jeffersonpost.com

New opportunities mentioned during BOC Meeting

James HowellStaff Writerjhowell@civitasmedia.com

January 9, 2013

New financial opportunities, including a possible savings of over $1 million for the county, were proposed during the Ashe County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, Jan. 7.


The N.C. Forest Service also presented their annual report to the board, and said $40 million worth of housing was saved from wildfires in 2012.


Refinancing county debt


Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell said the county has the opportunity to refinance its loans and save over $1 million between now and 2027 during the planning portion of the BOC meeting.


Mitchell said this discovery happened when she was considering the county’s current debt schedule and how that might impact infrastructure in the future.


According to the current debt schedule, the county will make payments on Westwood Elementary School until 2016, Ashe County High School until 2017, the library until 2018, and the Justice Center until 2027.


The county could save $1 million if the county refinances the loans on Westwood Elementary, the library, and the Justice Center as three separate loans with PNC Bank.


Mitchell said the savings wouldn’t be noticed at first because of prepay penalties, but will have an impact by 2027.


“It looks like Westwood and the library would be assets to the bank,” said Commissioner Gerald Price. “Gaining two and penalizing one – it doesn’t seem fair,” said Price.


Mitchell said the process was just beginning, and no official decisions have been made.


Archery contest


Also during the planning portion of the BOC meeting, Price said he was approached by a representative from the National Field Archery Association who wanted to make Ashe County one of four national target spots in 2014.


Price said he thought the event might last up to three days, and could bring as many as 10,000-20,000 visitors to the county.


A tournament this size will require a large facility, said Price. Commissioner Judy Porter Poe said an event like this is “a big family thing.”


“Somebody has to get this thing coordinated,” said Price.


Mitchell told Price to “have them get in touch with me,” as she will act as a liaison for Ashe County.


N.C. Forest Service


During Monday’s meeting, the N.C. Forest Service made its annual report to the Board of Commissioners.


“I would like to thank the board for the continued support. A lot of districts seem to struggle, and we appreciate the budget,” said County Ranger Tim Lewis. He also said Ashe County’s district has the “nicest head quarters in the state and the biggest in the state.”


Ashe County has approximately 154,383 acres of commercial forestland. According to Lewis, a major issue the forest service is fire control in Ashe County.


“North Carolina Forest Service ranks first in the Southeast for minimal acreage per wildfire. For each fire the average size is four acres. That speaks for itself,” said a release from the Forest Service.


To date, there have been over 32 wildfires in the county since Jan. 2012, slightly down from the average of 45 fires per year.


According to the Forest Service, over 250 homes were threatened or saved at a value of $40 million.


Also vital to Ashe County is the protection of the county’s number one cash crop, Christmas trees. Fire damage to this crop has been been held to a minimum, due to quick responses of the volunteer fire departments.


“Losses reached up to 380 mature and non-mature trees due to wildfire at an average cost of $14 per tree. The importance for protection of these trees is vital since fire insurance cannot be economically obtained on this crop,” said the Forest Service’s release.


According to Lewis, 90 percent of the fires in Ashe County were caused by improper ash disposal. In just one Saturday, 16 fires were started because of improper ash disposal, said Lewis.


This high rate of fires caused by ash disposal stopped after a public service announcement over the radio.


Along with public service announcements, the N.C. Forest Service has provided many educational programs to the public school system. To promote fire prevention, the N.C. Forest Service reached out to the local school system with Fire Prevention Week.


Forest management has been another focus for Ashe County. The N.C. Forest Service maintains continual checks for pests like the Gypsy Moth or Southern Pine Beetle that could be destructive for local forests.


According to Lewis, no Gypsy Moths were found in the 114 traps set in Ashe County. Another pest, the Southern Pine Beetle, caused alarm when they were discovered at 4,100 feet above sea level when they are not expected to live above 2,200 feet above sea level, said Lewis. However, Lewis said they disappeared after early freezes this year.


Currently, the N.C. Forest Service in Ashe County has finalized the first Firewise Community, the Stonebridge Homeowners Association.


The Firewise program focuses on reducing fire risk with fuel mitigation and providing emergency exits throughout properties.


“Stonebridge has been awarded a national award for efforts in fuel mitigation and emergency exits provided throughout the property,” said the release.


Also during the BOC meeting:

  • The emergency operations plan presented by Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill was approved by the board in a 4-1 vote, with Price dissenting.
  • The BOC also allotted $15,000 to West Jefferson for its bicentennial celebration after a 4-1 vote, with Price dissenting.
  • Russ Hanes, Carol Coulter, Dr. Leigh Bradley, Steve Johnson, Marc Payne, and Donnie Johnson were appointed to the Ashe County Parks and Recreations Board in a 5-0 vote.