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JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Commissioners held its first meeting of the month Monday, Oct. 5 at the Ashe County Courthouse, where they appointed a new member and heard from the New River Conservancy, tax office and the Board of Elections.

One of the first things the board did was amend and rearrange the meeting’s agenda, moving the appointment of commissioner Chuck Olive from first to last, while also removing two presentations from Tax Administrator Chris Lambert.

Lambert’s other presentation was also moved up in the meeting, now being the first thing on the agenda. Lambert was joined by Richard Blackburn, who was on the board of Fletcher Baptist Church in Jefferson. Blackburn said a building surrounded by church property was sold to the church in November 2019 by the late Grady Lonon, who handled all of the paperwork. The church assumed their tax exemption status would be automatic, however discovered it was not and they had missed the window to apply for it.

Blackburn came to the board requesting a waiver for the amount of $252.95. Lambert said the board had never done a waiver like this for a church, but had done the same thing in the past, as government buildings and cemeteries are the only things that get their tax exemption automatically. Commissioner Larry Rhodes said granting the waiver would be in-line with previous decisions by the board, moving to approve it. The board voted 4-0 for the approval of the waiver.

Next up was High County Council of Governments Regional Planner Cory Osborne, who came to the board with a federal grant proposal worth $900,000. Osborne said the grant would assist people in Ashe County paying for their utilities, would be distributed by the Ashe County Department of Social Services and would have a 30-month limit. First, the board opened up a public comment opportunity, where there were no comments made. With that done, the board could approve applying for the grant, as well as a citizen- participation plan. The participation plan affirmed the board would converse with the public on the use of the money should the get it. Both were unanimously approved.

Elections Director John Shepherd was the next to speak, giving an update on Ashe County’s voting options and encouraging people to vote. Shepherd said that as of Saturday, Oct. 3, 2,145 absentee ballots have been mailed out, with more than 600 already having been returned. He noted early voting begins Oct. 15 in the Agricultural Services building. Voters will enter thought the back of the building as part of COVID-19 precautions. At the same time, every voter will be asked to wear a mask, but the board cannot stop someone from voting if they are not, social distancing will be enforced and each booth will be cleaned in between each voter.

Also presenting to the board were New River Conservancy Director George Santucci and New River State Park Superintendent Joe Shimel, who discussed a potential public access point on N.C. 163. The proposed point would allow the public to have clear access to the state park and the New River. The NRC has already compiled $30,000 for the project, but still need between $15,000 and $25,000 before the can get it all done. The board was receptive to the idea, noting the tourism numbers the park and river brings in, as well as the additional options the access point would bring to the people of Ashe County. However, with no exact dollar amount determined yet, no action was taken.

The board then went to appoint their fifth member, being only a four-person board since the resignation of Larry Dix in September. Charles “Chuck” Olive was tapped as the appointment, with the board voting him in with a 3-1 vote, he will serve through 2022. Commissioner Paula Perry voted against the decision.

Olive was also unanimously approved to take Dix’s posts on the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and the Appalachian District Health Board. Board Chair Todd McNeill noted the two roles are subject to change, given the upcoming election.

In the commissioner comments portion, Olive thanked the board for the opportunity, noting he hoped to live up to expectations. Rhodes welcomed Olive to the board, also praising Keep Ashe Beautiful for their work over the weekend with a countywide litter sweep. Commissioner William Sands joined Rhodes in welcoming Olive, while taking the time to compliment the recently opened fire training center and its benefit to the county. Perry remined everyone that October is breast cancer awareness month before asking for prayers for multiple children at her church who are battling cancer. Her and McNeill both sent their condolences out to DSS Director Tracie Downer, whose mother had passed away only days earlier, before McNeill welcomed Olive to the board and adjourned the meeting.

The next meeting of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners will be Monday, Oct. 19.

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