New commissioners join first meeting
by Kellen Moore
Three newly elected commissioners joined the board for their first meeting Monday, a session filled with questions, explanations and housekeeping matters.
Democrats Billy Kennedy and John Welch and Republican Perry Yates joined conservatives Nathan Miller and David Blust on the board.
The board began with a unanimous vote to select Miller as chairman, a role in which he has served for the last two years.
Kennedy nominated Welch for vice chairman, but the Republicans on the board
defeated the nomination in a 3-2 vote. Instead, Blust was nominated by Yates as
Welch originally voted against the nomination, but amended his vote at the end of the meeting to make the vice chairman selection unanimous.
BOARDS AND COMMITTEES
Commissioners also were assigned to various boards and committees as follows:
• Miller: Criminal Justice Partnership Program, High Country Council of Governments/Rural Transportation Advisory Committee, New River Service Authority board, Watauga Medical Center board of trustees, Watauga County personnel advisory committee, Social Services advisory board, workforce development board.
• Blust: AppalCART Authority, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Area, Committee of 100, Educational Planning Committee, Future Forward, Watauga Opportunities.
• Kennedy: Children’s Council/Child
Protection Team, EMS advisory committee, library board, Smoky Mountain Center
board, Project on Aging advisory committee, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office
• Welch: Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute Watauga advisory board, Educational Planning Committee, Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, motor vehicle valuation review committee, Watauga County recreation commission.
• Yates: Appalachian District Health Department, Economic Development Commission, Watauga Cooperative Extension, Watauga County Fire Commission.
The board also reapproved the appointments of Geouque, board clerk Anita Fogle and substitute clerks Monica Harrison and Tammy Adams, and the Eggers, Eggers, Eggers and Eggers law firm as the county attorneys.
The board also made slight changes to its meeting schedule. The Board of Commissioners now will meet at 8:30 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month and at 5:30 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month.
Commissioners also received information Monday about a possible beginner mountain bike trail proposed for a county-owned property near the Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex off Brookshire Road.
Eric Woolridge, who spoke as a representative of Boone Area Cyclists and Watauga County Pathways, said the path would be suitable for beginner cyclists or families and would complement the Rocky Knob Park trails, which are more difficult. It also could be used for trail running.
Unlike the Rocky Knob trails, which are intended to appeal to locals and tourists alike, Woolridge said the beginner trail would likely have more appeal to local residents.
“Honestly, we’re not looking at this project as some sort of tourism generator,” he said. “It’s basically a local, community trail that we want to create.”
Woolridge said the project would require no county funding but may need commissioners’ endorsement in January in order to seek a grant through the N.C. Adopt-A-Trail Program early next year.
The idea was met with slight reservations.
Miller mentioned that the space has been considered as a possible site for a YMCA, if a Y is formed in Boone, and Geouque added that the Watauga Community Housing Trust also has expressed interest in the property in the past.
Woolridge stressed that the project is still in the preliminary stages and that the organizations simply wanted to make their proposal known.
Woolridge also updated the board on plans for a Valle Crucis Trail project, which aims to connect the Valle Crucis park, Mast General Store Annex and other businesses, and the school with a roughly 1-mile trail.
Watauga County Pathways has submitted a $200,000 grant application to the N.C. Recreation Trails Program that will need a public hearing and local government endorsement if the project advances to the next grant phase.
Woolridge said he would know in the next few days whether the project moved into the next grant phase, but the board tentatively scheduled a public hearing for 6 p.m. Jan. 15 in anticipation.
The county also would be asked to hold the easements for the property, thereby covering the trail with the county insurance.
Geouque said such projects typically don’t add much cost to county insurance
policies, but do open the county to potential liability in case of injuries on
Blust said he would like to see a listing at the board’s retreat next spring of
all such easements that the county currently holds.
The board has cancelled its Dec. 18 and Jan. 1 meetings due to the holidays, so the board will meet next at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 15.