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LETTERS / Statement by the High Country Association of REALTORS® Regarding Appalachian District Health Department Raising Service Fees During the COVID-19 Crisis

Dear Editor,

Leadership representing the 877 members of the High Country Association of REALTORS® (HCAR) is calling on the Appalachian District Health Department to reverse environmental health service fee increases made effective July 1, 2020.

“A global pandemic is not the time to be raising fees on local residents,” said 2020 HCAR President Pam J. Vines and HCAR CEO Duncan Martin in a joint statement. “This is a time of economic uncertainty and we need to be making life easier for the people of the High Country, not increasing the burden of trying to buy or build a home.”

Environmental service fees in the High Country were already among the highest in the state prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. The June 23 decision by the Board of Health to raise fees for septic and well permitting was untimely and unnecessary, said Vines and Martin, and made without the input of the local real estate community.

A letter regarding these changes was addressed to the public June 26 but was not received by HCAR. No notice was given as several of its members showed up to local health offices to pay only to be told of the increases in person.

An examination by HCAR of environmental service fees in the surrounding area, as well as Forsyth and Buncombe counties, indicates these are substantial increases well above the permit amounts in other locations. For example, a septic permit and construction authorization for a 2-bedroom house now costs $700 in the High Country compared to $240 in Wilkes County, $290 in Surry County, $450 in Buncombe County and $365 in Forsyth County. That’s excessive in any economy and especially now, said Vines and Martin.

“We’re calling on the Board of Health to pause these fee increases until the COVID-19 crisis is over,” said Vines and Martin. “During that pause we encourage the department to close their budget gap for operational services by finding alternative funding at the state and local level, not from the hard-earned savings of those who are trying to live here.”

The High Country Association of REALTORS® represents more than 877 real estate professionals active in Alleghany, Avery, Ashe and Watauga counties.

HCAR Association Executive Duncan Martin