Report for America Corps Member

NEWLAND — The Avery County Board of Commissioners met Monday, June 21, for its second meeting of the month. The board discussed updates to the budget for fiscal year 2021-22, which will be completed by the end of the month.

The meeting began with the presentation of a letter of appreciation from the Avery County Board of Commissioners to Rachel Deal in honor of her “dedication and years of service on the Avery County Planning Board.” The letter stated that Ms. Deal “truly [has] a servant’s heart which is demonstrated through the many hours of volunteering” that she does for the Avery community.

Jim Swinkola of the High Country Charitable Foundation reminded the commissioners and meeting attendees that at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on July 23 there will be a public meeting held with NC District 85 Representative Dudley Greene and NC District 46 Senator Warren Daniel for the public to ask the representatives questions.

Commissioners voted on the new board appointments for the Economic Development Advisory Committee, welcoming Edward Dean and Terry Milton to the committee.

Looking to be granted funding to conduct polling in Avery County, the High Country Association of Realtors addressed commissioners seeking funds to conduct a housing need assessment for the four-county region of Watauga, Ashe, Avery and Alleghany counties, as well as a study on opportunities for development. Representing the association was Jim Lewis, President-elect of the High Country Association of Realtors, CEO Duncan Martin, and Director of Government Affairs Michael Cooper. Lewis stated the association hopes to also address broadband internet access in Avery County and hopes to secure grants in the future.

While the High Country Real Estate Association is covering half the costs of the surveys, the association is looking for investment from the community for the second half. They requested $500 from the board for the housing need assessment, and an additional $500 for a study on barriers to development. The board tabled a decision on the survey funding.

In other business, the board unanimously approved 11 alterations to the county’s budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year presented by Avery County Finance Officer Caleb Hogan. Many items, such as revenue from the fire tax and the state excise tax, brought in more funds than expected, which the budget needed to be amended to include.

Conversely, many departments such as Emergency Medical Services, the Parks and Recreation Department, the Department of Public Grounds, and solid waste services all needed increased budgeting due to COVID-19. EMS and solid waste services both experienced employees in quarantine who needed to be replaced by part-time employees or overtime hours for other employees to fulfill their services, while increased maintenance utilities and costs for cleaning supplies increased the budget for departments such as the Department of Public Grounds.

The 2021-22 fiscal year budget will be finalized by the end of the month. The Avery Board of Commissioners will meet again on July 12, having canceled its July 5 meeting due to the holiday and replacing its previously scheduled July 19 meeting. The July 12 meeting will be a special meeting held at 3:30 p.m. in the Avery County Administrative building.

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Marisa Mecke is a Report for America corps member for Mountain Times Publications. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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