Board of commissioners discuss 911 plan, cycling

Wil Petty Staff Writer

November 19, 2013

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve changing the county’s E911 service provider during its meeting on Monday, Nov. 18.

“Basically this system will replace the old copper technology that is in our facility right now that is provided by Century Link and move it to an IP-based solution, giving us abilities that we don’t have today such as transferring a call to Watauga County, Johnson County (Tenn.), Galax (Va.) P.D. and so forth,” said Kevin Hardy, director of communications for the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office.

Hardy said there have been problems with the county’s current system, citing six different outages over the last three years with the E911 system.

Ashe County has fixed the problem so when there is an outage in Ashe, the calls are rerouted to Wilkes County.

“We’ve built a system where those calls are automatically rerouted to Wilkes,” he said. “They call us by phone and give us the message. We’re not losing service there.”

The new service will be provided through Motorola and its partner Intrado. The new service can incorporate new technologies such as sending picture text messages to 911, as well as email.

The service is being used in 17 different counties throughout the state and will take nine months to be fully implemented.

“It will give us a more efficient, more reliable system,” said county commissioner William Sands.

Commissioner Gerald Price questioned where the money would come from to implement the service.

“How much is normally in the 911 fund each year,” he said.

Hardy said approximately $224,000 is in the fund annually. All of the money for the fund comes from a $1.50 surcharge added to phone bills that is sent to the state and then returned to the county after expenditure reports are filed.

“None of this project will come out of any fund other than the 911 fund,” Hardy said.

In five years, the service will cost Ashe County $541,000 with a monthly charge of $8,600. There will be a one-time setup fee that will cost $20,731 which will also come out of the 911 fund.

“The funding is coming out of the 911 fund and it will definitely put us in a better position than we are in now,” Commissioner Chairman Larry Rhodes said.

Proposed bike plan

The board was also presented with a bike plan that was developed by the High Country Council of Government to make improvements to area roads for cyclists.

“This is a long term plan,” said Phil Trew, director of planning and development for the HCCOG. “There’s not a lot of money for independent bicycle improvements, so the key is to try to get a plan in place. When DOT comes to widen the road or straighten out the curves, it can see that it has been recommended for bicycle accommodations.”

The plan includes widening several of the highways throughout the county and implementing a 31-mile bike route to help promote tourism.

“That’s just a route cyclists ride right now, we’re not recommending any improvement other than what’s on the bigger plan,” Trew said. “All we’re hoping to do there is put up signage to direct out-of-town cyclists how to ride that route.”

Price questioned where the money from cycling events in the county would go.

“When they have a bicycle event or big race where are the funds go that are generated there,” Price said. He then answered his own question by saying “Those funds more than likely don’t go to the DOT project.”

“Most of those (events) are fundraisers for a specific charity,” Trew said.

The state DOT has a $20 million budget specifically for road improvements for cyclists. Trew said the overall annual budget is approximately $3 billion.

“The whole intent is to get something that has been publicly vetted and locally adopted to present to DOT so that if and when the county wants to ask for a paved shoulder on a stretch of highway, you have something to base that request on,” he said.

Trew said that cycling events, such as the Blue Ridge Brutal held in Ashe County, bring between $250 and $450 per participant into the county.

The board voted 3-1 in favor of the High Country Council of Government’s bike route plan be adopted, with Price voting against the adoption.

“There’s a lot of times there are bicyclists out there, and I see it very, very hazardous for them,” Price said. “I also think about the people that are trying to get back and forth to work and I don’t see that gentleman on his bicycle paying 55 cents per gallon for a road tax either.”

In other action by the board:

• The Commissioners unanimously approved the monthly tax report presented by Ashe County Tax Administrator Keith Little.

• Unanimously approved the annual emergency operations plan presented by Emergency Operations Manager Patty Gambill.

• Unanimously approved reappointment of Dana Johnson and Richard Blackburn for the library board through 2018.

• The County Courthouse will be closed Thursday, Nov. 28 and Friday, Nov. 29 for the Thanksgiving holiday.

• In attendance were: Commissioners Gary Roark, William Sands, Gerald Price and Chairman Larry Rhodes. Vice Chairman Judy Porter Poe was not in attendance.