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Workforce attraction: Ashe County acquires 41.8 acre tract of land for economic development

Ashe County has marked a significant economic development milestone, as the County is now the owner of a 41.8-acre tract with the goal of adding jobs and industry.

The land is located off Ray Taylor Road in the West Jefferson extra-territorial jurisdiction, across from GE Aviation. The county plans on developing the tract into as many as six separate lots.

“The prospect of having new jobs, having a new company in the area is important to our County’s future,” said Economic Development Director Cathy Barr said.

An economic impact analysis created for Ashe County by Creative EDC estimates that the industrial park can create 322 direct jobs and potentially attract five new companies. The total output from businesses in the county would increase by $202 million and the county’s tax base would increase by $162,868.95 annually.

WithersRavenel assisted Ashe County with preparatory work for the site, including a GIS-based site evaluation, preliminary geotechnical investigation, wetland delineation, Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment, master planning, preliminary utility coordination and preliminary cost estimating. After completing these steps, WithersRavenel and Ashe Economic Development presented the Ashe County Board of Commissioners with the findings, which led to the property being acquired.

To help fund quicker development of the property, Ashe County is applying for grants and loans from Blue Ridge Energy’s Rural Economic Development Loan Grant program, Appalachian Regional Commission and Golden LEAF.

The next steps in the process that started nearly two years ago involve earth-moving and road-building, Barr said. When the site is ready, the county will have a finished product to show potential companies. The county also hopes to capitalize on the U.S. 221 road widening project that is expected to spur further growth in the area.

The county plans to work with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina’s recruitment team while also utilizing website promotion, site brochures, social media and other publicity to drum up interest in the new site.

By having a county-owned piece of property dedicated to attracting companies, Barr is hopeful Ashe County can grow and increase opportunities.

“I’d love to see our youth coming out of high school have more options as far as good companies to work for,” Barr said.


News
WCC’s performance measures scores among highest in state

WILKESBORO — The North Carolina Community Colleges system reports every year on how successful each of its 58 community colleges performed over an academic year. In the 2020 Performance Measures Report, Wilkes Community College was one of only two colleges in the entire state to score in the top two categories in all seven performance measures.

“These measures are evidence that the hard work we have been doing to implement our new strategic plan is working for our students,” said Dr. Jeff Cox, WCC president. “Kudos to our students, faculty, and staff for their hard work in making this kind of success possible. In the launch of our 5-year strategic plan a little over two years ago, we set a bold goal to double our graduation rate from 25 percent to 50 percent in five years. We have already moved our graduation rate from 25 percent to 38 percent.”

Of the seven measures, WCC met or exceeded the state’s excellence level in four measures for the 2018-2019 academic year. These measures included Basic Skills Progress, Success in Credit Math, First Year Progression and Curriculum Completion. The college also received above-average scores in the remaining three measures of Success in Credit English, Transfer Performance, and Licensure Pass Rate Index.

“Ensuring our students are performing well through these seven key indicators lets us know that the incredible work of our faculty and staff is making an impact in areas where it matters the most,” said WCC VP of Instruction, Dr. Yolanda Wilson. “Moving the needle in these critical areas is an important step in the right direction and advances even further our aggressive student success agenda.”


News
editor's pick
State elections board releases FAQs on absentee by mail voting in North Carolina

RALEIGH — Through Sunday, Aug. 9, North Carolina voters had submitted 163,374 requests for absentee by-mail ballots for the 2020 general election, more than seven times as many as the 22,074 requests submitted at the same time in 2016.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Carolina elections officials are preparing for a significant increase in ballots cast by mail in 2020. The State Board of Elections and county boards of elections across North Carolina are getting many questions about the absentee voting process.

To help voters understand the process, the State Board is releasing “FAQs: Voting by Mail in North Carolina in 2020.”

“With health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more North Carolinians are choosing to vote by mail this year,” said Karen Brinson Bell, State Board executive director. “Our goal is for every voter to have the information they need to make sure their vote counts in 2020.”

The extensive set of questions and answers, which can be found at NCSBE.gov, covers key aspects of absentee by mail voting in North Carolina: requesting a ballot, completing the ballot, returning the ballot, and absentee by mail voting security.

Requesting a ballot

Any registered voter in North Carolina may vote an absentee ballot by mail. The deadline to request a ballot for the November election is 5 p.m. Oct. 27, 2020. Ballots will start being sent to voters who request them on Sept. 4.

To request an absentee ballot, fill out a 2020 State Absentee Ballot Request Form, available for download at NCSBE.gov, or pick one up at your county board of elections office. The request form comes with detailed instructions and is available in Spanish.

Return the completed form to your county board of elections by fax, email, mail, or in person. Starting Sept. 1, voters will also be able to request a ballot using an online portal.

Completing the ballot

For the 2020 general election, only one witness is required for an absentee ballot. The voter is required to mark the ballot in the presence of the witness. The witness should not observe so closely that they can see how the voter votes.

Any registered voter may request assistance from a Multipartisan Assistance Team. A MAT is a group appointed by a county board of elections to assist voters with mail-in absentee voting. To schedule a MAT visit, contact your county board of elections.

Returning the ballot

For civilian absentee voters, the container-return envelope with the voted ballot enclosed must be returned to the county board of elections by 5 p.m. on Election Day. Absentee ballots received after 5 p.m. on Election Day will counted if they are postmarked on or before Election Day and received by mail no later than 5 p.m. November 6, three days after the election.

Absentee by mail voting security

Numerous safeguards are ingrained in the absentee voting process. Absentee ballots are sent only to registered voters who request them using an official State Absentee Ballot Request Form.

The request must be signed and include identifying information about the voter, including date of birth and driver’s license number or last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number. Voters must vote their ballot in the presence of a witness, and that witness must sign the absentee return envelope certifying that the voter marked their ballot and is the registered voter submitting the marked ballot.

Only the voter or their near relative or legal guardian may return the ballot. Upon return, the county board of elections reviews the absentee envelope to ensure compliance with the legal requirements. Once the ballot is accepted, that voter is marked in the system as having voted in that election.

Data on who has requested absentee ballots is now confidential until Election Day. Criminal penalties have been increased for absentee voting fraud-related offenses. Many people are watching our absentee voting process, including candidates, political parties, county boards of elections, and political and data scientists. If there are anomalies or questionable activities, they will be reported to election officials.

Finally, the State Board of Elections has an Investigations Division that investigates credible allegations of elections fraud and refers cases to prosecutors when warranted by the evidence. The State Board also conducts several post-election audits which will catch inconsistencies that can then be investigated by the State Board Investigations Division.


Covid19
Ashe County COVID-19 numbers trending down as state numbers rising

ASHE COUNTY — North Carolina has 157,7416 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) as of noon on Tuesday, Aug. 25, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. This is more than 10,000 more cases than the same time a week earlier.

As of presstime, there are seven active cases in Ashe County, with a additional 22 people being monitored, according to AppHealthCare.

In its weekly report Friday, Aug. 21, AppHealthCare reported three outbreaks or clusters in Ashe County. Two residents of Margate Health and Rehab have tested positive, two staff members and two residents have tested positive at the RHA Group Home and nine resident farmworkers have tested positive at Barr Evergreens. AppHealthCare includes in its weekly situation reports key updates from NCDHHS such as steps to take after being tested for the virus. To access this information click HERE.

As of Aug. 25 at noon, there were 184 total confirmed cases for Ashe, an additional 10 cases in one week. There have been 451 confirmed cases in Watauga County, with 55 active, and 197 confirmed cases in Alleghany County, with 14 active, according to AppHealthCare.

AppHealthCare held a drive-through COVID-19 testing event for Ashe County on Aug.1, where 370 tests were administered. Of those, 19 came back positive, according to AppHealthCare.

AppHealthCare has also reported, and are continuing to investigate, an outbreak at Bottomley Evergreens and Farms in Sparta. As of presstime, there have been 102 confirmed cases and results are still pending for some individuals. The majority of the positive cases are reporting no symptoms, according to AppHealthCare.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Aug. 5 that due to the increasing numbers, Phase 2 would continue for five more weeks until at least Sept. 11. People must wear face coverings when in public places, indoors or outdoors, where physical distancing of six feet from other people who aren’t in the same household or residence isn’t possible.

Facial coverings are required for all employees and customers of retail businesses and restaurants as well as workers in manufacturing, construction, meat processing and agriculture settings.

Exceptions are made for people with medical conditions and children younger than 11, those at home and people walking or otherwise exercising outside when not within six feet of others.

Government

Ashe County declared a state of emergency March 22, which was followed by the towns of West Jefferson, Jefferson and Lansing.

An amendment banning short-term rentals in the county expired May 8, and was not extended.

The Ashe County Courthouse is observing normal business hours, but residents are encouraged to take advantage of online resources or to call the needed office. Upon entry to the courthouse, each visitor is required to wear a mask and have their temperature checked.

West Jefferson Town Hall reopened Tuesday, June 2, following approval from the West Jefferson Board of Aldermen the night before.

At the Jefferson Board of Aldermen meeting March 16, the board voted unanimously to close Jefferson Town Hall to the public. Jefferson Town Hall has since reopened.

According to then-Lansing Town Clerk Marcy Little, Lansing Town Hall reopened July 26. There is a limit of two people at a given time in the building.

Healthcare

On March 12, Ashe Memorial Hospital’s expanded visitor restrictions went into effect. The hospital asks that those who are not members of a patient’s immediate family refrain from visiting unless absolutely necessary, regardless of the visitor’s age or health status.

Local assisted living centers Margate Health and Rehabilitation Center, Ashe Assisted Living and Forest Ridge Assisted Living have enforced visitation restrictions to protect residents from possible exposure to COVID-19.

Recreation and EntertainmentThe N.C. State Parks announced Elk Knob State Park, Grandfather Mountain State Park, New River State Park and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area are closed as of March 27. Grandfather Mountain announced it would reopen in a limited capacity May 15, with all ticket sales moving online.

Also closing are recreation facilities at recreation sites in the National Forests in N.C. were temporarily shut down. The closures include picnic pavilions, shooting ranges and all restrooms.

These shutdowns are in addition to previous announcements about developed campgrounds, several large developed day use areas, visitor centers and Off-Highway Vehicle trail systems, which remain temporarily shut down.

The Ashe County Public Library re-opened Monday, June 15, with limited hours, services and building capacity. The Ashe County Public Library’s hours of operation will be Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The first hour of service each day is currently being reserved for people most at risk of dying from COVID-19.

The library will still be offering curbside pickup options and there will be no in-person programs or meetings. For more information about Ashe County Public Library, visit the website at www.arlibrary.org/ashe or call (336) 846-2041.

The Ashe County Arts Council re-opened the Arts Center Thursday, June 25. The Arts Council announced June 16 that the Ashe County Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention and the 2020 Ashe County Studio Tour were canceled. The Ashe County Little Theatre’s 2020 season has also been cancelled.

The Florence Thomas Art School reopened on June 2. The art school has announced plans for events, classes and workshops.

Ashe County Park reopened May 11, and all facilities including bathrooms, playgrounds, courts, skate park and shelters will remain closed.

The NCHSAA announced it would allow the start of summer activities on June 11. Ashe County High School began off-season sessions July 6.

Family Central’s park office is closed but staff can be contacted at (336) 982-6185 or by email at kevinanderson@ashecountygov.com. The gym and workout room at Family Central will be closed until further notice.

Emergency Services

At the Ashe County Detention Center, new inmates are being quarantined for anywhere from 15 to 30 days upon arrival. Air filters have been added in between the Detention Center’s four pods, hopefully keeping any disease contained should it arrive.

Ashe County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now doing as much as they can remotely, and have also been instructed to avoid entering confined spaces, instead opting to conduct business outside. Sheriff Phil Howell said the ACSO still wants people to know they are in the community.

According to Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill, citizens can call (866) 462-3821 for more information.

Education

It was announced July 14 that the state would have a school year following Plan B, with Ashe County Schools stating they planned to alternate students’ days in the classroom when the year begins, Ashe Post & Times previously reported.

Students went back to school for the first time since March Monday, Aug. 17.

For continued updates and more information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.ashepostandtimes.com.

Bailey Little contributed reporting to this story.