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Martha Hicks Re-elected as Chairwoman of Avery County Board of Commissioners

By Tim Gardner

The Avery County Board of Commissioners re-elected Martha Hicks as its chairwoman (chairperson) for the next year during its December 5th regular monthly meeting.

Hicks’ fellow commissioners–Tim Phillips, Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr., Dennis Aldridge and Robert Burleson–all voted (4-0) to confirm her re-appointment. There were no other nominations for the post.

According to Hicks, she has served eight consecutive years as chairwoman and is entering her 15th year on the county commission.

Hicks expressed her “deepest and sincerest” gratitude to her fellow-Board members for her re-appointment and for their “continued confidence in her ability to effectively fill the position.”

There were two nominations on the floor for commission vice-chairman. Young nominated Aldridge, while Burleson nominated Phillips. Young then voted for Aldridge, but Aldridge and Hicks voted for Phillips. Therefore, Phillips will retain the post.

It was the first meeting with Burleson as a commissioner. He was sworn in at the Avery County Courthouse on the morning of December 5th, along with various other county officials. He won the county’s GOP (Republican) Primary along with Young, Jr. and Aldridge last May. The three then ran unopposed for three county commission seats in November’s General Election.

County Manager Phillip Barrier, County Attorney Michelle Poore, Finance Officer Caleb Hogan and Clerk to the Board and Assistant County Manager Cindy Turbyfill were all unanimously (5-0) reelected to their respective positions by the commissioners.

The commissioners unanimously (5-0) approveda few otheragenda items:

*To allow the Avery Economic Development Committee (EDC) to use an advertisement in the Avery County Chamber of Commerce’s Visitor and Business Guide. EDC chairman Ken Walter discussed the committee’s new advertisement with the commissioners after he presented the advertisement to the EDC at its meeting on November 29th and the committee told him to ask for final permission from the commissioners to use the design.

*Passed a resolution declaring the sidearm of retiring law enforcement officer John Hicks to be declared as surplus to allow him to retain his firearm upon retirement. Commissioner Hicks pointed out that Officer Hicks has spent 30 years with the sheriff’s department, and she knows he is most grateful to be allowed to keep his sidearm.

*To appoint Cathy Buresch to the Watauga-Avery-Mitchell-Yancey (WAMY) Community Action Board of Directors, which serves those four High Country counties.

And by a 4-1 vote, the commissioners approved a request from the Toe River Health District (TRHD), which governs health departments in Avery and Mitchell counties, to raise tattoo parlor and artist costs and to establish an Engineer Option Permit (EOP) fee. TRHD officials said the tattoo fee was requested to keep Avery and Mitchell counties in line with what other regional counties charge for tattoos and because some inks used in tattooing are not regulated and may contain high levels of heavy metals that can be health hazards. The current fees for such by the Toe River Health District are $200.00 per parlor (one-time) and $200.00 per artist (annual).

TRHD officials declared the EOP fee is necessary when a homeowner, landowner or developer bypasses the local health department for obtaining a permit. The engineering firm assumes all responsibility for the septic system; the local health department just files the paperwork and a representative attends the final. TRHD officials declared the fee offsets its employee’s time to file such paperwork and attend the final. The North Carolina General Statues sets the fee at 30 percent of the septic fee.

Hicks, Phillips, Aldridge and Young, Jr. voted for allowing the tattoo cost increase and for the EOP fee.  Burleson voted against.

Additionally, several other topics were addressed at the meeting.

Commissioner Hicks said the county received an exemplary rating on its most recent audit period, ending on June 30, 2022, from Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Tera Fenner of the Blackburn, Childers and Steagall Certified Public Accountants Company, which maintains offices in Boone, as well as in Johnson City, Kingsport and Greenville, Tennessee.

Avery has received a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the North Carolina Department of Commerce for $950,000 to be used with the county’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

Concerning Broadband Internet access throughout the county, Barrier, Jr. said he and other county officials are still waiting on the paperwork for the GREAT (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology) Grant to be completed.

Avery County is now considered by North Carolina Department of Commerce as a Tier 3 county. That means that the state considers the county as a “prosperous area,” which could cause issues in securing future grants for the county. That’s because some grants are only available to lower-tier counties, and other grants may use the tier system as a means of determining need.  

However, the tier system does not impact Broadband Internet grants, Barrier, Jr. noted.

The commissioners discussed the county’s new contract with Radio Communications Company of Cary, NC, which provides its fire, rescue and law enforcement radio communications services. Both Barrier, Jr. and Director of Emergency Management Paul Buchanan have declared that Avery County will have a state-of-the-art radio system with its new system.  The commissioners also expressed satisfaction with the new contract and Commissioner Hicks said work continues to completely change out and update the system to meet necessary protocols for it to be a completely new system.

Barrier, Jr. also noted that county officials are aware of the need for affordable housing and workforce housing in Avery County and continues to work feverishly toward achieving both. He expressed appreciation to Michelle Ball with the High Country Council of Governments, which awarded Avery a Community Block Development Grant for re-entry housing.

The commissioners will hold their next meeting and their first of 2023 on January 2nd, beginning at 3:30 p.m. in their Board Room, located on the second floor of the County Administration Building, 175 Linville Street, in Newland.