NEWLAND — The Avery County Board of Commissioners discussed the county’s potential reopening strategy during its meeting on Monday, May 8.
In the event that Gov. Roy Cooper rescinds the statewide stay-at-home order on Friday, May 8, county officials are looking at potentially implementing a phased reopening strategy to coincide with the state’s. However, nothing has been implemented as of press time, and details have yet to be determined.
Commissioners floated the idea of putting an end to the short-term rental ban by allowing motels and hotels to begin reopening at 50% capacity for a period of two to three weeks. The county would also potentially lift the 14-day quarantine order and allow campgrounds to open completely. By the beginning of June, rental properties in the county could be entirely opened.
“We’re trying to control the number [of cases]. Numbers do matter, and if we can find a way to diminish those until we see how it flattens out. [The plan] provides us with a perception or reality of moving forward with caution and understanding,” Commissioner Dennis Aldridge said during the discussion.
County Manager Phillip Barrier said that Toe River Health District Director Diane Creek and President of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System Carmen Lacey supported the county implementing a phased reopening strategy. Barrier also insisted that county will highly recommend face coverings in public and social distancing. “The hospital system and the health department both said that having somebody at home that can get over this is fine, but surging your hospital [with cases] is where we’re going to [have problems],” Barrier said. “My conversation with [Diane Creek] was that first a third, then we talked again about 50 percent, and she didn’t fight me on either one of them. I didn’t have a conversation about full force ahead [or reopening immediately].”
Commissioner Blake Vance voiced his opposition over the phased reopening strategy, opting instead for an all-in approach. Commissioners also expressed concern about the county being able to enforce more resolutions, and the possibility of travelers from other states coming into the county while North Carolinians are still potentially on lockdown. Additionally, Barrier mentioned that Ashe, Alleghany, Watauga and Wilkes counties are planning on taking a similar approach to reopening.
Meanwhile, Mitchell and McDowell counties voted to rescind parts of its local state of emergency. Mitchell County lifted all local restrictions and is now abiding by state restrictions only. McDowell County lifted restrictions on its lodging and rental facilities.
During public comment period, commissioners heard a report form an individual whose income is generated from short-term rentals. The individual said that the rental suspension is ruining their livelihood, and they were unable to qualify for a business loan or afford health care. The person implored the commissioners to “please stop destroying small business in Avery County.”
One public comment voiced support in favor of the local restrictions, while another voiced concern over quarantining and advocated for the county to removed the 14-day quarantine requirement for summer residents.
In other business, the county board of commissioners approved Jim Phillips and Moses Braswell to the Agriculture Advisory Board. The decision to appoint a position to the Community Child Protection Team was tabled until the next meeting, and Jerry Moody was appointed to the Economic Development Committee to take over for David Pollard, who had resigned.
The county approved a solid waste disposal agreement with the city of Bristol, Va., and approved its contract with Garanco Construction Co. Inc. to build the community room next to the Agricultural Extension Office.
Barrier gave the county manager’s report and mentioned that Carolina West Wireless will be in the area to test for potential broadband connectivity. Barrier reported that the Department of Social Services received 114 food applications in April, versus 35 applications the previous April. He also encouraged residents to fill out their census forms.
Commissioners also improved changes to the county personnel policy to reflect new provisions made in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
During a county budget workshop on Thursday, April 30, the board of commissioners discussed potential budget cuts to be implemented across county departments due to expected decreases in sales tax revenue caused by the economic realities of the COVID-19 response.
The commissioners are expected to take a conservative approach as they prepare next financial year’s budget, likely keeping budget line items only if they are deemed absolutely necessary.
Examples of large budget items across county departments include a new ambulance for EMS, construction costs for Avery High School and the new community room, a new Dodge Caravan and security systems for the transportation department, four Dodge Durangos for the Sheriff’s Office and a trailer for the solid waste department.
No final decisions on the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget have been made yet. The new budget will go into effect on July 1.
The county is now meeting twice a month until November. The next meeting of the county board of commissioners will be held at 3:30 p.m. Monday, May 18.