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Avery Commissioners Hold Two Recent Meetings; Partners With W.A.M.Y to Administer Funds for Home Repairs, Prioritizes COVID-19 Funding, Receives Report About Vaya’s Mental Health’s Services and Discuss New Eagles Nest Project

By Tim Gardner

The Avery County Commissioners met Tuesday, September 8 instead of their usual first Monday of each month because of the Labor Day holiday. Key business included news of the county and W.A.M.Y partnering together to administer funds provided through a neighborhood revitalization program grant, a report about Vaya Mental Health’s assistance to county citizens needing its services and distribution of COVID-19 funds.

Avery County reached an agreement with W.A.M.Y. Community Action for the nonprofit to administer $49,500 in funds the county received through the neighborhood revitalization program grant.

The commissioners unanimously approved the agreement.

W.A.M.Y. partners with families and communities to provide the disadvantaged the support and tools they need to become self-sufficient in Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey, North Carolina counties.  

W.A.M.Y. will oversee activities associated with the Emergency Home Repairs project, and identify eligible homes for repair services, verify homeowner’s eligibility, prepare bid notices, maintain files and other related documents and submit invoices to Avery County for reimbursement.

Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. told the commissioners that a recent surge in COVID-19 cases are within a congregate living setting. He said the county has prioritized the following areas as it uses its COVID-19-related funding: personal protective equipment, emergency management storage space, virtual workplace/distance learning, public health measures at tax office and inspections, field response trailer for emergency services, field response trailer for public health, Emergency Medical Services COVID-19 training area, a message board, internet connectivity at fire departments without internet access and a refrigerator/generator for vaccines.

The commissioners approved an ordinance that will distribute $976,403 in COVID-19 relief funding it had received through various sources. The funds will be dispersed as follows: medical expenses ($100,000), public health supplies ($200,000), payroll expenses ($150,000), facilities expenses ($307,302), Town of Banner Elk ($63,194), Town of Beech Mountain ($24,386), Town of Crossnore ($7,209), Town of Elk Park ($10,118), Town of Newland ($20,501), Town of Seven Devils ($14,003) and Village of Sugar Mountain ($79,690).

With North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper easing restrictions as part of Phase 2.5, the county has reopened its playground and the Rock Gym. The county is asking for residents to make reservations for visiting the Rock Gym, and will allow 12 people at a time for basketball and pickleball and eight at a time for the workout room.

Also, Avery Agricultural Extension Director Jerry Moody and the Avery County Health Department are collaborating with the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association to prepare for the upcoming Christmas tree season. Barrier, Jr. and other county officials are looking at implementing safety measures as people from out of town come to Avery for choose-and-cut and other Christmas season activities.

Vaya Health Community Relations Regional Director Jessie Smathers gave the presentation to the commissioners about the mental health organization’s local efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaya Health manages Medicaid, state-funded mental health, disability and substance abuse services. The organization works in partnership with Daymark Recovery Services to serve Avery County.

During the past few months, Vaya Health purchased 500 cell phones to provide telehealth services to patients who do not have internet and provided additional assistance to therapeutic foster care homes, intellectual developmental disability group homes and alternative family living places who were or are struggling financially due to the need for personal protective equipment.

In July, Vaya Health-funded providers in Avery County served 357 members, 38 members received complex care management and 91 complex care management contacts were made.

Additionally, Vaya Health has partnered with the Avery County Sheriff’s Office to provide additional resources for deputies to handle mental health crises.

All Avery County deputies have completed crisis intervention training, and its partnership with Vaya Health is the first of its kind in the state, Barrier, Jr. said.

For Suicide Awareness Month from September 9 to October 15, Vaya Health will be offering crisis intervention training on the second Tuesday of every month from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and on the fourth Tuesday from 9 to 11 a.m.

Smathers said that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for individuals age 10 to 34.

In another meeting on August 17, the Avery Commissioners discussed a new development as part of the Eagles Nest gated community in Banner Elk.

Tommy Burleson, director of the Avery County Planning and Inspections Department and Eagles Nest Holdings officials reported to the commissioners about the second phase of the developer’s Vineyard Village development project with the commissioners, Avery’s Planning Board had previously approved the project.

According to Barrier, Jr., the Vineyard Village project would build upon 12 additional plots of land as part of the total Eagles Nest gated community. Burleson and the commissioners had previously discussed the need for access to a water source to respond to house fires in the community.

Waterfront Group contractor Derek Buchanan said he averages meeting twice per year with fire departments in that area along with fire marshals to keep them updated about Eagles Nest water sources and to address any concerns they may have.  

Barrier, Jr. added that there is an in-ground, 30,000-gallon tank that has its own well near the Vineyard Village premises.

Barrier, Jr. noted that the fire departments have difficulty deciding which part of Eagles Nest they serve, with Banner Elk serving about 90 percent of the property.

In other business, the commissioners unanimously approved the appointment of Matthew McClellan to the Fire Commission as the board’s appointee. The Fire Commission had previously selected Johnny Mathes as the Avery County Firefighters Association’s representative for the Fire Commission.

The commissioners will hold their next meeting at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, September 21 in the Board Room in the County Administration Building in Newland.