By Tim Gardner
Reports about the arrest success of the Sheriff’s Department’s against drug offenders, various Board appointments and a Heritage Park Vision Plan presentation were among the topics of the regular monthly meeting of the Avery County Commissioners February 5.
Commissioners Blake Vance; Wood Hall (Woody) Young, Jr.; Tim Phillips; and Faye Lacey were present. Commission chairperson Martha Hicks was absent from the meeting due to a family illness. Vice-Chairman Vance moderated the meeting in Hicks’ absence. County Manger Phillip Barrier, Jr.; Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Board Cindy Turbyfill; County Attorney Michaelle Poore; and Finance Director Nancy Johnson also were present. Approximately 30 others attended the meeting.
Sheriff Kevin Frye updated the commissioners about the county’s hiring an additional officer concentrating on halting the exploitation of drugs in the county. Frye said that drug officers Casey Lee and Ridge Phillips have helped lead the way for a significant increase in drug arrests in the county and many have involved serious drug offenses such as those involving methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Frye noted that 276 drug arrests were made in the county during the 2016-17 fiscal year, an average of 23 per month. But during a six-month period of July 2017 until the end of January 2018, 264 drug arrests have been made in the county, an average of 38 per month. Frye said the arrests are a true team effort of his department’s officers as at least three officers must be at a drug bust and at least five officers are required to be at a drug arrest when search warrants are presented (such as at a raid). The Sheriff added that those same officers are subpoenaed to court to testify against those they arrest, meaning that reserve officers are often used or regular employees have to work extra time due to the other officers having to appear in court.
Frye said of his staff and its emphasis on arresting drug offenders: “I’m fortunate to have some of the most dedicated and professional officers and employees of any law enforcement organization in the State of North Carolina. And Avery County can be most highly proud of them. I assure all citizens here that my officers and I will continue to work as hard as possible to keep all illegal drugs out of our County.”
The commissioners also made seven appointments to county, regional or civic Boards by a unanimous (4-0) vote. They included: Denise Powell, Allison Phillips, Jacqueline Aldridge and Zachary Shepherd to the Child Protection Team (Child Fatality Committee). The team is designed to encourage wide community involvement in the prevention of abuse and neglect and in the protection of children at risk. Team members work to identify and respond to gaps in the prevention and protection service network, maximizing the use of limited resources through creative approaches to local child abuse or neglect issues.
Another appointment was Teddy Bare to the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council. That council was formed to prevent juveniles who are at risk from becoming delinquent. Its primary intent is to develop community-based delinquency, substance abuse, gang prevention and other related strategies and programs.
The last two appointments were Commissioner Young (reappointment) to the High Country’s Rural Transportation Advisory Committee and Commissioner Phillips to the New River Service Authority to help with the entity’s records retention policy and in the confirmation that all of its assets have been properly distributed. The New River Service Authority is in the process of being dissolved.
Traci Rider and John Ring of North Carolina State University’s Design Team addressed the commissioners about the Vision Plan for Heritage Park in Avery County. The plan’s emphasis is working towards a unified and sustainable community through economic growth.
The Vision Plan was developed as a result of Avery County’s interest in exploring using an underutilized piece of land historically only used for the Avery County Fair once a year. That land was leveled in previous generations, and contains not only a substantial amount of flat land, but also wooded trails and a stream throughout the county-owned property approximately two miles north of downtown Newland.
The over-achieving goals of this project were: (1) to engage Avery County’s leadership, citizens and stockholders in the creation of a conceptual vision plan to guide the development of a new Heritage Park site; (2) emphasize the inclusion of activities for year-round utilization of the site, welcoming participants of all ages, abilities and backgrounds; and (3) support Avery County in developing an increasingly healthy, stable and engaged community.
This partnership resulted in the creation of a vision plan that addresses place-based issues for Avery County, including community engagement, economic development and identity creation while emphasizing the mountain heritage of the community.
In conclusion, the vision plan for Heritage Park seeks to incorporate the priorities and desires of Avery County residents in hopes of attracting new visitors and making the Avery County Fairgrounds a destination for year-round programs and activities. The proposal creates a versatile venue that caters to the needs of the local community as well as the desires for future growth. Ultimately, the design speaks to the different populations of people within Avery County, and accommodates people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the communal fairgrounds.
Melynda Pepple, Executive Director of the Avery County Chamber of Commerce, gave the Chamber’s annual report to the commissioners and requested $10,000.00 from the county to help with its operating expenses. The Chamber of Commerce promotes economic growth and tourism in the county and its visitor’s center provides information of historical or other significant means about the county’s landmarks, noted citizens and of many other interests. Commissioners told Pepple they will consider the Chamber’s request in the county’s upcoming budget process.
Pepple noted in a letter to the commissioners that according to a Tourism Fact Sheet generated by Dr. Steve Morse, Director of Hospitality and Tourism at Western Carolina University, Avery County generated $29,287 daily in combined state and local tax revenues in 2015. Pepple additionally noted that $113.61 million per year was generated in direct tourist spending in Avery County that year, As a result, if tourism did not exist, each of the then-14,027 Avery County households would have to pay $760.00 more in state and local taxes to replace the taxes generated by tourist spending according to the report.
During the monthly Celebrate County Government segment originated by Barrier, commissioners recognized four county employees for the long-time services they have provided to the county: Amy Tolley (19 years), Communications; Betty Bailey (18 years) Senior Citizens Center; Tammy Dyer (18 years) Tax Office; and Trena Cook (18 years) Sheriff’s Department-Chief Jailer. Those employees were given appreciation notebook-plaques with a county seal pin.
In other business, the commissioners:
*Unanimously (4-0) approved a budget amendment from Johnson on behalf of the Avery Planning and Inspections Department for an additional $2,935.00 for expenses of demolition and debris of an Adams Apple cluster in Invershield. The total demolition cost was more than originally budgeted and the additional fund request will cover the additional expense incurred in the demolition.
*Unanimously (4-0) adopted a resolution authorizing the lease of real property known as the Avery Cares Building for a period of less than one year.
*Barrier also informed the commissioners of a $100,000.00 Broadband Internet Grant awarded to the Avery County Chamber of Commerce.
*Received an annual report from local spokesman Brian Shuping about Vaya Health, a public managed care organization that oversees Medicaid, federal, state and local funding for services and supports related to mental health, substance use and intellectual/ developmental disability (IDD) needs. Vaya Health operates in 23 Western North Carolina counties, including Avery, and is home to more than one million residents who may be eligible for its prevention, treatment and crisis services.
*Were informed by Tax Administrator Bruce Daniels that tax collections were $2,859,731.93 for January 2018.
The next regular monthly Avery Commissioners meeting will be Monday, March 5, at 3:30 p.m. in their Board Room at the County Government Administration Building in Newland.