By Tim Gardner
The Avery County Board of Commissioners addressed several topics during their regular monthly meeting July 1, including electing a voting delegate at the State Commissioners Convention to High-Speed Broadband Internet Service to receiving reports about the past 2018-19 fiscal year’s Tax Collections and Forest Service.
Commissioners–Martha Hicks (Chairperson); Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.; Tim Phillips; and Dennis Aldridge were present. Other top 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. Commission Vice-Chairman Blake Vance was absent due to an unforeseen problem at his place of employment, according to Barrier, Jr.
The Commissioners unanimously (4-0) approved Hicks as a voting delegate to the state conference of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners next month. The 112th NCACC convention will be held in Guilford County (Greensboro) August 22-24. During the business session on Saturday, August 24, each county will be entitled to one vote concerning items that come before the membership, including the election of the NCACC Second Vice-President.
Barrier, Jr. recently sent letters to State Representative Josh Dobson and State Senator Warren Daniel applauding the North Carolina General Assembly’s efforts in addressing this High-Speed Broadband Internet issue this year. Barrier, Jr. said in his letter that with the passage of SL 2019-17, Electric Coop Rural Broadband Services, and the continued funding for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Program in both the House and Senate budgets, the North Carolina General Assembly has demonstrated a steady commitment to serving to the last mile.
He further encouraged the Representative and Senator to support increasing the proposed Broadband funding level from $15 million per year over the 10 years to $30 million per year over the next five years. Barrier, Jr. said the same amount of funding, in half of the time, will help reach more people, more quickly and efficiently.
He also urged Dobson and Daniel to support passage of Bill 398, Growing GREAT Rural Broadband Funding. This bill makes important edits to the program to increase its effectiveness for rural North Carolina.
Barrier, Jr. also urged increasing score multiplier for higher speeds. The current minimum download/upload speed for the GREAT program is 10:1 Mbps. Changing the minimum speed to 25:3 Mbps, or at least increasing the score multiplier to reward proposals promising higher speeds, will help meet the needs of rural residents both now and in the future, he declared.
Additionally, Barrier, Jr. wrote in his letter that expanding eligibility beyond Tier 1 counties is greatly needed. With increased funding, he said the State should retain its commitment to first serving areas of highest need, but that while Avery is a Tier 2 county; a large portion of this mountainous county is underserved.
The County Manager concluded that Bill 398 adds components to ensure households reached by new infrastructure projects can afford internet services. Keeping these changes–added scoring benefits for providers who commit to providing digital literacy programs and low-cost options for low-income families– will help more rural citizens take advantage of this vital digital infrastructure.
Following a Public Hearing about Economic Development Committee expenditures, the Commissioners approved (4-0) its following expenditures for the 2019-2020 fiscal year: training and meeting not to exceed $1,800.00; travel not to exceed $500.00; advertising with the Chamber of Commerce and others not to exceed $2,000.00; and funding for projects not to exceed $2,500.00.
County Tax Administrator Bruce Daniels told the Commissioners that county tax collections were $72,088.94 for the month of June. Daniels also said that Total Tax Collections for the 2018-19 fiscal year were $20,306,357.49 and Total Levies for the past fiscal year were $20,756,514.10. The levies include property and fire taxes.
Daniels added that it “was an extremely good fiscal year for county tax collections.”
The County Commissioners adopted a resolution (by a 4-0 vote) approving conveyance of property to another Unit of Government-a 2011 Ford Van to the Toe River Health District, and deemed it wise to do so for no consideration (monetary), on condition that the van is used solely for the benefit of Avery County citizens, and in the event that the van is not used solely for the benefit of those citizens, or if the Toe River Health District is dissolved or otherwise ceases to exist, then the van shall revert back to the County of Avery.
During the Celebrate County Government segment, Cecily Avery of Social Services and Brandy Holden of the County’s Communications department were honored for their service to the County. They each have worked 15 years for the County.
The Second Marine Corps also presented plaques to Avery Emergency Medical Services (EMS), the Sheriff’s Department, Avery Airport Authority and the County Government for their support of the Second Marine Corps work in the County.
The County Commissioners received the County’s Forest Service report from Forest Ranger Joe Shoupe, who commented: “The Avery County Ranger’s Office had a successful year. We met or exceeded our goals in all program areas. I appreciate the support that I have received from the Board of Commissioners. With that continued support, I look forward to (the Forest Service) providing the best possible service available to the citizens of Avery County.”
A complete copy of Shoupe’s report can be obtained at the Forest Service or County Manager’s office.
The County Commissioners will hold their next regular monthly meeting on Monday, August 5, at 3:30 p.m. in the County Administration Building, located at 175 Linville Street in Newland.