Avery Commissioners Receive Approval of Sales Tax Referendum and Airport Funding Notice

Published Wednesday, August 8, 2018 at 11:00 am

By Tim Gardner

Approval of a sales tax referendum being added to the November General Election ballot and additional funding for the county’s airport were among the topics of the Avery County Commissioners meeting August 6.

Commissioners– Martha Hicks (Chairperson); Wood Hall (Woody) Young, Jr.; Tim Phillips; and Faye Lacey were present at the meeting. Vice Chairman Blake Vance was absent due to being on vacation. Other top county officials attending included: County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Board Cindy Turbyfill; Finance Director Nancy Johnson; and County Attorney Michaelle Poore.

Barrier noted that the Avery County Board of Elections has approved the commissioners’ request to add a referendum on the ballot about whether to levy local sales and use tax of one-fourth cent in Avery County in accordance with state statues.

If the county’s voters approve adding the sales tax on November 6, an extra 25 cents for every one hundred dollars ($100.00) spent would be created. Barrier said that could amount to as much as $690,000.00 annually. He added that the sales tax money would be placed in the county’s General Fund and could be spent on capital projects.

The additional sales and use tax, if approved by the county’s voters would be in addition to all other state and local sales and use taxes.

The commissioners were informed by letter that the N.C. Board of Transportation has approved state and federal funds for much-needed improvements to nine of North Carolina’s publicly-owned airports, including the Avery County Airport in Ingalls.

The $3.7 million in funding, approved by the State Board of Transportation during its June meeting, will be used to provide improvements such as better runway lighting, new fuel tanks and safer taxiways.

North Carolina airports serve as a vital economic engine connecting people and business enterprises with the world. They are among the primary economic drivers in their local communities.

The projects the Transportation Board approved include:

$10,602 to help replace aging fuel tanks at the Avery County Airport.

Airports and aviation-related industries contribute $31 billion to North Carolina’s economy each year, according to a 2016 report. There are 123,400 airport-related jobs in the state. The Division of Aviation is responsible for state airport and aviation system planning and development, and provides funding to communities for constructing and improving airports throughout the state.

In a report to the commissioners, Avery Forest Ranger Joe Shoupe said that thankfully Avery County experienced mild fire seasons in fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018. He contributed that to the above average rainfall received here. The local Forest Rangers responded to only 15 wild land fire calls, of which four were false alarms, controlled burns and related calls. Shoupe added that quick, aggressive attacks on actual fires by the N.C. Forest Service, volunteer fire departments and U.S. Forest Service kept most of them small and protected at least 56 homes and structures valued at approximately $5.9 million.

In past years, escaped debris from fires was the leading cause of forest fires in Avery County. Responsible persons were identified in 91 percent of those with 10 warning tickets issued.

Shoupe also told the commissioners that the county’s Ranger’s Officer maintains a strike team of approximately 25 local firefighters who have the training and availability to assist the Forest Rangers with fires or natural disasters in the county. Additionally, he said the support staff at the Lenoir District Office is available to assist the Avery staff as needed.

Another highlight of Shoupe’s report was that Avery County’s citizens continue to benefit from the N.C. Forest Service BRIDGE Program. This program utilizes non-violent youthful offenders to perform fire control and forestry related work and community service projects here and throughout Western North Carolina. Crew members are paid $1.00 per day, therefore resulting in tremendous savings to the county’s taxpayers. They are regularly used by forestry, local governments, fire departments, and non-profit organizations in the county.

Shoupe also said that the Forest Service does aerial surveys annually to detect any major pest control problems in the county and monitors any threats to its forests from insects or disease. He added that the Emerald Ash Borer is another invasive pest that threatens to eliminate the white ash trees. Unfortunately, the pest was found in Newland last summer, so Avery will eventually become infested. Shoupe said trees can be treated in the landscape, but no practical control exists for the forest.

Additionally, Shoupe noted that during the last fiscal year (2017-18), 21 timber harvest site inspections were done to ensure compliance with the Forest Practice Guidelines as they relate to water quality. These sites covered 319 acres. Additionally, Best Management Practices were implemented on 385 acres to protect water quality in local streams.

Barrier said Shoupe’s report “was very positive” and that he and the commissioners thank Shoupe and his staff for their efforts on the county’s behalf.

In other business:

*During the monthly Celebrate County Government segment of their meeting, commissioners recognized the following county employees for the services they provide to the county: John Franklin of Emergency Medical Services and David Hughes of Solid Waste Management. Both have worked for the county 17 years. They were given appreciation notebook-plaques with a county seal pin.

*Tax Administrator Bruce Daniels told the Commissioners that the county’s tax collections were $94,483.10 for July 2018.

The commissioners and the county’s Cooperative Extension Staff also announced a Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting for the new Cooperative Extension Center on Friday, August 17 at 12:00 noon. It is located at 661 Vale Road in Newland.

The commissioners’ next regular monthly meeting will be Tuesday, September 4, beginning at 3:30 p.m. in their Board Room at the County Government Administration Building in Newland.   The meeting was moved from its usual time of the first Monday of each month due to Labor Day being the initial Monday in September.

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