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Originally published: 2013-01-02 10:56:14
Last modified: 2013-01-02 10:58:41

Anticipating 2013

At this beginning of a new year, the Watauga Democrat looks at what's ahead for 2013.

Appalachian State University
The 2013 session of the General Assembly -- with a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature for the first time in recent history -- will have significant implications for Appalachian State University.

The 2013 long session of the General Assembly convenes later this month, and the state's two-year budget will be a primary subject of discussion. In 2011, the last round of funding cuts to the UNC system resulted in layoffs, reduced positions and a number of eliminated programs at ASU.

A deadline to receive state funding for ASU's new College of Health Sciences building is looming. In spring 2012, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System pledged to donate a tract of land for the building if the university receives state funding for the facility by the end of its capital campaign, which is scheduled to conclude Dec. 31, 2014.

ASU is up for its 10-year reaccreditation in 2013. In April, ASU will receive a visit from a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools evaluation team, which will review ASU's compliance with SACS Principles of Accreditation. SACS will announce its reaffirmation decision in December 2013.

As ASU continues efforts to update its campus Strategic Plan, a committee is scheduled this month to complete its recommendations for the University of North Carolina system's five-year strategic plan. The committee is expected to announce recommendations for higher education degree attainment goals and recommendations on higher academic standards and competencies required for a globally competitive workforce.

In October 2012, ASU Chancellor Ken Peacock said he felt a "tsunami of change" was coming to state universities as a result of the UNC strategic plan process.

This spring, the Interpersonal Violence Task Force will present recommendations on ASU's sex-based harassment policies and programs. In July, the Appalachian Energy Summit will return to ASU, and North Carolina universities will review what progress has been made since summer 2012 toward the initiative's sustainable energy goals.


Town of Boone
The Boone Town Council's major focus in the opening months of 2013 will be the revision of the Table of Permissible Uses, a key piece of the town's Unified Development Ordinance.

In addition to streamlining the format of the table and making it easier to understand, town staff members have worked to increase the number of uses that are permitted by right and decrease the number of uses that require a special use permit, which calls for a public hearing and approval by the Board of Adjustment.

The revised table will also include new uses and changes to current uses in each zoning district.

Boone planning staff, the council and the Boone Planning Commission have worked to revise the table for two years, and council members will review a complete draft of the revised table this month. Several public meetings and workshops on the table will take place prior to adoption.

Boone's multiyear water intake project on the South Fork of the New River near Todd is currently in the right-of-way negotiation process, but Public Utilities Director Rick Miller said if all goes well, construction could begin later this year.

"There's a chance," Miller said. "I think it's possible that it could start sometime maybe in early fall."Like ASU, Boone will also have its eye on the state legislature in 2013. Bills targeting Boone's water intake project and extraterritorial jurisdiction powers, although unsuccessful, gave town leaders quite a scare in summer 2012. Some state legislators said they plan to review ETJ powers of North Carolina municipalities on a broader scale this year.

And 2013 is an election year for the town of Boone, with filing for three open seats on the council and the mayor's seat to take place in July. Mayor Loretta Clawson, a Democrat, has indicated she will not seek re-election.

"There will be plenty of time before the filing period in July for people to make those decisions," said Councilman Andy Ball when asked about interest in the mayor's seat. "We all owe Mayor Clawson a debt of gratitude for her distinguished service to the town, and we will see her legacy endure for years to come."

Watauga County Republican Party Chairman Matt Snyder said the election of conservative candidates to the council will "certainly" be a goal this year. The party did not field any candidates for the council election in 2011.

"This election affects everybody in the county," he said.

Completion of the downtown post office building renovation is anticipated in March. The town purchased the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, from the U.S. Postal Service in 2009, and the town is relocating its Planning & Inspections Department to the building.


Health
Watauga and Avery counties will see the opening of new affordable health clinics this year, as the High Country Community Health website states that the new organization would be open and seeing patients by January 2013.

The federally funded clinics are planned to operate from the Watauga County and Avery County health department locations. High Country Community Health will offer all services on a sliding fee scale based on income for anyone, regardless of ability to pay. The clinics will also accept Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance payments.

In Blowing Rock, construction of the new multimillion-dollar Blowing Rock Hospital is scheduled to begin in spring 2013 between Boone and Blowing Rock on a tract along U.S. 321. The new facility will offer rehabilitation services, extended care, memory support, palliative care and primary care.

Several provisions of the Affordable Care Act take effect in 2013. Effective Jan. 1, according to http://www.healthcare.gov, the law provides new funding to state Medicaid programs that choose to cover preventive services for patients at little or no cost.

Also effective Jan. 1, the act requires states to pay primary care physicians no less than 100 percent of Medicare payment rates in 2013 and 2014 for primary care services. The increase is fully funded by the federal government.

A national pilot program is now in place to encourage hospitals, doctors and other providers to "bundle" payments. Under payment bundling, hospitals, doctors and providers are paid a flat rate for an episode of care rather than the current fragmented system where each service or test or bundles of items or services are billed separately to Medicare, according to http://www.healthcare.gov.

And effective Oct. 1, 2013, states will receive two more years of funding to continue coverage for children not eligible for Medicaid, called the Children's Health Insurance Program.


Business
The cold weather of the past couple of weeks, just in time for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, is no doubt a welcome sign to the area ski resorts and all of the High Country businesses and employees -- hotels, restaurants and retail stores -- that depend on that industry in the winter. Sustained cold weather in January, February and March will be key to successful snowmaking and a steady economic start to 2013 for the High Country.

Like North Carolina and the U.S., Watauga County continued a slow climb out of the 2007-2009 recession last year.

The unemployment rate gradually ticked down a full percentage point, decreasing from 8.4 percent in October 2011 to 7.3 percent in October 2012. The federal and state jobless rates followed the same track, with the U.S. rate decreasing from 8.7 percent in November 2011 to 7.7 percent in November 2012, and the N.C. rate declining from 10.4 percent to 9.1 percent over the same time period.

It remains to be seen what effects any tax and spending decisions Congress makes related to the "fiscal cliff" will have on jobless rates, consumer spending and other economic factors in the new year.

In a Dec. 13, 2012, economic forecast report, the Wells Fargo Economic Group said it projects that 2013 will be another year of subpar global growth. In the U.S., "We expect growth to get off to a slow start in 2013, as higher taxes hit households at all income levels. Federal government spending will also contract modestly," the report said. "We expect growth to rebound modestly by the middle of the year, as the economy moves further away from the fiscal cliff and homebuilding gains momentum."


Law enforcement
From a law enforcement standpoint, local agencies are hoping 2013 is calm and quiet. Their tactics and approach to preventing and solving crime are likely to mirror what's already occurring, said Chief Dana Crawford of the Boone Police Department.

"We would love to see our breaking and enterings go down, we'd love to see our business burglaries go down, we'd love to see the presence of drugs go down, we would love to see a drop in underage drinking," Crawford said. " ... We place a huge emphasis on that stuff, and we will continue to do that."In the coming year, Boone police also hope to relocate their dispatch office to a larger space within the station, he said.

The staff will also seek a grant from the Governor's Crime Commission to improve the local VIPER radio system, which allows law enforcement officers from different agencies to more easily communicate directly during emergencies.

"We have some retirements coming up I don't think we're ready to announce yet, but we're anticipating," Crawford said. "So, we may look a little different."

Sheriff Len Hagaman said continued officer training will be crucial to addressing crime locally. Each year, officers must complete a minimum number of hours of in-service training on everything from blood-borne pathogens to active shooters, he said.

"We try to do proactive stuff, but a lot of it is reactive, and as a result, we constantly need to train," Hagaman said.

The sheriff's office also will continue to address illicit drug use in the area and aims to continue the decreases it saw in 2012 in the number of methamphetamine labs located countywide.

"Watauga's not like it used to be; it's more dangerous," Hagaman said. "But we'll try our best to keep things in check."


Watauga County Schools
With a new superintendent and three new Board of Education members, Watauga County Schools will bring fresh faces to tackle the challenges that come its way in 2013.

The introduction of new technology will be among the highlights of the year, with students at Mabel Elementary and Watauga High School experimenting with iPads in the classrooms as soon as February.Additional students are expected to join pre-K classes at Bethel and Mabel starting in January. Gov. Bev Perdue announced in October that $20 million in additional funds would be provided to increase statewide enrollment in the program for at-risk 4-year-olds.

The state's education budget will also be a concern as the General Assembly begins meeting again in January, although Superintendent David Kafitz has expressed some optimism about the future."We're being told that the state budget situation is going to be more positive than it has been in the last four years," Kafitz said.

The school system also has pledged to take a look at its funding structure for the afterschool programs, which are offered to students in grades K-5. Some of the smaller schools have had difficulty staying afloat in recent years, and administrators may consider rate increases or other changes to fix the problem.

The board also plans to implement a new eBoard system in 2013, which is an online document management system intended to streamline meetings, reduce the need for printed materials and provide transparency for the system. The board also intends to continue its Town Hall meetings for parents at each school to answer questions and hear concerns.


Watauga County
Watauga County commissioners will enter 2013 with one pressing matter on their minds: the sale of the former Watauga High School property.

"That's the biggest thing I've got on my radar right now," Chairman Nathan Miller said.

After accepting an offer from Templeton Properties in November, the board will continue working with the buyer and the town of Boone to secure zoning changes, variances and other necessities to ensure that the deal is finalized. The county will receive a roughly $18 million payout at closing.

Miller said he expects the budget process that occurs in the spring will be fairly similar to past years.

"It's about time to start looking at our ambulance service possibly," he said. "It may be time to branch out and look about increasing coverage."

The county's property revaluation process also will continue throughout 2013 before becoming effective Jan. 1, 2014.

The planning and inspections department will also continue working with Turtle Island, an environmental education camp located near Triplett. The 1,000-acre site was forced to close to the public in October after inspectors found numerous unpermitted structures and health violations.

Founder Eustace Conway has appealed to the N.C. Building Code Council, which may consider making exceptions in the future.

All of this activity and more will progress under a board that includes three new members: Perry Yates, John Welch and Billy Kennedy.