The Avery County Board of Commissioners discussed a multitude of topics during a Jan. 11 workshop.
All trustees were present-Chair Martha Hicks, Vice-Chair Tim Phillips, Dennis Aldridge, Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr. and Robert Burleson.
District Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. said board members didn’t vote on any issues, but reached consensus on several — the most important being the hiring of an animal cruelty officer and the development of a new county recreation center.
“We had a very productive workshop and the commissioners addressed many issues,” Barrier, Jr. said.
Barrier, Jr. and Sheriff Mike Henley are working together to complete all the necessary paperwork and develop the projected amount of funding needed for the Animal Cruelty Officer position and make plans to obtain a facility to house abused animals, along with the projected costs to own and maintain it. They will present their completed work on the position and facility to the trustees.
As for the new recreation center, Barrier Jr. said he and Parks and Recreation Director Robbie Willis have also discussed such a facility and will also present a plan for its development and projected costs to commissioners.
Commissioners discussed planning to apply for another Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) once the current grant the county has is up. Current grants provide the county with funds to completely replace three houses and renovate three more. The grant includes $75,000 to be used in home repairs in the county, in conjunction with the Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey (WAMY) Emergency Housing Repair Program. WAMY’s mission is to partner with families and communities in the counties it serves to provide disadvantaged individuals with the support and tools they need to become self-sufficient.
Commissioners also discussed plans to make North Carolina’s opioid settlement last 20 years. All 100 of the state’s counties and 17 municipalities have received an initial $26 million payment from their national opioid settlement. Those funds come from three of the nation’s largest drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson, which develops medical devices, drugs and consumer goods.
Last June, the state of North Carolina received $750 million in settlement funding. Eighty-five (85) percent of these funds will go to local governments, and 15 percent will be allocated to the state over the next 18 years. Avery County will receive $1.7 million in a series of settlement payments. Barrier, Jr. he said commissioners plan to use no more than $85,000 a year of those funds to spread them over 20 years instead of just 17.
Barrier, Jr. added that the county plans to use the opioid settlement funds for criminal justice diversion, addiction treatment and re-entry programs. The district received $950,000 in rehousing grants.
He said Freedom Life will be an exemplary partner in the fight against the opioid crisis in Avery County, but is still looking for an office to use as its county headquarters. Freedom Life had planned to operate out of the old Avery Cares (Community Alcoholism, Rehabilitation, Education and Services) building in Newland, but county officials learned that office was in severe disrepair and could not be renovated to be used for such a headquarters.
Barrier and commissioners said the names of Avery County military veterans from the American Revolutionary War and the Spanish-American War will be added to the county veterans monument on the Avery County Square in Newland. The company adding names to the monument requires a list of at least 50 names each time the list of names is revised and updated.
Commissioners and the county manager also noted that state Rep. Dudley Greene plans to reintroduce the residence tax to the North Carolina General Assembly during its short session beginning Jan. 23. Barrier, Jr. said in an effort to help Greene’s efforts, state Sen. Ralph Hise also plans to help pass the bill in the Senate.
Other key topics that the commissioners discussed during the workshop were: the county budget for 2022/2023. (debt planning and servicing) and capital considerations for the immediate and distant future (1 to 20 years) which include-
*Avery Middle School—new kitchen and cafeteria renovations; a new auxiliary gym for exercise and wrestling; and a new auditorium
*Emergency Medical Service (EMS) communication center – to rebuild the garage in the emergency medical service base)
*Adding additional storage for emergency management
Barrier, Jr. and commissioners also noted that the district also received the following in the form of state grants and other financial resources:
*DSS grant for construction ($800,000)
*Grant for trial work ($600,000)
*Capital investment grant ($450,000)
*Capital investment grant ($750,000)
*Undesignated ARP Fund ($160,241)
*Local Tribal Consistency Fund ($196,929.62).
The commissioners will next meet for their regular monthly meeting on Monday, February 6th at 3:30 pm in their meeting room on the second floor of the County Administration Building, located at 175 Linville Street in Newland.