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Originally published: 2013-02-05 13:30:16
Last modified: 2013-02-05 17:21:56

County tables library renaming request

Commissioners tabled a request Tuesday to rename the Watauga County Public Library in memory of a longtime staff member, directing staff to draft a policy for the naming of county facilities.


Peggy Hartley, a library patron, presented the request to name the building the Evelyn Shook Johnson Memorial Library. Johnson, 54, died in January after suffering a heart attack. She had served the library for more than 35 years, even after she could have retired, Hartley said.


“Evelyn was simply the library,” she said. “Our hearts hurt to know that we won’t see her there anymore, but we can see her name every time we go to the library.”


About a dozen people attended the meeting Tuesday to observe the library request, and commissioners said they had received many emails about the matter.


Chairman Nathan Miller and board member Billy Kennedy both said the emails were primarily in support of the change but that some were not.


The board directed County Manager Deron Geouque to draft a policy for naming county facilities, and Miller asked that a public hearing be involved in the process. Geouque said a draft might be ready by the next meeting Feb. 19, but it may be considered instead at the county's annual retreat Feb. 22-23.


“I’m certainly not opposed to this, but I think we set a dangerous precedent by going out and naming buildings without a policy,” Miller said.


The only current county property named for an individual is the Lois E. Harrill Senior Center, which honors the first Project on Aging director who was killed in an automobile accident.

Smoky Mountain Center matters

Jason Ainsley, assistant finance director of Smoky Mountain Center, presented the organization’s annual financial audit for fiscal year 2012.

Smoky Mountain Center is one of several entities across the state that manages, coordinates and monitors services for mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse.

Ainsley said the audit resulted in a clean opinion, and he noted SMC’s planned $3.1 million fund balance usage that appeared on the audit as a loss. He said the money was used to:

— Cover a roughly $2.3 million state budget cut

— Prepare staff, equipment and space for the Medicaid waiver system implemented in July 2012

— Pay attorneys for ongoing negotiations with the Evergreen Foundation related to a longstanding legal battle.

Commissioners used the opportunity to raise two other concerns related to Smoky Mountain Center.

Miller said that one of New River Behavioral HealthCare’s problems, before it collapsed, was slow payments from Smoky Mountain Center. He said Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is now having the same problem.

“They are reporting slow payment and payment problems with Smoky Mountain to the tune of about a million dollars,” Miller said. “That needs to be rectified and looked at.”

Kennedy, Watauga County’s representative on the Smoky Mountain Center board, also described problems with a new statute that may force some of the center’s 15 counties to be unrepresented on the board. The statute, set to become effective in October, would reduce the board size and require certain types of people to serve who have expertise in the field.

But in Smoky Mountain Center’s case, the change also would force some of the counties served to lose their representation on the board.

“I think it’s really important that a county commissioner be on this board, because it affects us directly,” Kennedy said.


Garden proposal considered

The board also tabled a request Tuesday to create “Our Mothers’ Garden” in a grassy plot next to the Human Services Building on Poplar Grove Road Connector.

The organizers envision installing a walking path, flower beds, vegetable garden and children’s play area to serve the Senior Center and the wider community, said Susan Tumbleston, a representative of The Active Choice, an ASU-based organization.

Tumbleston said she got the idea during a walking challenge at the center, where participants were walking the parking lot to avoid falls on the uneven grass surface.

Tabitha Thomas, director of the Senior Center, said residents are already using the space for playing horseshoes, growing vegetables and other uses.

“It would just be a tremendous asset to the Senior Center, to our seniors in the community,” Thomas said.

Tumbleston said private donations would be solicited for the project, with Watauga Parks and Recreation possibly acting as the fiscal agent.

Commissioners said that the property has a good chance of being developed in the future, causing any garden space to be destroyed. The county has considered moving Planning and Inspections close to the Health Department so the public has to visit only one location for building project permits, and the courthouse may need to free up more space in the future for parole/probation offices.

“The cost of the walking trail might be something we have to eat later,” Kennedy said.

The board tabled the request for an opportunity to look closer at the space and determine what could be placed there.


Other business

The board also:

— Approved the purchase of four police sedans from Boone Ford at a total cost of $99,357.

— Received an overview of High Country Community Health, a new federally qualified clinic located in Watauga and Avery counties that provides medical and dental care regardless of patients’ ability to pay.

— Tabled the High Country Regional Mitigation Plan, a plan required for federal reimbursement if a disaster is declared in North Carolina. Several board members said they had not had an opportunity to read the roughly 300-page plan.

— Received an update on tax collections and approved a list of tax refunds and releases.

— Approved several routine budget amendments.

— Approved changes to the bylaws of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. The change will allow more Board of Trustees members to come from Avery County, although two-thirds of the members will still come from Watauga County.

— Met in closed session to discuss attorney-client matters. No action was taken after closed session.