By Tim Gardner
Adopting a budget amendment to provide more money for medical costs of Avery Jail inmates and a failed vote to transfer $1.7-million plus to the county’s pool project fund were among the highlights of the Avery Commissioners regular monthly meeting June 4.
Commissioners Blake Vance, Wood Hall (Woody) Young, Jr., Tim Phillips, and Faye Lacey were present. Commissioner Martha Hicks was absent from the meeting. Hicks is Commission chairperson and Vance acted in her absence as chairperson since he is the Commission’s vice-chairman. Other top county officials attending included: County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Board Cindy Turbyfill; and County Attorney Michaelle Poore.
The commissioners voted unanimously (4-0) to adopt the amendment for an additional $60,000.00 for additional medical costs for Avery County Jail inmates.
Vance said he has “issues” with the county spending approximately $200,000.00 per year in medical costs for inmates and that he “reluctantly” voted to approve the amendment.
An amendment to transfer $1,786,052.00 to the county’s Pool Project Fund for additional building costs failed by a deadlock vote. Phillips and Young, Jr. voted in favor with Lacey and Vance voting against. Vance said the topic will be discussed again at the commissioners June 18 bi-monthly meeting.
Barrier said pre-bids are open for the pool project as of June 12 with officials bidding starting June 26.
According to the Pool Capital Project Ordinance, the following amounts are appropriated for the project:
Permits, Insurance, Surveys, Other-$15,000.00
General Construction -$2,245,074.00
Permits, Insurance, Surveys, Other-$22,000.00
The following revenues are anticipated to be available to complete the project-
Transfers from Appropriated Fund Balance-$1,000,000.00
Transfers from Appropriated Fund Balance-$2,786,052.00
The commissioners also unanimously approved a budget amendment to transfer $626.00 to pay for increased architect fees for the Avery High School Additions and Renovations Project .The following amounts are appropriated for the high school project:
General Construction/Architect/Engineering Fee –
And the following revenues are anticipated to be available to complete the project:
Proceeds from Lottery Funds-$147,026.00
Proceeds from Loans-$0
Transfers in (out)-General Fund-$2,974.00
Transfers (out) to debt service-$0
Proceeds from Lottery Funds-$1,947,026.00
Proceeds from Loans-$0
Transfers in (out)-General Fund-$3,600.00
Transfers (out) to debt service-$0
During the monthly Celebrate County Government segment originated by Barrier, the commissioners honored two county employees with a combined 35 years of service to the county— Karena Weaver (17 years, Senior Services) and Mike Hayes (17 years, County Garage). They were given appreciation notebook-plaques with a county seal pin by Commissioner Vance.
Sheriff Kevin Frye also presented a certificate of advancement to detention officer Tracey Buchanan. Frye commended Buchanan on his dedication and service to the county and his efforts in doing the necessary work to obtain the certificate of advancement.
In other business, the commissioners unanimously (4-0) approved-
*Reappointing Carmen Lacey and appointing Jesse Pope to the Avery Economic Development Advisory Committee.
*A Memorandum of Understanding between Avery County and the county’s Agricultural and Horticultural Fair, Inc. regarding the Fair using certain storage buildings and facilities located on the Heritage Park property.
*Agreement between Avery County and Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, Inc. for the county to provide the following for a sum of ten dollars ($10.00) and “other good and valuable consideration” from July 12-15, 2018 including: (1) Emergency Medical Technicians to be present during the course of the 2018 Highland Games with the number of EMT’s not to exceed six at any given time; (2) The county will provide certain EMT equipment; (3) The Highland Games shall pay to the County an amount equal to the salary, overtime and other total compensation for such EMT’s who are scheduled to work during the course of the Games and reimburse attorney fees to the county; and (4) Specifically excludes the transport unit and crew of the County Emergency Medical Services.
*A resolution requesting local State Representative Josh Dobson and State Senator Deanna Ballard to have the State Department of Transportation to install a road turning lane at Highways 19-E and 194 near Cranberry Middle and Freedom Trail Elementary Schools because of a high traffic volume there and resulting safety concerns.
*Tax Administrator Bruce Daniels’ report of $128,534.55 in May tax collections.
In the county manager’s report, Barrier told the commissioners that the new agricultural building is “on schedule.”
In additional business, the Commissioners voted 4-0 to table discussion to a future meeting about possible opioid litigation to pursue all civil remedies against those in the chain of distribution of prescription opiates responsible for the opioid problem in Avery County, including, but not limited to filing claims for public nuisance to abate the damages it causes.
Also, the commissioners unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding between Avery and Alleghany, Ashe, Wilkes and Watauga counties as representatives of the New River Service Authority to wind up the affairs of the Service Authority, including, but not limited to, retention and disposition of its records. The understanding also stipulates that Watauga will retain and store any necessary Service Authority records with each county paying twenty (20) percent of the cost incurred by Watauga in both the disposition and retention of records. Furthermore each county agrees to pay twenty percent of the fees and expenses of Boone attorney Bruce L. Kaplan in finishing the Service Authority’s business affairs.
The commissioners held a special meeting Monday morning to discuss fire service issues with State Senator Deanna Ballard, State Representative Josh Dobson, Avery Fire Commission officials and fire and rescue chiefs from each department.
Barrier said the meeting was scheduled as an informational session.
A former County Commissioner candidate has publicly questioned the county fire commission’s operational procedures and Barrier said that representatives from some fire departments have expressed a desire to be provided more funding from the county.
Avery Fire Commission chairman Bill Beuttell said funding is provided to the departments on what it considers a “need basis.” He further remarked: “As a fire commission, our responsibility is to combine prior expenditures with current budgetary requests and allocate tax funds to adequately fund the financial needs of each respective department. The fire commission reviews each fire or rescue department’s budget request, their call volume and monthly expenditures up to that point in the budget year and estimates their expenditures for the rest of the current budget year and their expenditures for the last three years to try to come up with the need of each department. The Fire Commission has tried to work within the parameter of the incoming Fire & Rescue tax revenue. Some of our expenses are increasing at a faster rate than revenue, so we have to adapt to the changing economic environment. In the last year, the fire commission has allocated approximately $200,000.00 above and beyond the budget, which represented 8 percent of the total $2.5 million budget.”
Green Valley Fire Department member Michael Laws said the concerns from the county’s fire departments aren’t all about funding. “Naturally, any fire/rescue department could always use more funding, but this isn’t all about money. That’s a huge misconception. I believe most of the county’s fire personnel are very pleased with the 7.5 percent tax funding the departments receive. The issue is about the departments having the right to spend the funding as they see fit and have more representation among fire personnel on the fire commission. ”
Laws added: “I think the county and state officials at the meeting were receptive to wishes of the fire/rescue department representatives. All the county’s fire and rescue personnel are taxpayers, too, and I believe a solution to our concerns will be worked out.”
Beuttell has previously said he believes the relationship between the fire commission and all county officials and the county’s various fire/rescue departments is positive. Beuttell commented: “I believe we have a great relationship with the County Commissioners, County Manager and Fire Marshall’s Office. Our relationship with the (fire/rescue) departments is solid and strong; we don’t make all perfect decisions and from time-to time the departments have issues with us. We engage in regular dialog with paid employees, volunteers and fellow Board members to assess the current needs as well as consider future needs for the Fire & Rescue Services and begin preparation for those needs. We make adjustments that we feel are necessary.”
And despite some speculation about missing Fire/Rescue Tax funds, Barrier and Beuttell have maintained that there are none unaccounted for and that the county’s annual audit will confirm such.
Young, Miller & Gillespie, Public Accountants of Spruce Pine have been hired to audit the financial statements for the County as of, and for the year ending June 30, 2018. The agreement between the county and the Young, Miller and Gillespie, Public Accounting Firm includes that the audit will begin in July 2018 and its final report will be issued no later than October 31, 2018 and will include the county’s Fire Commission Audit.
Beuttell explained that due to a “computer clerical error” approximately $179,000 showed up missing in tax funds when in fact all are accounted for. Beuttell added that the computer error has been corrected.
The amount speculated as missing was $230,000.00, which Beutell has said was an inaccurate figure.
“There was an error on our computer spread sheet that made the money (approximately $179,000.00) appear to be missing when it is not,” Beuttell declared.
Barrier said he has “full confidence in the county’s fire commission.” He added: “Bill (Beuttell), Fire Departments Coordinator Charlie Franklin, the Fire Commission’s Board members and all others involved with it provide exceptional service to our county’s citizens.”
Dobson said many good ideas were exchanged by the fire commission’s representatives, fire and rescue chiefs/personnel and county officials present and that any concerns can be “ironed out.” Dobson added that he believes the county’s Fire Commission should remain in place and any action about many of its operational procedures or related issues would be of state legislative nature and have to be made by the General Assembly.
The commissioners will hold their next meeting on Monday, June 18, beginning at 3:30 p.m. in the Board Room in the County Administration Building in Newland to approve or reject a 2018-19 proposed county budget. A public hearing about the budget also will be held then.