Correction: This article previously stated that Southern Appalachian Historical Association (SAHA) requested additional funding at the public hearing, though that was not the case. On behalf of SAHA, Vice Chair Steve Canipe thanked Watauga County Commissioners for their recommended allocation. High Country Press apologizes for the error.
By Jesse Wood
May 15, 2012. During a public hearing at the Watauga County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, May 15, more than 25 people spoke out against the proposed county budget for fiscal year 2012-13. Posing a dominate presence at the meeting were those speaking on behalf of the Watauga County Public Library and Hospitality House.
At least 11 people asked the board to reconsider proposed appropriations for the Hospitality House and its WeCAN program, which is a crisis assistance network. Last year, Hospitality House requested $24,600 and received $2,000 for next year’s budget. Last year, the organization requested $14,025 and received $2,000.
Hospitality House Executive Director Lynne Mason, who is also on the Boone Town Council, said, “We would not request [this] unless it wasn’t critical. [We have been] singled out – the only crisis agency not included in the budget for the second year in a row.”
Several people, including a homeless woman, whose husband recently died, spoke on behalf of the shelter and told heart-wrenching stories about the families that walk through Hospitality House’s doors each month.
Todd Carter, the development director with Hospitality House, gave several short profiles of clients, such as a family that was kicked out of their home by an abusive, alcoholic father and husband; a single mom with little boys, who lost her job but was able to stay at the shelter while she searched for work and her kids continued their schooling; and a veteran suffering from PTSD that comes into the shelter to eat and shower but is too afraid to sleep indoors around people.
Carter listed numerous organizations, businesses and churches that support the Hospitality House, and asked the board to join these establishments in supporting the homeless shelter.
“What’s missing from our community are the county commissioners,” Carter said.
A representative from St. Episcopal Church said that the people requesting assistance at her church has “gone up exponentially” but the church doesn’t have the staff or resources to support the increases. “We can’t do this alone,” Cynthia Banks said. “This will be the best investment you can make.”
Friends of Library Speak Out
More than five of the 25-plus speakers were Friends of Library, and even more supporters were in the packed administration building wearing blue shirts in solidarity. Audrey Hartley asked the board to reconsider its proposed appropriations to the Watauga County Public Library, which requested $546,000 but received $495,000, which is the same as last year’s appropriation.
Hartley was befuddled, and seemingly irate, as to why the budget doesn’t provide enough funds to cover full salaries of the library staff while county employees have received 5 percent cost-of-living increases in the past two years – 3 percent this year and 2 percent next year. She said county library employees have not received a cost-of-living raise in four years.
“To provide some context … a library assistant one’s salary begins at $7.40 an hour. For many of them that is the same or less than what a cashier would make at a fast food restaurant,” Hartley said. “Their cost of living goes up everyday with food, gas, and rent, etc.”
She added that the library’s employees health insurance premiums are rising by 28 percent, which means that the library needs an additional $18,293 in order not to pass these costs onto the employees.
Hartley ended her two-minute speech with the fact that the per-capita funding in the county for the Watauga Public Library is $9.69, meanwhile the North Carolina state average is $17.85.
“As you can see we are way below the state average in Watauga in our support for our library and library staff,” Hartley said.
Others who spoke out against the proposed budget included people speaking on behalf of the Health & Hunger Coalition, Community Care Clinic, Watauga Humane Society and AppalCART.
After more than an hour of pleads from community members, the last concerned citizen spoke. Before moving on to other matters, Commissioner Jim Deal spoke. “It’s important for a lot of people to know that the draft budget that we have presently is not a unanimous budget, numerous items different commissioners disagreed with,” he said. “I disagree with numerous of it, including the cuts you have seen. I happen to be a product of the Watauga County Library system. I believe deeply in the value of the [library system,] and I truly believe we can do more than what is in draft budget.”
No other commissioners spoke, and Chairman Nathan Miller was absent.
To view full budget click to www.wataugacounty.org/main/App_pages/Dept/BOC/Forms/PropBud.pdf.
To view previous article regarding the proposed budget and to look at pie graphs of appropriations click here.