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Board of Commissioners discuss proclamations, requests and reappointments

WEST JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Commissioners met in regular session on Monday, Dec. 6 at the Venue of the Ashe County Chamber to discuss monthly updates, proclamations and reappointments.

The meeting was attended by Chair Todd McNeill, Vice Chair William Sands, Jerry Powers, Chuck Olive, Jonathan Jordan and County Manager Adam Stumb.

As the meeting began, Environmental Services Director Scott Hurley requested new landfill equipment.

The commissioners approved the request with details in renting the equipment for two months at $14,000 with a 6 percent interest. This can be a rent-to-own plan to see where Environmental Services can gather funds to fully purchase the equipment or repair current equipment. The renting period will end on Feb. 7.

“This is $553,000 versus a million and a half if we have to buy,” said Powers, just before making a motion to approve.

Charlie Brady from Blue Ridge Conservancy then presented a proclamation month round up for Paddy Mountain in the month of December.

“Blue Ridge Conservancy was approached and asked to support a round up for the month of December,” said Brady.

In the proclamation, BRC stated that protecting Paddy Mountain will provide economic value to the county and they requested that, “Ashe County Board of Commissioners encourage all local businesses to participate in the December 2021 Round Up for Paddy Mountain to raise private funds to be applied to the purchase price of acquiring this invaluable tract of land; and that the Ashe County Board of Commissioners encourage every visitor and citizen patronizing Ashe County businesses to round up their bill to the nearest dollar to go toward the purchase of Paddy Mountain.”

The proclamation was approved by the board.

Stumb then discussed with the commissioners a letter of agreement between BRC, the Town of West Jefferson and the county of Ashe regarding Paddy Mountain in which the county and town agree to contribute $200,000 each to help fund the purchase of the Paddy Mountain tract. This agreement was approved.

Next on the agenda was Chad Elbert with Enterprise Rent-a-Car who provided a fleet presentation to the board.

“Ashe County Sheriff Office is looking for a solution to reduce the age of the current fleet and create a more sustainable replacement budget/cycle. Of the current light and medium duty fleet, 42 percent is over five years old and 33 percent is over 100,000 miles. Older vehicles have higher fuel costs, maintenance costs, and tend to be unreliable. It would take almost 10 years to cycle out the entire fleet at current acquisition rates,” said Elbert in the presentation.

Further in the presentation, it was stated that, “Enterprise Fleet Management’s proposal is to save resources and budget dollars through a managed vehicle program. This will utilize an open-end lease as a funding mechanism, allowing the district to acquire additional vehicles while avoiding a large capital budget outlay, replace aged vehicles with newer models to increase fuel efficiency and safety while reducing maintenance expense. Maintenance and repairs will continue to be completed through the current process and establish a proactive replacement plan that maximizes potential equity at time of resale, reduces operational expenses, and increases safety.

An open-end lease means there are no early termination, mileage, or abnormal wear and tear penalties. Leases are written to a residual balance to preserve cash flow. The town receives flexibility of ownership, as well as net equity from sale at time of disposal.”

As a result, “Ashe County Sheriff’s Office will reduce vehicle operating costs significantly by reducing the age of the fleet. Leveraging an open-end lease maximizes cash flow and recognizes equity from vehicles sold. By shifting from reactively replacing old vehicles to planning vehicle purchases, the Sheriff’s Office will be able to replace 18 of its oldest vehicles within a year with no additional budget allocation (compared to paying cash for an average of four annual replacements). Furthermore, by utilizing Enterprise’s resale channels and selling units at the optimum time, the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office can implement a five-year vehicle cycle in which all units remain under warranty while maintaining a sustainable budget year over year,” Elbert said in his presentation.

A full copy of the presentation can be found at www.ashecounty.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx under the Dec. 6 agenda.

Olive brought the question of how they are going to select the vehicles.

Elbert said that there is no vehicle that is considered out of line in regards to patrol vehicles, some looking at Durangos, trucks and Teslas.

“This would be tremendous for us,” said Sheriff Phil Howell. “The way everything looks, it should be saving county costs while also negotiating a better deal.”

The commissioners agreed to continue discussion in upcoming meetings.

The board then made reappointments for the boards of Vaya Health Regional, Airport Advisory, Regional Library and the Long Term Care Joint Community Advisory Committee.


Community
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Board of Education votes to keep mask policies in place, looking for new architect for middle school

JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Education met in regular session on Monday, Dec. 6 in the third floor courtroom of the Ashe County Courthouse.

The meeting was attended by Chair Josh Roten, Vice Chair Dianne Eldreth, Polly Jones, Dr. Kim Simmons, Keith McClure and Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox.

Cox began the meeting with comments regarding the current strategic plan and updates within the schools.

“We have been making progress on some of our goals,” said Cox. “The percent of unexcused absences will be lower than the state average, though some of our absences may look high due to COVID-19. We are looking specifically at the success of our students. We are also increasing partnerships between parents, teachers and the community.”

Within the strategic plan, ACS created a vision which is to to collectively inspire and prepare students to live their best lives. The mission is, “Ashe County Schools works collaboratively to improve lives and provide all students with a safe, equitable and enriching learning experience every day, without exception.”

Cox also mentioned the kickoff of the ACMS Making Spirits Bright Light Show and encouraged community members to participate in the drive-thru experience.

After opening updates, the meeting then moved into public comment.

Ten community members stepped up to the podium to speak to the board directly about masking in schools and how they believe parents’ choice should be the No. 1 priority for their students. Two of the speakers were ACS students, both stating that wearing the masks gives them a number of problems including itchy faces, rashes, anxiety and more.

On Nov. 23, the board held a special meeting and voted to keep optional masks in middle and high school while holding off on elementary schools until after Christmas break.

“The numbers we’re seeing now are concerning me,” said Eldreth. “I’m going to vote no to keeping the policy we have as I think we should look back into the mask mandate.”

Later in the meeting, Simmons made the motion to keep the current policy, which carried three to two. Simmons voted yes, McClure voted yes, Jones voted yes and Roten and Eldreth voted no.

Roten said his vote comes from a parent standpoint and he thinks every parent should be able to choose whether their child is masked and that having two schools optional isn’t fair to the younger students.

Along with that vote, the board approved the strategic plan, previous meeting minutes, personnel, the UNCC Athletic Training Affiliation Agreement and policy updates.

Moving onto discussion items and updates, Cox and Finance Officer Amanda Coldiron provided a salary study and a retention bonus, which will allow employees to receive up to $2,800 in bonuses. Coldiron said the bonus would go into effect either in Dec. or Jan.

Director of Accountability and Career and Technical Education Earl Pennington then provided CTE updates, stating that:

  • Ashe County CTE has three funding sources: Federal (Perkins V), State and Local
  • Ashe County High School Teachers — 10.5 teachers, and 1 Career Development / Instructional Management Coordinator
  • Ashe County Middle School Teachers — three and one

1/2

  • time MS Career Development Coordinator
  • In need of two teachers at ACHS: one additional carpentry and one Technology and Design

He also stated that they will be conducting a survey of previous graduates who held concentrations in CTE beginning in Jan. to see where those students are now in their education and professions.

Jamie Little then presented current ACS social and emotional support.

“We have a number of counseling services for each of our schools and are making progress with certain students,” said Little. “It’s enlightening to see students who were once unmotivated become happier and excited to finish school.”

Cox ended the meeting with an update on the middle school.

“We are now accepting proposals for a new architect and we hope to be in negotiations soon,” said Cox.

In response, Simmons said she not only wants to inform county officials of the current update, but the community as well.

“I want the public to know what’s going on,” said Simmons. “What has been going on has caused a lot of factors in our progress with the middle school. We want the community to fully understand what has happened and why we have yet to break ground.”

“I hope that we can get a fresh start quickly,” Eldreth said.

The Ashe Post and Times will continue to provide updates on the middle school as more information is released.


News
Sheriff's Department partners with community organizations for bike giveaway

WEST JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Sheriff’s Department teamed up with the local Walmart and community nonprofits to gift 120 bikes to kids in the Ashe community just ahead of the holidays.

West Jefferson Lions Club, Ashe County Huskies football team, Ashe County Sheriff’s Department, West Jefferson Police and Walmart all donated money and time to provide the bikes for the community distribution on Saturday, Dec. 4.

“The sheriff’s office is a huge community outreach and that is something that started with me coming in. We have just been pushing community and trying to make sure that we’re out there for the kids and then that way. Our end goal is 20 years from now to have a better relationship with kids as they become adults,” Sheriff Phil Howell said.

The idea for a bike giveaway came from West Jefferson Chief of Police Brad Jordan, according to Howell, and it ultimately came together in just four days.

Almost 500 people entered the giveaway, Howell said. The staff at the sheriff’s office cut out slips and picked the 125 winners at random with the West Jefferson Police Department.

Howell said Walmart was an obvious choice for the project since they have worked with the sheriff’s office on many community programs before, like Shop with A Cop which is planned for Tuesday, Dec. 14. Howell said that Walmart has been able to get items that the sheriff’s office may not always have access to, and that Walmart actually lost some money in order to discount the bikes and make them accessible to the community.

“We’re very fortunate to impact 120 kids,” said Walmart manager Roger Walter. While not all could win the giveaway, he said he was proud of the work that Walmart and other community organizations did. Many people arrived right on time Saturday morning for the beginning of the distribution, but Walter said that Walmart might have to do a second distribution day to make sure everybody is able to pick up their bikes.

According to Gwynita Steele, president of the West Jefferson Lions Club, the Lions Club contributed $500 to the bike giveaway and was excited to participate in the giveaway.

Tamara Kearley, a teacher at Blue Ridge Elementary, said she was thankful to the sheriff’s department for the bike giveaway. She said her daughter wanted a bike for Christmas, and moreover she has seen the impact the bike giveaway is having on the community through seeing many Blue Ridge Elementary students and families at the giveaway as well.

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


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Making Spirits Bright: ACMS holds second annual Light Show for the Holidays

WARRENSVILLE — The holidays are here and there is no better way to spread joy and cheer than driving through some of the most beautifully lit places in Ashe County. Ashe County Middle School is no exception, opening up their annual Making Spirits Bright Light Show.

This year, the school decided to put on the drive-thru experience once again, lighting up the campus of ACMS with more than 45,000 lights.

“With each night and weekend, as word began to spread, we had more folks attend (some families attending every weekend),” said ACMS Principal Dustin Farmer in regard to the first annual light show. “With the success of our first year, it is our hope that we will see an increase in attendance each night and weekend just as we did last year, with an even greater attendance this year”

In a Dec. 3 kickoff event, the light show was enjoyed by an estimated 65 drivers, many slowing down to take in the beauty of the holidays.

This event is a synchronized drive through light show that has involved students from Ashe County High School, the middle school and the community of Ashe. More than 75 pallets were used to build creative designs including a sleigh with reindeer, Santa Claus, a snowman and incredible Christmas trees made by Ashe County High School construction classes. In addition, more than 35 real Christmas trees were donated by local farmers and are displayed as part of the show.

In 2020, more than 1,100 cars drove through the event during the first year’s show.

Held during the first three weekends of Dec. (Dec. 3 through Dec. 19) the light show is offered with $10 admission per car and $15 admission per van.

The gates open at 6 p.m. and close at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. On Sundays, gates open at 6 p.m. and close at 9 p.m.

Proceeds benefit the schools and on Sundays, proceeds go to local fire departments.

“This is certainly a community event,” Farmer said. “We appreciate the monetary donations provided by many of our local businesses and individuals and Christmas trees provided by several farms throughout the county. Mr. Pugh’s construction class at ACHS created several decorations out of pallet wood, and our strung lights and made many other decorations. We appreciate Warrensville and Lansing Fire Departments who help throughout the weekend to help with traffic flow, Blue Ridge Energies for assisting us with power, Skyline/Skybest for providing our ticket booth and our neighbors the Walls family who is always supportive of ACMS and all of the events we have. A large shout out to the staff at ACMS, Bob Calhoun, Sawyer Greene, Danny and Drema Farmer and other volunteers who have worked hard to ‘Make Spirits Bright’ this Christmas season.”

Grab your family, put on some Christmas music and head out to ACMS to enjoy the beautiful work put on by the community.


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