Houck at Board of Commissioners

Chief Deputy Danny Houck seeks approval from the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to sell an Ashe County Sheriff’s Office K-9 to Watauga County while Commissioner Larry Rhodes, Vice Chair William Sands, Chairman Todd McNeill and Commissioner Paula Perry look on during the regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Not pictured on the far right is Commissioner Larry Dix.

JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Commissioners approved a $27,500 grant from the N.C. Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund aimed at studying the feasibility of an Ashe County regional livestock facility during its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3.

The county applied for the grant in early 2019 with assistance from High County Council of Governments Master Planner Kelly Coffey, according to Interim County Manager Adam Stumb. The initial application was intended to seek funds for the development of the proposed agricultural facility, but Stumb said that members of the ADFP Trust Fund suggested that the county amend the application to instead focus on a feasibility study for the project.

After amending the application according to the ADFP Trust Fund’s suggestions, the county was awarded the grant in August, Stumb said, totaling $27,500 with a $4,125 match from the county. The contract timeline will be from Oct. 1 until Sept. 30, 2021, according to the approval letter from the ADFP Trust Fund.

Ashe County Farm Bureau President Judy Bare, who also serves on the agricultural center’s development committee, provided some context regarding the project. Bare said the study will focus on a number of aspects related to the proposed facility, such as suitable locations, the size and design of the facility, operational costs and educational uses.

“We need an ag center that will meet the needs of the agricultural community in Ashe County,” Bare said.

To determine the value of livestock, an animal is weighed before being sold, but with nowhere for Ashe County farmers to weigh their livestock, they currently have to transport their animals off of the mountain. During transit, a load of 15-18 cattle can lose up to 300-360 pounds, losing as much as $500 per load at a selling point of $1.40 per pound of beef. In total, Ashe County farmers lose as much as $400,000 each year due to weight-loss during transit, Ashe Post & Times previously reported.

“Our hope is to keep more money in the county,” Bare said. “We think it would be beneficial for the county as a whole because more money would stay here, and maybe even bring money from outside of the county here.”

With a new livestock facility, which would include scales to weigh animals, local farmers would no longer have to transport their animals out-of-county.

In addition, the proposed facility would offer benefits not only for livestock, but also Christmas tree farming, pumpkin growers and hemp growers in Ashe County, Bare said. Programs and organizations such as Future Farmers of America and the Ashe County Cooperative Extension’s 4-H programs would also make use of the facility for educational purposes, Bare said.

“They really don’t have anywhere to go where they can safely interact with animals,” Bare said. “That was one of our main objectives to begin with.”

With the board’s unanimous approval, the next step for the project is finding an organization to conduct the feasibility study. Bare said the committee has interviewed a few groups and should be selecting one by the end of the month. Once started, the study is expected to take around 20 weeks to be completed, she added.

“We’re glad to see the ball rolling forward,” Chairman Todd McNeill said.

County Librarian Suzanne Moore presents annual library reportFor the first item on the board’s agenda, County Librarian Suzanne Moore presented the Ashe County Public Library’s annual report, sharing that the library has a total 17,540 cardholders — more than half of the county’s population — and saw a 35 percent increase in visits during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, among other statistics and news.

The library’s revenues for the 2018-2019 fiscal year totaled $539,864, with $460,378 of those revenues coming from city and county appropriations. In gifts and donations, the library received $15,971, as well as $4,500 in other grants. Fines and fees contributed a total of $20,238, as well as $38,777 in other revenue.

Expenditures totaled $629,860 for the fiscal year, which included up-front costs for the repaving of the library’s parking lot, Moore said, though she added the Town of West Jefferson has since reimbursed the library. Other expenditures were drawn from the library’s fund balance, which is designated for collection development and facility improvements, Moore said.

The library’s total expenditures for the 2018-2019 fiscal year are as follows: $458,230 in personnel, $106,773 in operations, $26,170 in materials, $24,613 in programming and $14,074 in LTSA grant match.

The library saw a 22 percent increase in reference interactions for the fiscal year, totaling around 6,000 interactions. Those interactions typically are related to what to read next, how to write and print a letter, how to apply for a job, where to find out about a health condition, how to locate ancestors, how to download eBooks and how to do research for school assignments, Moore said.

Moore reported a 42 percent increase in library events for children and a 138 percent increase in events for teens compared to the previous fiscal year.

The library also hosted 200 events for adults with 3,800 attendees, Moore said, including the Ashe County Reading Challenge, with more than 870 challenges completed for this year’s event, Moore said.

For circulation, a total of 130,587 items were borrowed from the library’s collection of 59,636 print resources, 610 magazines and 4,587 audio/visual materials. The library also partners with NCLIVE, which provides access to a collection of 1.4 billion full-text articles, eBooks, streaming videos, digitized newspapers, language learning tools and other resources, Moore said. She added that a total of 9,770 digital books were borrowed from the regional eBook collection.

Moore also expressed her appreciation for the 51 individual volunteers who served a total of 3,922 hours, as well as 30 community partners.

“I’ve said it before — we have the best library anywhere around,” McNeill said. “We’ve really got something to be proud of.”

ACSO seeks approval to sell K-9 to Watauga CountyChief Deputy Danny Houck appeared before the board of commissioners to seek the county’s approval for the sale of an Ashe County Sheriff’s Office K-9 to Watauga County for a grand total of $1.

Houck explained that the current K-9 was donated by a breeder from Greenville, N.C., in 2017. The K-9, known as Raven, is certified only in narcotic detection, Houck said, and added that she is slightly aggressive towards other dogs, which ACSO believes is a liability for public safety.

Houck said the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office offered to purchase K-9 Raven and keep her working in Watauga. He noted that no taxpayer money was spent on the K-9.

ACSO plans to purchase two multi-purpose K-9s, certified in narcotics detection, tracking and apprehension, with funds provided by an unnamed donor. Houck said the two dogs are currently in training and could be working here in Ashe by Oct. 15.

The board of commissioners then moved to approve a resolution to sell the K-9 to Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, which carried unanimously.

NCDHHS extends open enrollment for Managed MedicaidAshe County Department of Social Services Director Tracie Downer shared with the board that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services extended open enrollment for Medicaid beneficiaries as it transitions to a statewide managed care system on Feb. 1, 2020.

The initial deadline of Sept. 13 to select a plan has now been pushed back to Dec. 13, Downer said. Those who have already enrolled are not required to take any other action, she added.

For those still looking to enroll, Downer said all resources are still available to help people choose their plans.

“It’s actually a little bit of a relief,” Downer said. “It gives people more options to make their selections, and it gives providers more time to sign up.”

The extension was attributed to the state legislature not yet approving its budget, according to a release from DHHS.

For more information about how to enroll, visit ncmedicaidplans.gov or call 1 (833) 870-5500.

Also as a part of Downer’s monthly update for the Ashe County Department of Social Services, Downer discussed the addition of public comment from the commissioners on the memorandum of understanding with DHHS regarding children being discharged to permanency versus choosing a permanent plan, as well as placements for children in foster care.

Downer then asked if the commissioners would be in favor of signing the memorandum of understanding with DHHS so that DSS will be in compliance with N.C. General Statute 108A-74, which requires counties to enter into annual written agreement for all social services programs.

Commissioner Larry Rhodes made a motion for approval, seconded by Vice Chair William Sands. The motion carried unanimously.

McNeill to serve on state agricultural steering committeeChairman Todd McNeill announced during the meeting that members of the board of commissioners attended the annual conference of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, held in Guilford County from Aug. 22-24

The NCACC advocates on the state level for county governments, McNeill said. The conference offers educational and networking opportunities, ranging in topics from agriculture to public health, he added.

“It’s important for us to be present at those things so that Ashe County has a face and Ashe County has a voice,” McNeill said.

McNeill then announced that he will now be serving on the agriculture steering committee with commissioners from across the state as a voice for Ashe County and its agricultural needs.

“I felt like it was important that we have a voice on that board for not only our Fraser fir growers, but our cattlemen’s association, our pumpkin growers, now our industrial hemp industry and others,” McNeill said. “I’m excited to get involved with that community, and let our voice be heard in Raleigh.”

Other business

Tax Administrator Chris Lambert presented his tax report for the months of July and August, which was accepted unanimously and without discussion.

Announcements

The county landfill will be closed Sept. 13 and 14 for the replacement of scales, which represents a $50,000 improvement at the landfill, Stumb said. The current scales were installed more than 30 years ago, he added.

Foundation Forward, the organization that installed the Charters of Freedom setting at the Ashe County Courthouse, is scheduling a brief ceremony to seal a time capsule at the Charters of Freedom location. The projected date for the ceremony is Friday, Sept. 13, but has not been confirmed as of press time.

Following the public session of the meeting, the board of commissioners went into closed executive session at 7:01 p.m. to discuss legal updates and property acquisition. The board exited closed session after an hour and a half, and no action was taken. The meeting adjourned at 8:30 p.m.

The next meeting of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners will be at 9 a.m Monday, Sept. 16, on the third floor of the county courthouse.

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