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Commissioners Hear ‘Thank You’ From Nonprofits for Proposed Funding in 2015-16

District Attorney Seth Banks speaking on behalf of county funding for drug treatment court. Photo by Jesse Wood
District Attorney Seth Banks speaking on behalf of county funding for drug treatment court. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners heard from about 10 community members – all of whom were vouching for nonprofits or outside agencies – during a public hearing on the proposed budget for 2015-16 on Tuesday.

Several people were in attendance and three spoke on behalf of funding for the Blue Ridge Mediation – Drug Court, which serves to rehabilitate substance abusers and subsequently reduces the burden on the court system.

District Attorney Seth Banks stood before the commissioners and spoke to “attest for the value” of drug court in the High Country. Banks noted that he was skeptical of this program – and, particularly, the government’s involvement in it – as a young assistant district attorney.

But Banks said his boss assigned him as the prosecutor of drug court and he began to see the difference that the program makes. He talked about the redemption of a heroin addict that went through the program.

He said that this mother graduated and received an education degree, got off of government assistant and received custody of her children again. He mentioned another story of an alcoholic who recovered and is now a productive member of society.

But aside from these anecdotal stories, Banks said that drug addiction is the number one problem that the criminal justice system in Watauga County faces.

“Drug court saves money. I could site study after study,” Banks said. “In closing, Watauga County has been a leader in the state in seeing the value of investing in drug treatment court. While I realize you must make many tough decisions, I stand before you and ask that you continue to make the investment in this program and support this program because it saves the county money and, moreover, it changes lives.”

Blue Ridge Mediation – Drug Court is set to receive $21,000 in the proposed budget.

Other nonprofits represented at the meeting included the Community Care Clinic, Mountain Alliance, OASIS, Appalachian Senior Program, Appalachian Theatre of the High Country and Hospitality House.

Melissa Selby, executive director of the Community Care Clinic, thanked the commissioners for supporting the nonprofit health clinic. Selby noted that half of its patients are uninsured and unemployed.

Even in light of Obamacare, Selby said that Watauga County has roughly 4,000 uninsured residents – not counting Appalachian State University students, which are required to have insurance with enrollment. Selby said that nearly 1,000 of its patients were uninsured, which is roughly 25 percent of the uninsured population in the county.

The Community Care Clinic is set to receive $17,000 from the county for 2015-16.

Tina Krause, the executive director of the Hospitality House, also thanked the commissioners for its potential funding of $12,500 for the homeless shelter and kitchen and WeCan program, which helps cover heating costs for low-income residents in the winter.

Krause said she was thanking the commissioners also on behalf of a young man that lives in the shelter and recently received his truck driver’s license. He now has two pending job offers; on behalf of a young woman who lives their that just completed her first semester of college; and on behalf of the 33 children that live in the homeless shelter.

“We want to say thank you,” Krause said.

The Hospitality House hadn’t received funding from the county in the past few years.

Marcy Ownby, outreach coordinator, for OASIS, which supports women and their children that have suffered with domestic abuse, thanked the commissioners for its continued support. She noted that OASIS has provided shelter for 36 women and their children and other services to 315 other people last year. She mentioned that OASIS leverages county funding to receive other grants.

OASIS is set to receive $10,000 for 2015-16 from the county.

Julie Mullis, a parent of a Mountain Alliance student, and Emma Gummerson, a Mountain Alliance student, spoke about the outdoor-experiential learning program that turns youth into leaders.

Gummerson said that she was a shy student when she first entered Watauga High School, but after joining Mountain Alliance, she fell into a support system that was encouraging and increased her confidence. Now as a junior at the high school, she is passing on what she learned to new students.

Mullis, who teaches at Wilkes Community College, spoke at length about the leadership skills Mountain Alliance students learn. She also mentioned that Mountain Alliance provides leadership training to students that is much better and significantly cheaper than what she sees on a regular basis.

Mountain Alliance is set to receive $10,000 in the 2015-16 budget.

Unlike in years in the past when many people voiced displeasure with the lack of funding to nonprofits, only one person spoke out on Tuesday, asking for funding for a particular organization.

Debbie Wellborne, director of Appalachian Senior Companion Program, noted that her organization supports the elderly and also connects the elderly with neglected and abused children.

“I am here to speak for the children and elderly who can’t speak for themselves. The Appalachian Senior Program provides services in school daily for children – abused and neglected. They need that special one on one attention that only comes from senior citizens wrapping their arms around them, motivating them and reinforcing education, so they grow up and become productive citizens,” Wellbourne said.

Wellbourne also added that the frail elderly also fall through the cracks and the senior programs helps senior citizens get out and about to do shopping and other errands.

The commissioners finalized the budget a week ago and will adopt the 2015-16 budget in June. While the budget can still be tweaked before then, it likely won’t change by much.

See a prior story on the proposed county’s 2015-16 funding levels to nonprofits here.