The Watauga County Board of Commissioners held a regular meeting on Monday, April 2, 2001 at 9:00 A.M. in the Commissioners’ Boardroom of the County Courthouse.
PRESENT:  Jimmy Hodges, Chairman
                   James Coffey, Vice-Chairman
                   Jack Lawrence, Sr., Commissioner
                   Sue Sweeting, Commissioner
                   Pat Wilkie, Commissioner
                   Jeff Hedrick, County Attorney
                   Robert E. Nelson, County Manager
                   Darcy Moore, Substitute Clerk to the Board
Chairman Hodges called the meeting to order at 9:00 A.M. welcoming those in attendance. 
Chairman Hodges called for corrections or amendments to the April 2, 2001 Agenda. Commissioner Sweeting seconded by Commissioner Lawrence, moved to accept the April 2, 2001 Agenda as presented.
VOTE: Aye-5
Mr. Dick Fender, Director of Region D Council of Governments appeared before the Board requesting review and adoption of a Resolution that would allow Watauga County, in conjunction with the other Region D Counties, Yancey, Mitchell, Avery and Watauga, to create an RPO. Mr. Fender referenced HB 1304, the Board of Transportation Reform Bill, which was adopted by the NC General Assembly in October of 1998. Mr. Fender continued to explain that the enabling legislature was enacted in July of 2000 with three main goals; allow for long-range plans, provide information to local governments and others, and to set a forum for public participation.
Chairman Hodges commented that he understood the creation of such an RPO would require a joint effort not only between the Region D Counties, but also with the Town of Boone and the Chamber of Commerce. He asked Mr. Fender if the Town and Chamber were agreeable to the proposed resolution.
Mr. Fender assured the Board that the Town of Boone and the Chamber of Commerce indicated an interest in the proposed resolution. He went on to explain that the RPO would provide the local governments more say in transportation development and that the NC Association of County Commissioners also sanctioned the creation of such an RPO.
           Following discussion, Vice Chairman Coffey seconded by Commissioner Wilkie, moved to adopt the Resolution as presented.
VOTE: Aye-5
            Mr. John Maxwell of Springstead Incorporated came before the Board to request adoption of an amendment to the Watauga County Position Classification Plan and Personnel Evaluation System. In August 2000, the Board contracted with Mr. Maxwell of Springstead Inc. (formerly Municipal Advisors Inc.) to assess the County’s current Pay Plan structure and evaluation system and compare it to other similar local governments and private industries. Mr. Maxwell gave a brief description of the process, which included extensive County employee participation, used to deduce the studies results. He reported that the results of the study indicated that the County was relatively competitive on entry level salaries but mid to maximum range were not. Mr. Maxwell stated that the study indicated that in order to compete with other comparable organizations on recruitment and retention of quality employees, the County’s salary schedule spread should be increased to 40-50%. Mr. Maxwell also recommended a new Personnel Evaluation System, which would replace the County’s current merit system and he urged the Commissioners to research the feasibility of recompensing health insurance premiums for County Retirees.
            Commissioners Sweeting and Wilkie inquired of County Manager Nelson if retiree health premium costs had been included in the anticipate project implementation cost and/or current FY budget, to which County Manager Nelson replied that it had not and he recommended that a study be conducted to determine the cost of such a proposal.
            Vice Chairman Coffey seconded by Pat Wilkie, moved to adopt the recommended revisions to the Position Classification Plan and Personnel Evaluation System as recommended.
VOTE: Aye-5
            Following the motion Chairman Hodges commended Mr. Maxwell on the thoroughness of the study and agreed that the County employees’ salaries were below that of the competition. Commissioner Lawrence remarked that he felt more competitive salaries would afford greater satisfaction to the County employees, which in turn would result in better services to the public.
            Commissioner Wilkie agreed that the County’s greatest asset is the employees and that they should be acknowledged as such.
            A.     Monthly Collection Report
            Tax Administrator, Larry McLean, presented the Tax Collections Report for the month of March 2001.
            B.     Refunds and Releases – Tax Administrator McLean presented the following Refunds and Released for March 
            of 2001 for Board approval:
                                                               TO BE TYPED IN MINUTE BOOK
            Commissioner Lawrence seconded by Commissioner Wilkie, moved to approve the records and releases as presented.
            VOTE: Aye-5
             A.     Board of Equalization and Review Proposed Scheduling
             Mr. McLean made a request of the Board to confirm dates that they would be available for Equalization
and Review Board meetings.
             After discussion, the date for the initial hearings was set to be scheduled for May 7, 2001 at 1:00 P.M. in the Conference in the County Manager’s office at the Courthouse. Mr. McLean suggested that there should be a waiting period of approximately six weeks to schedule meeting, as needed, to allow the Board to hear compliance issues. Final applications for appointments before the Board of E&R should be set for June 14, 2001. He estimated that there would probably be a need for at least three meetings.
             Mr. McLean stated that compensation for meetings with the Board of E&R was set by the Board and has been in the amount of $75.00.
By consensus, the Board agreed that the E&R charges should remain at $75.00 per meeting.

            A.     Internet/Intranet Status Report

            Information Technologies Supervisor, Ms. Glenda Duncan, appeared before the Board to report the status on the development of the County’s three year Intranet/Internet plan. According to Ms. Duncan, Phase I of the Intranet project has been completed on schedule. All departments have been equipped with Personal Computers (PCs) and employees are networking with capabilities to share files and other vital information. Phase I also included the start up of a Web site that allows the public access many aspects of County Government. Ms. Duncan commended the fine job that the Maintenance Department did in rewiring for this section of the plan.
            Ms. Duncan reported that the deadline for Phase II has been pushed up from the end of March to the end of April and will encompass installation of high-speed access to the Internet and allow on line public registration to Parks & Recreation programs.
            Phase III will be addressed in the FY 2001-2002 budget and will provide on line services to allow the public to pay taxes over the Internet.
             No Board action was requested and none was taken.
             B.     Computer and Cell Phone Policy Proposal
            Mr. Jim Atkinson, Director of Social Services and Chairman of the Information Technologies Committee, came before the Board to present an updated Computer Policy to amend the Watauga County Personnel Ordinance and set a Public Hearing to adopt the proposed amendment. The new policy has been expanded to encompass the issues of increased employee computer users, Internet access and cell phone use.
            Chairman Hodges voiced his concerns that some of the wording in the amendment was too vague to discourage employees from using County equipment and time for personal means. He suggested that the IT Committee reword portions of the proposed amendment to discourage personal use of County computer systems.
            Commissioner Sweeting allowed that the requested changes should be made to the policy and monitored every 6 months in the early inception of it.
            After discussion, Commissioner Lawrence seconded by Commissioner Sweeting moved include a public hearing to adopt the proposed amendment, with the requested changes, at their next regular meeting scheduled for April 17, 2001.
            VOTE: Aye – 5
            Nay - 0

            A.  Petitions for Additions to State Road System

             Mr. Joe Furman, Director of Planning and Inspections, presented petitions that, if adopted, would allow the additions of four roads to the State maintained road system.
             Vice Chairman Coffey seconded by Commissioner Lawrence, moved to adopt the resolutions as presented
             VOTE: Aye – 5
             Nay - 0
            B.  Watauga River Access Discussion
            Planning & Inspections Director, Mr. Joe Furman reported that the NC Department of Transportation has determined that the low water bridge over the Watauga River at Guy Ford Road shall be replaced with a high water bridge to improve safety and allow improved passage. Mr. Furman requested the Board’s permission to draft an agreement for later consideration, which would allow local river users to maintain a public access at this site. The site was to be constructed by the NCDOT at no cost to the County.
              By consensus the Board agreed to allow an agreement to be drafted for consideration at a later date.
            A.     Boards and Commissions
            County Manager Robert E. Nelson presented Mr. Donald Ray and Ms. Debra Weddington as nominees for the newly created consumer representative to the AppalCART Board.
            Commissioner Lawrence recommended Mr. Donald Ray be appointed as the newly created consumer representative to the AppalCART Board.
            Commissioner Sweeting seconded by Commissioner Wilkie, moved that Mr. Donald Ray be appointed.
VOTE: Aye – 5
Nay - 0
County Manager Nelson announced that a vacancy existed on the Criminal Justice Partnership and that information regarding this future appointment would be forthcoming at the Board’s next regular meeting scheduled for April 17, 2001.
No Board action was requested and none was taken.
            B.     Discussion of Preferred Provider Contracts (formerly EAP)
            County Manager reported that upon the Board’s previous request, staff solicited but received no proposals from private agencies providing Employee Assistance Programs.
            County Manager Nelson recommended that the County’s confidential behavioral health counseling program remain with the current provider, New River Behavioral Healthcare.
Commissioner Sweeting stated that under the current contract, the County pays the cost for the first three employee visits to New River Behavioral Healthcare for confidential counseling. Commissioner Wilkie voiced her concerns that three sessions were not adequate and that she would propose that Board increase the number of County paid visits to six.
             After discussion, Commissioner Sweeting seconded by Commissioner Wilkie, moved to renew the current employee counseling contract with New River Behavioral Healthcare and increase the number of County paid sessions from three to six.
             VOTE: Aye – 5
             Nay - 0
            C.     Announcements
            County Manager Nelson announced that the board of Trustees of CCC&TI had requested a joint meeting with the Board of Commissioners. The proposed dinner meeting has been scheduled for 6:00 P.M., Thursday, May 17 at the campus on White Oak Road in Boone.
By consensus the Board accepted the request to hold a joint meeting with the board of Trustees of CCC&TI.
Commissioner Lawrence seconded by Vice Chairman Coffey, moved to adjourn the meeting at 9:30 A.M.
Jimmy Hodges
Darcy Moore
Substitute Clerk to the Board