By Tim Gardner
The Avery County Commissioners reviewed a final proposed version of the county’s 2020-2021 budget, and as required by law, held a public hearing about its adoption, during their regular monthly meeting June 1.
All commissioners– Martha Hicks (Chairperson); Tim Phillips (Vice-Chairperson); Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.; Blake Vance; and Dennis Aldridge attended. Other top county officials attending included: County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Board Cindy Turbyfill; Finance Officer Ashley Ingwersen; and County Attorney Michaelle Poore.
Barrier, Jr. commented about the proposed budget: “The budget is a continuation of the financially sound and conservative practice the Avery County Commissioners and government has established and is a fair one that will continue to meet the needs of all Avery Countians.”
The 2020-2021 budget is based on a total property valuation of $4.142 billion, an increase of 2.63 percent over last year’s (2019-2020) budget. The general fund tax will remain at 48 cents per $100 valuation, while the county-wide fire tax rate will remain at seven cents, resulting in a combined overall tax rate of 55 cents. The latter rate also is the same as last year’s.
The total general fund is set at $30.3 million, a $113,000.00 increase from the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The increase includes payments for the ongoing Avery High School construction project.
Property tax revenue is projected to increase by $410,000, or 2.16 percent, from last fiscal year because of a $106 million increase in the ad valorem tax base. The local option sales tax is projected to decrease $550,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on Avery’s economy.
Other taxes and licenses are expected to remain the same, Barrier, Jr. added.
The commissioners are expected to adopt this budget for the new fiscal year during a special public meeting at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, June 8 in their board room in the Avery County Administrative Complex, located at 175 Linville Street in Newland.
Also concerning the pandemic, Avery County received $535,658 in COVID-19 relief funds as part of the CARES Act. The county is responsible for adequately distributing the funds, which are recommended as follows: Avery County ($135,658); Town of Banner Elk ($17,507); Town of Beech Mountain ($9,107); Town of Crossnore ($5,583); Town of Elk Park ($6,207); Town of Newland ($8,435); Town of Seven Devils ($7,039); Village of Sugar Mountain ($21,122); Cannon Memorial Hospital ($50,000); Avery County Schools, Lees-McRae College and Mayland Community College ($50,000); and Avery County Health Department ($200,000).
Barrier, Jr. said the Avery County Health Department will be conducting another COVID-19 testing drive through from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Monday, June 8.
The commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution concerning the county’s proposed Heritage Park trail improvement project. The High Country Council of Governments is assisting with the county’s application for a Pell Grant.
The project’s cost estimate is $150,238, or $11 per square foot. The grant application will be asking for $120,190 in grant funds, with the county matching 25 percent ($30,048). The application is due on June 12. If the grant is approved, the project would revitalize a 51-acre hilltop above the Avery County Humane Society at Heritage Park in Newland.
The project’s primary objective is the construction of a six-foot-wide trail of 2.4 miles, designed by a professional trail planner. The trail would also be handicap accessible and accommodate horses.
The county recently commissioned North Carolina State University to develop a plan for the park that includes the flowing facilities to be developed or improved: an orchard; a community garden; a community center building; an amphitheater; trout fishing access; event space; various nature trails; and an equestrian center or livestock facility.
In other news from the meeting:
*Commissioner Hicks was re-appointed to the Mayland Community College Board of Trustees for another four-year term. Hicks’ tenure on the board was set to end on June 30.
*Commissioner Young was reappointed to the Social Services Board for another three-year term. His term also was set to end on June 30.
*Ingwersen told the commissioners that the county’s Department of Social Services (DSS) received $1,684 for the Duke Energy Neighbor Fund and $2,457 for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program. Also, Ingwersen said the NC Department of Public Safety allocated the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council $19,368 in additional funding designated for intervention and prevention services to be used with delinquent youth.
Barrier Jr. also reported that the Avery County Courthouse opened on June 1, with early voting beginning June 4. Voting times are from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and will close on Saturday, June 20, at 3:00 p.m.
He added that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service has extended the comment period for the proposed Nantahala and Pisgah Forest plan and draft environmental impact statement. The comment period will close on June 29.
The commissioners will hold their next regular monthly meeting on Monday, July 6, starting at 3:30 p.m. in their board room.