received an insurance reimbursement in the amount of $1,364.73 for its 2018 Ford Transit Van.

*The Public Grounds Department received an insurance reimbursement in the amount of $500.00 for repairs to the High Country Community Health Building.

During his County Manager’s report segment, Barrier, Jr. said that the projected opening for the county’s new Department of Social Services (DSS) complex would be still likely be in early January 2024 or late December of this year. He noted that its exterior stone work has been finished and landscaping and parking lot paving should be completed within the next few weeks. He said that sheetrock installation and interior painting of the complex is also underway and nearing completion.  Barrier, Jr. added that the facility’s cabinetry will be installed in November and then the remaining interior finishing work will be completed.

He also said that the DSS staff have developed a plan for moving from their present location on the first floor of the County Administration Building to their new headquarters on Beech Street in Newland without disruption of any of their services to the county’s citizens.

Barrier, Jr. also commented about Broadband Internet Service, maintaining that Avery will be the first of the State of North Carolina’s 100 counties to implement the Complete Access to Broadband (CAB) Grant, which will be used for the installation of Broadband Internet throughout the county

Barrier, Jr. said that Avery’s total CAB funding will be $3,410,000.00, which includes $3,000,000.00 in the American Rescue Act funds that the commissioners have designated for Broadband service.   The CAB Program is a competitive bidding program that provides an opportunity for individual North Carolina County governments to partner with the North Carolina Department of Internet Technology (NCDIT) to fund broadband infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas of each county.

Avery County is also a beneficiary of a grant that Spectrum was awarded that will bring gigabit high-speed internet access to more than 230 homes and small businesses in Avery County. It’s funded by the North Carolina Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Program and is approximately $2.25 million in value. Combined with funding from the County of $250,000, that was used from the Federal American Rescue Plan (Coronavirus Pandemic Recovery) money it received, the total project investment is nearly $2.65 million ($2,646,740.00 precisely).

Spectrum is part of Charter Communications, Inc., an American telecommunications and mass media company.  Its services are branded as Spectrum. Its Fiber-Optic buildout will connect Gigabit Broadband in the county with starting speeds of 300 Megabits per second (Mbps). Spectrum is North Carolina’s largest broadband provider, already serving 2.8 million customers.

Barrier added that the projected access date for all Avery County residences and businesses to have Broadband Internet Service is still December 31, 2026, although many of both will have it before then. More than 200 homes and several businesses in the county already have Broadband Internet and the commissioners have prioritized that every residence and business in the county have it.

The Avery Commissioners will host a round table question and answer session about the Illegal Drug Crisis in Avery County on Tuesday September 26 at 7:00 p.m. in their Board Room on the top floor of the County’s Administration Building, located at 175 Linville Street in Newland. The meeting will commence at 7:00 p.m.

The public roundtable discussion will also include the Freedom Life Ministries staff and others, and will feature information about Freedom Life and the Reentry Housing project, the latter for which the County has received monetary grants.  Those grants can only be used for reentry housing. 

Freedom Life Ministries, which started in McDowell County, NC in 2013, and also began working in Avery County this year, is a faith-based organization. It serves justice involved individuals and their families with programs designed to help its clients begin a journey to a new life. The ministries provide support to current and released incarcerated individuals.

Reentry houses are also called “community corrections centers” (CCCs), but several years ago, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) renamed them “residential reentry centers” (RRCs). This new name indicates that the BOP views a reentry house as a place reserved for people leaving prison, as opposed to a place where a person can serve his entire sentence.

However, not all who are eligible to live in reentry facilities are former prisoners.  Others who have suffered through drug addiction and related problems, but who did not serve jail sentences, can also be housed in a reentry home.

The commissioners will hold their next regular meeting on Monday, October 2, also in their Board Room.  That meeting will commence at 3:30 p.m.  A public hearing will also be held during the meeting about the proposed Avery County Transportation Authority Community Transportation Program Application that will be submitted to the North Carolina Department of Transportation no later than October 6. 2023. The public hearing will start at 4:00 p.m.