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State House Speaker visits area for roundtable

SPRUCE PINE — N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore visited the tri-county area to speak to local leaders about economic challenges facing their counties on Nov. 21.

Representatives from Avery, Mitchell, McDowell and Yancey counties attended the brief summit at the Spruce Pine Fire Department.

Avery’s representatives included County Manager Phillip Barrier, Commissioners Dennis Aldridge and Woodie Young, and Economic Development Committee Chair Ken Walters.

Each county was given about 10 minutes to outline the main economic challenges they face.

Barrier took the reins for Avery County’s presentation and outlined two recurring issues in the county: Broadband access and the county tier system.

Broadband infrastructure in Avery County is limited. In the past Barrier has pointed to issues selling property due to a lack of access to reliable and affordable internet service. Barrier also pointed out that while every student in Avery County Schools goes home with a device to use with their studies, many students do not have internet access to use the devices at home.

The other issue facing the county is the tier system used to rank the distress of North Carolina counties. Counties are ranked from most distressed at Tier 1 to least distressed at Tier 3. Avery County is a Tier 2 county, while some surrounding small counties such as Mitchell and Yancey are Tier 1 counties. Watauga County falls in Tier 3.

Tier 1 counties typically have more grant and assistance opportunities in the state than other tiers. Barrier pointed out, while the high value of property in Avery’s gated communities makes the county appear relatively well off on paper, it does not account for the disparity between high- and low-income residents.

The issue has been pointed out repeatedly at meetings of the county commissioners. Last year the county was passed over for potentially millions of dollars in matching funds for school capital projects. The county already had begun preliminary work and had a full plan for the ongoing high school construction project.

Tier 1 counties had more funding available for less match than Tier 2, and some surrounding Tier 1 counties received $15 million in matching funds while Avery received no funding. The high school project, which has been repeatedly billed as necessary to meet state safety standards and replace part of the school in disrepair, has a total cost of about $20 million, which is about two-thirds of the county’s annual budget for a single project.

Moore took notes, with members of the panel occasionally asking questions of the county representatives and some small discussion.

Moore said these kind of roundtables are not very common, but he tries to travel to rural areas of the state both in the far eastern areas of the state and the mountains.

“We have some pretty unique challenges,” Moore said. “We’re making sure that community leaders know that we want to be a resource at the General Assembly, that we want to make sure that we’re getting the tax dollars that people here pay back into the community, and really find out what the needs of the community are and try to help.”

Moore said he thought the roundtable was productive. Some of the issues he pointed to which was brought up at the meeting was road construction, healthcare access and how the opioid crisis affects the workforce.

“Anybody that drives knows the challenges of [Hwy.] 226, or 221 for that matter,” Moore said. “The issues are the same all around the state, particularly in rural communities.”

Moore spent the rest of the day attending political events, adding this was the one official event he attended that day.

Festivities abound during the holiday season

AVERY COUNTY — Looking for something to do around the holidays? Avery is full of festivities through New Year’s Eve, and the following is a list of things to do as we approach the the holidays and 2020.

Inaugural Elk Park Tree Lighting Ceremony (Nov. 26)

The Town of Elk Park will hold an inaugural tree lighting ceremony from 5 to 8 p.m. at town hall in memory of Calvin Winters. Families are encouraged to bring an outdoor ornament for the tree.

Beech Mountain Holiday Market (Nov. 30)

The holiday market will feature a chance to get some holiday shopping done ahead of time. The market will feature artisans and craftsmen with their wares on site from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30, at Buckeye Recreation Center.

A Small Town Christmas (Dec. 6 to 8)

Banner Elk’s long-running holiday blowout is returning in 2019. The festival features a long list. The town will be brimming with events all weekend. The following is a full schedule of everything to do.

Friday, Dec. 6

  • 6:30 p.m. — Christmas Tree Lighting & Caroling at Corner on Main Park
  • 7:00 p.m. — “A Banner Elk Christmas” musical variety show at Ensemble Stage of the Historic Banner Elk School

Saturday, Dec. 7

  • 8 a.m. — 5K YMCA Reindeer Run in Tate-Evans Park
  • 9 a.m. — Pancake Breakfast with Santa at Dunn’s Deli (through 10:30 a.m.)
  • 9 a.m. — Holiday Market at Evans Auditorium at Lees-McRae College (through 5 p.m.)
  • 10a.m. — Christmas at Apple Hill Alpaca Farm (through 4 p.m.; tour purchase required)
  • 11 a.m. to Noon — Christmas card and bookmark making at the Book Exchange at Historic School
  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Pet photos with Santa at Banner Elk Chamber sponsored by Avery County Humane Society
  • 1 to 3 p.m. — Christmas ornament decorating at Bayou Smokehouse and Grill
  • 2 p.m. — Banner Elk Polar Plunge at Wildcat Lake (plungers need to arrive at 1 p.m.)
  • 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. — Cookie decorating at Banner Elk Cafe and Lodge
  • 6 p.m. — Parade of Lights on Main Street (ending with festivities in Tate-Evans Park)
  • All day — Special treats for humans and pets at My Best Friend’s Barkery

Sunday, Dec. 8

  • All Day — Choose & Cut Christmas Trees at Avery County tree farms (get a free tree withChoose & Cut lodging package)
  • 10 a.m. — Christmas at Apple Hill Alpaca Farm (through 4 p.m.; tour purchase required)
  • 2 p.m. — “A Banner Elk Christmas” musical variety show at Historic Banner Elk School

5k Reindeer Run (Dec. 7)

The annual run will begin at 9 a.m. on Dec. 7 at Tate Evans Park in Banner Elk. The registration cost for ages 13 and up is $25 and ages 5 to 12 is $10. Ages 4 and under race free. Registration on the day of the race is $30. For more information call Bonnie Clark at (828) 737-5500 and register online at ymcaavery.org.

SugarFest (Dec. 13 to 15)

SugarFest is Sugar Mountain Resort’s annual multi-day festival that takes place in mid-December. The festival will feature Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht for the preseason clinic. There will be a ribbon cutting, food, drinks, fireworks and more at the festival. For a full list of festivities visit the resort’s website by clicking to skisugar.com/sugarfest.

Town of Newland Christmas Parade (Dec. 14)

The parade will begin at 6 p.m. in town.

Santa comes to Beech Mountain (Dec. 14)

Kids can come tell Santa what they want for Christmas at the lobby of the Four Seasons at Beech from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14. There will be cookies, candy canes and the chance to take photos with Santa as well.

Santa Comes to Beech Mountain Resort (Dec. 21)

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at Beech Mountain Resort’s Lodge from 1 to 3 p.m. on Dec. 21. The event is open to the public.

Holiday Cookie Party at Beech Mountain Resort (Dec. 22)

Visitors and residents can come by to enjoy this free event from 4 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 22. Supplies are included to decorate sweets and celebrate the holidays.

New Year’s Eve Celebration at Beech Mountain Resort (Dec. 31)

The events will include a family night from 7 p.m. to midnight at the resort’s lodge for no charge. D.J. Pete Welter be providing music for the evening with food and drinks available for purchase. There will also be a late night ice skate from 10 p.m. to midnight and a fireworks show to ring in the new year. An adult party open to patrons 21 and older featuring live music, a D.J., drinks, food and more. Tickets are available for purchase online.

New Year’s Eve Celebration at Sugar Mountain Resort (Dec. 31)

A torch parade will begin at 11:45 p.m. with fireworks at midnight, which is open to the public. There will be indoor festivities for a fee from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. The third floor cafeteria is open to all ages, but the happenings at Last Run Lounge are for adults 21 and up. There will be live music performed by The Rockabillys for the indoor events. Tickets can be purchased by calling the resort at (828) 898-4521 ext. 261.

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Brigman named new ACS Superintendent

NEWLAND — During a short meeting attended by the man himself, the Avery County Board of Education appointed Dan Brigman as the new Superintendent of Avery County Schools.

Brigman, a North Carolina native from Madison County who already has a long career of superintendent work under his belt, is coming to Avery from Laurens County, Ga., where he served as the Superintendent of Laurens County Schools.

The vote was not unanimous, however. BOE member Steve Smith did not vote in favor of the appointment.“I have to vote with my heart,” Smith said, adding he had a different feeling but he fully supports the appointment.

BOE member Kathey Aldridge had to join the meeting by phone.

In a written statement read at the meeting, Greene said after interviewing a pool of internal and external candidates, the board came to a consensus about the appointment.

Brigman received his Ph.D in organizational leadership and professional practice from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville. Brigman is moving to the area with his family and will be enrolling his children in the district.

Brigman’s appointment is set to begin Jan. 1, 2020.

Brigman will be taking over for Ken Townsend, the district’s Human Resources Director, who was temporarily appointed as Superintendent to replace Bill Miller, another interim superintendent who took over for Bryan Taylor, who resigned in June.

Brigman said his desire was to come home and finish his career in North Carolina, adding he wants to stay in the area and raise his kids here.

“A lot of people try to get here after retirement,” Brigman said. “I’m wanting to do that while I’m able to still work and serve.”

Brigman wants to begin his time with ACS by building relationships with the communities and faculty at the schools, as well as look at the district’s services and ways to refine what the schools do in the pursuit of excellence.

Brigman said he has experience overseeing school capital projects, both building and renovating facilities. The $20 million Avery County High School project is under construction to make major changes to the school.

“He’s got 16 years of experience as a superintendent in large systems and medium systems too,” Greene said about Brigman. “His knowledge base is so vast.”

Greene said the board did its due diligence and Brigman was the choice between two finalists.

“We really got down to the brass tacks on it to find out why he wanted to be here,” Greene said. “He’s just a good fit.”