By David Rogers. May 21, 2019. BOONE, NC — More than a dozen speakers from the floor solicited the financial support of Watauga County Commissioners Tuesday night. By the end of the public hearing that consumed more than half of the approximately two hours and 20 minutes required for the entire meeting, two viewpoints about 0.003% of the budget became crystallized.
COVER IMAGE: Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers addresses Watauga County Board of Commissioners, asking for additional financial support for the Town. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Many of the budget requests were from 501(c)(3) organizations that typically receive county funds, as well as various county agencies. Non-profits speaking included organizations like OASIS and WAMY, while agencies such as the County Library and the Department of Social Services also made their cases for funding.
At the end, Commissioner Perry Yates thanked them all for their comments and their service, then added, “I am not against any 501(c)(3) and privately support many. Where I have a problem is using taxpayer money, which is coerced (revenue to the county government). If people don’t pay their property taxes, then the government can come in and take that property to satisfy the taxes (owed).”
In effect, Yates argued that by using taxpayer money to support 501(c)(3) funding, the commissioners are forcing the taxpayer to support certain non-profits favored and selected for funding by one or more individual commissioners — but leaving out others (that might be favored by an individual taxpayer).
Yates went on to express a certain degree of consternation that voters did not support the sales tax initiative that was on the ballot for the last election. “That would have (contributed) about $2 million to the county budget and would have provided us with a lot more funding flexibility.”
Commissioner Charlie Wallin countered with an acknowledgment of the valuable services many of the non-profits provide that save the county money, while working hand in hand with agencies such as Watauga County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Social Services.
The first speaker to address the board during the public hearing was Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers. Hizzoner thanked the board for correcting the omission of a 12-hour EMT shift to be continued in Blowing Rock; commented on the County’s decision not to pay for Blowing Rock’s School Resource Officer (SRO) but wondered if the Town-funded SRO had to take a leave of absence for any reason, could the county supply a Sherriff’s deputy as an acting SRO; pointed out that the Robbins Pool, operated by the Blowing Rock Parks & Recreation Department, is a valuable county resource in that it attracts users from around the region, including residents and tourists or other visitors to the High County. Sellers asked the commissioners to consider adding additional funds to help support the pool operations.
Many of the speakers from the audience during the budget public hearing were on hand to voice support for a new Valle Crucis School. While all of the speakers stated that either a replacement school building or extensive renovation of the aging property was long overdue, at least two speakers questioned the proposed location of the new school, on property adjacent to or near the historic Mast Farm Inn. Lyle Schoenfeldt, a retired management professor in the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University, and his wife formerly owned the Mast Farm Inn so had first-hand knowledge of the lodging and restaurant property. “Having the school next to the historic Inn would definitely change (the guest experience),” Schoenfeldt noted. “There are other locations in Valle Crucis where it could be located that are still adjacent to Valle Crucis Park.”
A significant amount of time was devoted to competing presentations from prospective vendors for solid waste disposal and related transportation services. All of the commissioners expressed frustration at current contract holder, GDS/Republic Services, submitting a last hour revised bid to continue the business of serving the county’s disposal and transportation needs, with Commissioner Billy Kennedy and Commissioner Perry Yates pointing out that it was highly irregular for their bid revisions to come in after the board packets containing information about the competitors’ bids and visible to them. After much public discussion, Chairman John Welch tabled further discussion until the board members went into closed session since, presumably, some of the conversations would more appropriately be conducted in private and not aired publicly.
In other business, the commissioners voted to approve tax refunds and releases; made appointments to various boards and commissions; updated the Watauga County Emergency Operations Plan; approved an out-of-state travel by Taylor Marsh of the Emergency Services department to the Blacksburg, Virginia office of the National Weather Service; released $328,210 to the Watauga County School District for various repairs to Blowing Rock, Hardin Park, and Parkway schools.
The meeting was called to order at 5:30 pm and went into closed session at approximately 7:40 pm.