By Tim Gardner
Personnel appointments to five County Service Boards and the discussion of hiring of an accounting firm to conduct this year’s County audit were among the highlights of the Avery Commissioners regular monthly meeting April 2.
All Commissioners–Martha Hicks (Chairperson); Blake Vance (Vice-Chairman); Wood Hall (Woody) Young, Jr.; Tim Phillips; and Faye Lacey were present. Other top county officials attending included: Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Board Cindy Turbyfill and County Attorney Michaelle Poore. County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. was on vacation and absent from the meeting.
Approximately 17 others attended the meeting.
The Commissioners unanimously (5-0) approved the following service board appointments:
*Joint Community Advisory Committee-Joan Franz (reappointed to three-year term).
*Board of Equalization and Review: Don Baker (Chairman), Joe H. Perry, Edith Traver, Pattie Tennille and Mose Braswell. Also chosen as alternates: Pat Dale, Patrick Howard, Joseph Hawkins and Christopher Byars.
*Child Protection Team-Ela Trivett-Clark and Ruth Shirley
*Planning Board-Mike Lacey and Rachel Deal
*Economic Advisory Committee- David Pollard and Melynda Peeble.
Finance Officer Nancy Johnson recommended that the Young, Miller and Gillespie Public Accountants Firm of Spruce Pine conduct the County’s 2018 audit. The firm has conducted the County’s audit the last three years.
According to a proposed contract, Young, Miller and Gillespie would conduct this year’s audit at a cost not to exceed $36,400.00, which also includes the Fire Commission audit. The cost includes no increase from last year’s audit.
However, the Commissioners voted 4-1 to table discussion to a future meeting about hiring an auditing firm as they may consider making changes to the existing policy about the auditor’s hiring process.
Hicks, Vance, Phillips and Young voted in favor of the measure. Lacey voted against stating: “I believe in going by (the current) policy. What’s the use of having a policy if you’re not going to follow it?”
Poore advised the Commissioners that they would have to advertise for four weeks in local newspapers and take bids for hiring an auditing firm and that all auditors in the County would have to be notified of the bid-taking process. Poore added that an auditor needs to be hired by June as the current fiscal year ends on June 30 and begins on July 1.
In other business, the Commissioners unanimously approved budget amendments of $25,000.00 for medical needs of jail inmates and to recognize $60,000.00 in funds received from additional excise stamps with part of the income payable to the North Carolina Department of Revenue.
Tax Administrator Bruce Daniels told the Commissioners that the county’s tax collections were $512,839.35 in March 2018 and that the County is in “excellent shape in tax collections.”
The Commissioners also unanimously adopted a resolution in the County’s fight against the abuse of Opioid drugs.
The misuse of, and addiction, to opioids-including prescription pain relievers-is a serious national crisis that increasingly affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. Every day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.
Based on recently-disclosed information about the role of the pharmaceutical manufacturers and major distributors of prescription opioids in contributing to this public health crisis, state and local governments have begun to explore civil litigation to establish industry accountability for the avoidable harms resulting from the sale and marketing of prescription opioids.
During the public comments segment, Vance left the Commissioners podium and addressed his fellow-Board of Commissioners from the public podium as a “taxpaying citizen.” Vance commended himself and the other Commissioners as the ones who, collectively, as a Board, have “done more than any (Avery) Board of Commissioners in history.” Vance cited some of the current commission’s achievements such as: balancing the County’s budget, construction of the Agricultural Co-Op Service Building, the addition of a new drug officer for the Sheriff’s Department, the renovation of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) headquarters and liberal funding of the County’s School System.
Jonathan Shepherd spoke about the county’s fire departments and his concerns about their funding and the number of volunteers willing to be firefighters being down. He said he believes fire service in the county could eventually have to become an all-paid one and that will causes taxes and insurance costs to increase.
Avery Fire Commission Chairman Bill Beuttell also spoke to the Commissioners, thanking them for their help. Beuttell said: “You (Commissioners) give us enough to satisfy the needs of the fire departments, but not as much as we would like.” Beuttell added that the fire commission is considering having paid staff in the night and early morning hours as approximately 78 percent of structure fires in the County have happened during that time span.
Also, Mayland Community College President Dr. John Boyd introduced Eron Thiele, MAY’s new Coalition Director and asked if he could be included in one of the Commission’s workshops.
MAY (Mitchell-Avery-Yancey) Coalition is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to help create high quality employment opportunities for unemployed and underemployed residents of Mitchell, Avery and Yancey counties in North Carolina.
MAY Coalition fulfills its mission by providing:
*low interest loans to business owners in these counties for the purpose of creating employment opportunities for residents.
*capital for low to moderate income business owners to be used as an investment to enhance the owner’s income.
To have the monies to provide funding, MAY Coalition received a generous grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. MAY also has received supplemental funding from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the North Carolina Department of Commerce, and from the United States Department of the Treasury CDFI Fund. USDA Rural Development has provided additional funding through long-term loans.
Amber Westall-Briggs, Director of the Avery-Mitchell-Yancey Regional Library System updated the Commissioners about the library’s recent happenings including the retirement of Avery Morrison head librarian Phyllis Burrows; the North Carolina Kids Digital E-Book Collection; Digital cards being available for all Avery County students; the Morrison Trust; and the Springs Writer’s Series at Morrison Library in Newland.
In other action, the Commissioners also entered into an agreement (by unanimous vote) with Tetrick Interests (Funeral Services) of Tennessee for a perpetual, nonexclusive, easement for the purposes of installing a swale, bioswale across the property of the Tetrick Interests.
This easement shall be 20 feet in width and lie across the southern boundary line of the property of Tetrick Interests, adjacent to Ash Street, together with the right to enter the property of Tetrick Interests to maintain, repair, and replace said swale/bioswale as needed. It is understood and agreed that Avery County may plant and maintain swale/bioswale appropriate plants in the easement area, including, but not limited to white variegated dogwood and switch grass.
The Commissioners will next meet on May 7 in the County Administration Building in Newland beginning at 3:30 p.m.