By Jesse Wood
May 20, 2014. On Tuesday night, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners heard from about a dozen citizens – some dressed in pink – while advocating for various nonprofits and causes during a public hearing on the proposed $57-million budget for fiscal year 2014-15. The budget won’t become official until the commissioners vote on and adopt it in June.
People came out to support Mountain Alliance, the Watauga County Public Library, The Children’s Playhouse, Community Care Clinic, High Country Crime Stoppers, Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, Watauga County Schools and the Hospitality House.
Last week, the commissioners voted on special appropriations for nonprofits that specifically requested financial assistance from the county. Of those with a representative speaking on Tuesday, commissioners hadn’t allocated funds for High Country Crime Stoppers, which requested $500; Hospitality House, which requested $26,280 and The Children’s Playhouse, which requested $2,500.
Mountain Alliance requested $17,500 and received $10,000. Community Care Clinic requested $25,000 and received $17,000. Hospitality House’s WeCAN requested $10,000 and received $2,500. The commissioners had already tabled a $250,000-over-five-years request from the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, which is the nonprofit overseeing the theatre restoration project on King Street.
Bill Ireland spoke on behalf of Mountain Alliance. He mentioned that Mountain Alliance, an outdoor-education program serving high school-aged children, has a waiting list of those young kids feared to “fall through the cracks” and dropout of high school. Ireland mentioned that more funding would enable Mountain Alliance to serve these children that are on the waiting list. Ireland said that Mountain Alliance members volunteered more than 1,300 community service hours. “Mountain Alliance is teaching students to give back, and we ask for your help to do more,” Ireland said.
Three people, including the County Librarian Monica Caruso spoke on behalf of the Watauga County Public Library. For the upcoming fiscal year, the Watauga County Public Library is proposed a total allocation of $509,850, which is not an increase of the current year. Caruso requested additional funds to increase the staff’s salary, stating that half of the library’s employees make less than $9 per hour.
Both Kathy Parham, executive director of The Children’s Playhouse, and Butch Butler, speaking on behalf of the Community Care Clinic, mentioned that because the majority of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted to switch the method of distributing the county’s sales tax, causing the Town of Boone to lose $1.7 million in revenue, the Town of Boone hasn’t funded nonprofits in two years.
Former Hospitality House Director Lynne Mason was among three people that spoke on behalf of the Hospitality House, which hasn’t received any funding from the Watauga County Board of Commissioners for the prior four years. She mentioned that the homeless shelter provides a critical service by meeting the basic safety needs of its clients and ends up saving the county money by providing those services. She said that staying a night at the shelter costs less than half what it would cost to house someone in the county jail.
Mason also said that she has no knowledge of the Hospitality House bringing crime to the area – as some of the commissioners mentioned during budget retreats a week ago. “Where did this information come from?” Mason asked. “Housing the homeless reduces crime in communities.”
Mason said that the people served by Hospitality House are often the most vulnerable and misunderstood. Mason also requested that the commissioners fund the WeCAN program, which provides heating assistance to those left in the cold, for the full requested amount of $10,000 – not $2,500.
The Watauga County Board of Commissioners didn’t address the speakers or answer questions – as is standard during public hearings. The budget will go to a vote in June.
See a complete rundown on the budget here and how commissioners voted on nonprofit allocations here.