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Originally published: 2013-05-14 17:52:06
Last modified: 2013-05-16 09:10:26

Commissioners settle final budget matters

Watauga County commissioners met Monday evening to hammer out final details on the 2013-14 budget before it goes to a public hearing Tuesday.

Those details included a decision to provide a 12-hour crew and new ambulance base in western Watauga County, alterations to several nonprofit allocations and the unanimous rejection of a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment to commissioners' stipends.


Ambulance services

Commissioners reaffirmed Monday that they wanted to fund an additional 12-hour paramedic crew to begin Jan. 1, 2014, and to begin searching for land in western Watauga County to construct a third ambulance base.

The approximately $180,000 cost will allow Watauga Medics to improve its services at night, when current staff are stretched thin, but is not expected to reduce response times until the new base is available, said Watauga Medics Director Craig Sullivan.

The county has contracted with Watauga Medics for many years to provide medical services to the community.

Commissioners agreed that the 12-hour crew would likely need to expand to a 24-hour crew once the third base is constructed, although they stopped short of promising that it would be funded.

If a 24-hour crew is created in the future, the cost will be approximately $400,000 per year for the additional staff, building utilities and other costs. If and when a 24-hour crew is funded, Sullivan said he would station those paramedics at the third base and move a 12-hour crew to Blowing Rock, which also has sought increased medic services due to call volume.

County Manager Deron Geouque said he expected it would take at least a year to purchase land and construct the building. Board members and Sullivan were in agreement that the base should be situated near the U.S. 321/U.S. 421 split in Vilas.

"This is something that would actually help every citizen in a time of need in Watauga County," said Commissioner Perry Yates.

Geouque noted that Watauga Medics would not seek a funding increase based on the Consumer Price Index for the second consecutive year.

"He is doing his part to try to contribute to make this a successful venture," Geouque said of Sullivan.
Blowing Rock Town Council member Doug Matheson, the former fire chief, attended the meeting.

Yates and others encouraged Watauga Medics to look next at improving services to Blowing Rock, which receives about 500 routine and emergency medical calls per year.


Special appropriations

The board also revisited several of the proposed funding levels for requesting agencies that are not county departments.

Chairman Nathan Miller generally suggested cutting from those line items, while Vice Chairman David Blust and Yates were more open to funding certain agencies. Commissioners John Welch and Billy Kennedy were most willing to keep level or increased funding for the organizations.

The board settled upon the following funding levels:

-- Beech Mountain Parks and Recreation: $2,500
-- Watauga County Arts Council: $8,800
-- Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation: $15,000
-- Watauga Opportunities: $33,000
-- Southern Appalachian Historical Association: $12,000
-- Children's Playhouse: $2,500
-- Parent to Parent: $0
-- Foscoe Grandfather Community Center: $1,000
-- Valle Crucis Community Park: $15,000
-- Green Valley Community Park: $4,000
-- Watauga Humane Society: $79,482
-- The Children's Council: $0
-- Foster Grandparent Program: $0
-- Blue Ridge Mediation Drug Court: $18,500
-- Hospitality House: $0
-- Hospitality House WeCAN program: $2,500
-- OASIS: $10,000
-- Hunger and Health Coalition: $6,000
-- Community Care Clinic: $17,000
-- Mountain Alliance: $8,700
-- Western Youth Network: $0


Other funding items

The board also approved the county manager's recommendation to increase funding to Watauga County Schools for operating expenses by $223,189 next fiscal year.

The county also will set aside $132,000 to be used only if the state provides a raise to teaching staff.

If the state provides an increase, the county will do the same for the locally funded positions.

The budget also set aside $340,400 for long-term capital projects.

Combined, the funding streams will represent a 3 percent increase to the school system from the current year's allocation.

Welch, a former Board of Education member whose wife works in the school system, proposed a 1 percent increase to the schools' local supplement, an extra amount many school systems pay on top of salaries. He said that his family would waive the supplement if approved to avoid a conflict of interest.

Miller objected to the increase, saying the school system is not having trouble attracting or retaining strong teachers. He said he would prefer that the county focus on other needs, such as its unfunded capital improvements plan.

Kennedy said he supported the idea, but all three Republican commissioners did not vote to do so.
The board also considered new information from the Watauga County Public Library, which resubmitted its request to drop it from a 21 percent increase to an 8 percent increase.

Despite suggestions from Kennedy, the board voted to stick at the proposed level of $509,850, a 3 percent increase from the current year.

The board did find unanimous agreement to remove from the budget a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment allocated for the commissioners, a move requested by Yates.

"Whatever it is, I don't want it," he said, adding that he felt commissioners should never vote to increase their own stipends.

The change saved $815 in the budget. County employees are still slated to receive a 2 percent raise.

The proposed budget is available online at wataugacounty.org, although it does not reflect changes made during the commissioners' budget work sessions. Printed copies also are available at the County Manager's office, the Watauga County Public Library, the Blowing Rock Library and the Western Watauga Community Center.


-- PUBLIC HEARING --
A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday as part of the Board of Commissioners' regular meeting. The meeting will be held at the Watauga County Administration Building at 814 W. King St. in Boone.