By Wednesday morning, local taxpayers were, at least for now, off the hook leaving Ashe County Commission Board Chairman Judy Porter Poe relieved.
“That is great news,” said Poe after being told that during house deliberations Tuesday night, legislators passed a provision to the budget to distribute nearly 90 percent of the $246,000 the county expected this fiscal year from lottery proceeds, or $220,000.
That was an increase of nearly $100,000 from what was originally proposed by Gov. Bev Perdue, and initially supported by members of the house in the General Assembly, as budget negotiations began several weeks ago.
During the board’s work session on Monday, Ashe County Manager Dan McMillan and Poe alerted the commissioners that the county could potentially lose approximately $123,000 of the $246,000 of lottery proceeds that are used exclusively for the maintenance and construction of district school facilities.
With the cutback a real possibility on Monday, Poe said she, and her fellow commissioners from across the state, began calling their local representatives to voice their concern.
“We told them how important this is and how we already had plans for this money…we’ve already committed those funds,” said Poe.
Specifically, the lottery proceeds the county receives pays the debt service on a $2.9 million bond issued last year to pay for the addition of four new classrooms at Ashe County High School and a new roof on Mountain View Elementary School and new roof on the career center at the high school.
According to county officials, the annual debt service for the bond is approximately $208,000.
When budget deliberations began several weeks ago, Perdue proposed, which was initially supported by members of the House, according to a bulletin by the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, the attempt to reduce the amount of lottery proceeds distributed to the counties.
That provision was in place until Tuesday night when, according to Todd McGee, communications director for the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, the house budget writers proposed and then the house passed an amendment to the budget that would distribute $98.7 million of the lottery proceeds to the counties, up from the original $55.2 million proposal.
“We still have a long way to go to make sure it (the lottery proceeds) are securely in the state budget…but this is good news for us as we head into budget season,” said Poe.
During the work session, Ashe County’s Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill offered the commissioners the results of a recent test of the Code Red alert system during a severe thunderstorm last week.
She said when severe weather threatened the communities of Creston, Zionville and Lansing, an emergency call was sent to those residents, alerting them to find shelter.
Gambill said the test was for the most part successful. However, she said some of the calls didn’t get to the intended residents.
“Some calls didn’t get through…the phone system was overloaded,” she said.
Gambill said the overload occurred because the emergency call out to the residents in the potentially-impacted areas was limited to the number of circuits the local telephone company uses to operate the system.
“The calling system was going so fast, that’s what overloaded the circuits,” said Gambill.
She said she would be working with the telephone company to refine the system.
Poe said she had heard good things from the people who had been alerted by the system.
“People were surprised,” said Poe. “I got a lot of good comments…we need to work the bugs out…but it was a good job,” she said.
Commissioner William Sands reported during the work session that federal funding has been cut for the cleanup of methamphetamine lab sites found by local law enforcement officials.
Because of cutbacks at the N.C. State Bureau of Investigations, Sands said that it soon may not have the funds to help with the cleanups.
“It may fall on the county,” said Sands, who added that five to seven meth lab sites are found each year in Ashe County and that, on average, it costs approximately $3,400 per cleanup. “And it can go up from there,” said Sands.
Also during the work session, McMillan reported to the commissioners that the Ashe Department of Veterans Services would soon have the department’s administrative officer Angie Reagan visiting locations around the county to help veterans sign up for benefits provided to vets by the federal government.
He said private businesses have been visiting places where vets might be found to help them fill out the paperwork necessary to become eligible for veteran benefits.
While McMillan was said there was nothing improper about a private company offering to help the vets with the application process, most charge a fee for the service.
McMillan said the county Veterans Services Department can provide the same help to veterans for no cost.
“I want to make sure you tell veterans and their families that the service we provide to them is free. They are provided by the county,” said Reagan when contacted after the meeting.
She urged all veterans and their families who have questions about their benefits or how the county can help, to call 846-5575.
During the regular meeting, the commissioners approved a request of $5,000 by representatives from Ashe County High School’s project graduation.
Dianne Eldreth and Vickie Herman explained the annual program to the commissioners prior to making the request for the funding.
The program, they said, is a way to insure the safety of graduating seniors after the graduation ceremony by providing a secure location, at a school, where the celebrating teens spend the night while enjoying food, entertainment and fellowship.
The pair said the participation rate for the program is 95 percent.
To pay for the all-night celebration, the pair said they have been holding fundraisers and soliciting private donations. So far, they said, they had raised $13,281, but were about $7,000 short of the goal needed to fully fund the event.
Prior to approving the request, Commissioner Larry Rhodes requested the graduating seniors be offered a challenge – to refrain from leaving behind any graffiti, like the ‘Class of 2011.’
After the commissioners approved the request, Poe stressed to Eldreth and Herman that while the county provided $5,000 in funding for this year, the same may not happen next year.
In other commission notes:
• Adopted a National Day of Prayer, which is to be the first Thursday in May.
• Adopted a proclamation against elder abuse after a brief presentation by member of the Ashe County Department of Social Services.
During the work session, the commissioners set the dates for the next board of equalization and review. They will be held from 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17 and from 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. on Monday, May 23. The meetings will be held in the county board room in the Ashe County Courthouse.
According to Board Clerk Ann Clark, county property owners can still file an appeal of their re-valuation at the county tax office. The deadline is May 16.
For more information about the upcoming board of equalization and review, call 846-5554.