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Avery Commissioners Hold Workshop to Discuss Many Current and Future Business Topics

By Tim Gardner

The Avery County Board of Commissioners discussed a multitude of topics during a workshop session on January 11. 

All Commissioners-Chairwoman Martha Hicks, Vice-Chairman Tim Phillips, Dennis Aldridge, Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr. and Robert Burleson were present.

County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. said the board members did not vote on any issues, but they reached a consensus on several—most notably hiring an animal cruelty officer and a developing a new county recreation center.

“We had a very productive workshop session and the commissioners addressed many issues,” Barrier, Jr. stated.

Barrier, Jr. and Sheriff Mike Henley are working together to complete all the necessary paperwork and develop a projected funding amount needed for an animal cruelty officer position and to also develop plans to get a facility to house abused animals, along with the projected cost of having and maintaining it. They will present their finalized work to the commissioners about the position and a facility.

Concerning a new recreation center, Barrier Jr. shared that he and Parks and Recreation Director Robbie Willis have also been in discussion about such a facility and they will also present a plan for its development and projected costs to the commissioners.

The commissioners discussed planning to apply for another Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) when the current one the county has is completed.  The current grant provides funding for the county to completely replace three homes and rehabilitate three more.  The grant includes $75,000 to use for home repairs in the county, done in conjunction with Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey (WAMY) Community Action’s emergency housing repair program.  WAMY’s mission is partnering with families and communities in the counties it serves to provide the disadvantaged the support and tools they need to become self-sufficient.

Plans were also discussed by the commissioners to make the North Carolina Opioid Settlement last for 20 years. All 100 of the state’s counties and 17 of its municipalities have received initial payment from their $26 million national opioid settlement.  Those funds are from three of the nation’s top drug distributors and the Johnson & Johnson Company, which develops medical devices, pharmaceuticals and consumer packaged goods.

Last June, the State of North Carolina received $750 million in funding from the settlement. Eighty-five (85) percent of those funds will go to local governments and 15 percent will be allocated to the state over the next 18 years.  Avery County will receive $1.7 million in a series of settlement payments.  Barrier, Jr. said the commissioners plan to not use more than $85,000 per year of those funds to stretch them out to use for 20 years instead of just 17.

Barrier, Jr. added that the county plans to use the opioid settlement funds for criminal justice diversion, addiction treatment and reentry programs.  The county received a $950,000 reentry housing grant.

He declared that the Freedom Life organization would be a model partner in fighting the opioid crisis in Avery County, but that it is still searching for office to use as its headquarters in the county.   Freedom Life had planned to work from the old Avery Cares (Community Alcoholism, Rehabilitation, Education and Services) building in Newland, but county officials learned that office is in major disrepair and cannot be restored to use for such a headquarters.

Barrier and the commissioners said that names of Avery County’s military veterans from the American Revolutionary War and the Spanish-American War will be added to the county’s veteran’s monument on the Avery County Square in Newland.  The company that adds names to the monument requires a list of at least 50 names each time its name list is revised and updated.

The commissioners and county manager also noted that State Representative Dudley Greene plans to reintroduce the occupancy tax to the North Carolina General Assembly during its short session that begins January 23.  Barrier, Jr. said in an effort to aid Greene’s efforts, State Senator Ralph Hise also plans to work to help pass the bill in the Senate.

Other key topics the commissioners discussed during the workshop were: the 2022/2023 County Budget (Planning and Debt Service) and Capital Considerations for the immediate and distant future (1 to 20 years) that include-

*Avery High School—new kitchen and cafeteria renovation; new auxiliary gymnasium and wrestling room; and a new auditorium

*Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Communications Center- renovate garage at EMS Base)

*Adding additional Emergency Management Storage

Barrier, Jr. and the commissioners also noted that the county has also received the following in state grants and other funding:

*DSS Building Grant ($800,000)

*Probation Grant ($600,000)

*Capital Improvement Grant ($450,000)

*Capital Improvement Grant ($750,000)

*Unappropriated ARP Fund ($160,241)

*Local Tribal Consistency Fund ($196,929.62).

The commissioners will next meet for their regular monthly meeting on Monday, February 6 at 3:30 p.m. in their board room on the second floor of the County Administration Building, located at 175 Linville Street in Newland.