WATAUGA COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2020
The Watauga County Board of Commissioners held a regular meeting, as scheduled, on Tuesday, December 15, 2020, at 5:30 P.M. remotely with the meeting originating in the Community Room located in the Watauga County Community Recreation Center, Boone, North Carolina.
Chairman Welch called the remote electronic meeting to order at 5:33 P.M. The following were present:
PRESENT: John Welch, Chairman
Billy Kennedy, Vice-Chairman
Carrington Pertalion, Commissioner
Charlie Wallin, Commissioner
Larry Turnbow, Commissioner
Deron Geouque, County Manager
Macy Hafner, Substitute Clerk to the Board
Commissioner Wallin opened with a prayer and Commissioner Turnbow led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Approval of Minutes
Chairman Welch called for additions and/or corrections to the December 7, 2020, regular meeting and closed session minutes.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy, seconded by Commissioner Turnbow, moved to approve the December 7, 2020, regular meeting minutes as presented.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy seconded by Commissioner Turnbow moved to approve the December 7, 2020, closed session minutes as presented.
Approval of Agenda
Chairman Welch called for additions and/or corrections to the December 15, 2020, agenda.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy requested nominations for the Watauga Medical Center Board of Trustees be considered for appointment under Boards and Commissions.
Commissioner Wallin, seconded by Vice-Chairman Kennedy moved to approve the December 15, 2020, agenda as changed.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Community Update
Ms. Jennifer Greene, AppHealthCare Director, provided an update on the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The report was for information only and, therefore, no action was required.
Update on the Pritzker Children’s Initiative (PCI)
Ms. Crystal Kelly updated the Board on the Pritzker Children’s Initiative. The presentation was for information only and, therefore, no action is required.
A. Monthly Collections Report
Tax Administrator, Mr. Larry Warren, presented the Tax Collections Report for the month of November 2020. The report was presented for information only and, therefore, no action was required.
B. Refunds and Releases
Mr. Warren presented the Refunds and Releases Report for November 2020 for Board approval:
TO BE TYPED IN MINUTE BOOK
Vice-Chairman Kennedy, seconded by Commissioner Pertalion, moved to approve the Refunds and Releases Report for November 2020 as presented.
Request to Accept FY 2021 Senior’s Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) Grant/Contract
Ms. Angie Boitnotte, Director of Project on Aging (POA), requested the Board accept the FY 2021 grant/contract for the Senior's Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP). The grant was for $6,079 and required no County funds. The funds would be used to provide assistance and outreach to low-income citizens.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy seconded by Commissioner Turnbow moved to accept the Senior’s Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) grant in the amount of $6,079.
Emergency Services Matters
A. Communications Tower Engineering Request
Mr. Will Holt, Emergency Services Director, requested the Commissioners approve engineering services from Engineered Tower Solutions, PLLC, in the amount of $30,000 which would include the Rich Mountain and the Communication Center towers. Adequate funds were budgeted to cover the expense and was part of the emergency communications upgrade plan.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy seconded by Commissioner Wallin moved to accept the proposal from Engineered Tower Solutions, PLLC, for tower engineering services in the amount of $30,000.
B. Request to Extend Due Diligence Period
Mr. Will Holt requested the Commissioners extend the due diligence period for the Sampson Road property. The County was purchasing the property to construct an emergency communication tower. The reason for the extension was regulatory delays at the federal level. The property owner was amenable to the extension. The extension would add an additional six (6) months to the contract.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy seconded by Commissioner Turnbow moved to approve the extension of the due diligence period.
Bid Awards for Community Recreation Center Outdoor Facilities
Mr. Robert Marsh, Maintenance Director, presented bids for fencing, paving, color coating, striping and equipment for the new basketball, pickleball, and tennis courts. Staff recommended the low bidders McCall Fencing for fencing, Tri County Paving for asphalt paving, and Triangle Fence for color coating, striping and equipment in the amounts of $50,730, $104,298.99, and $58,250, respectively.
Commissioner Turnbow seconded by Vice-Chairman Kennedy moved to accept bidder McCall Fencing in the amount of $50,730 for fencing.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy seconded by Commissioner Wallin moved to accept bidder Tri County Paving in the amount of $104,298.99 for asphalt paving.
Commissioner Turnbow seconded by Commissioner Pertalion moved to accept bidder Triangle Fence in the amount of $58,250 for color coating, striping, and equipment.
Proposed Opening Plan for Community Recreation Center
Per Commissioner direction, staff has prepared an opening plan for the new Community Recreation Center (CRC). The plan provides three (3) options for the Board’s consideration. Option 1 is to open the facility only for the Watauga High School Swim Team. Option 2 is opening the facility for the WHS Swim Team and the general public. Option 3 would keep the facility closed until COVID 19 restrictions are lifted to allow for 50% capacity or higher of the facility.
The Commissioners discussed potential ways of shortening the time from when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted to the actual hiring of personnel and opening of the facility.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy pointed out the increase in cases in the County and suggested waiting to open the CRC. Medical personnel have expressed concern that January has the potential to be the worst month we’ve seen. He did not want the CRC as one more risk for COVID-19 spread.
Commissioner Turnbow agreed with Vice-Chairman Kennedy, and stated changes in regulations will be forthcoming in the next week or two. Conditions are currently spiking strongly and suggested we wait and see the impact of the new regulations. If restrictions are relaxed, we need to find a way to expedite the hiring process and open the facility. Commissioner Turnbow expressed we all want the facility open but we need to wait and see what the Governor’s office suggests.
Commissioner Wallin expressed concern that due to the CRC not being open, we are sending citizens from Watauga County to other surrounding counties to utilize their recreation facilities. Watauga County is not giving a place here to recreate and sending our citizens to Avery County and they are not obeying rules as well as we are. If we are not trying to hire staff early, the County will lose out on all of the potential revenue from people making New Year’s resolutions to join gyms.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy responded that the County was not making anyone go to Avery county. Each parent makes the decision about what is right for their child. Nobody is forcing these children and families to go to Avery County. He wished they could train here. While we understand these are teenagers and they need exercise, whatever we do for one person, we have to do for everyone in the County.
Commissioner Turnbow stated he would not allow somebody else to make a decision for his child. Given the circumstances, he understood parents’ decisions to take their children to another county but that does not mean he would make that decision. He would not take responsibility for another parent’s decision for their children.
The County Manager stated that it’s not only when the restrictions allow us to open up but also when it is safe to do so. Watauga recently went from yellow to orange on the State’s alert system. The County experienced a spike after Thanksgiving and anticipated another spike after Christmas. Additionally, University students will possibly be returning from break in January potentially providing another spike in COVID-19 cases. The County’s actions are for the safety of our citizens and staff.
Chairman Welch felt the County Manager should have permission to expedite the hiring process in the event COVID-19 restrictions are lessened. He recommended staff do everything possible to open the facility as quickly as possible once restrictions allowed it.
Mr. Stephen Poulos wanted to hire people but needed to have an opening date first. It is difficult to hire staff when you don’t have a specific date for people to accept a job. A good majority of the employees will be Appalachian State University Students, staffed to do whatever commitment was needed, to expedite the process.
County Manager Geouque stated worst case scenario is two (2) months’ time to advertise for the position, hire, and train the new personnel. Staff will do everything possible to reduce the two (2) month time period. It was consensus of the Board to authorize the County Manager and staff to take whatever measures necessary to shorten the time period from when restrictions are lifted to opening the new facility.
Miscellaneous Administrative Matters
A. Proposed Demolition of Turner Property Structures
County Manager Geouque stated that in February 2020, the Commissioners held a special called meeting with the Town of Boone to discuss the Turner House Property. After the meeting, direction was given to have a firm provide conceptual drawing(s) and soil borings to determine the viability of a parking deck at the Town owned Queen Street lot. The County and Town provided two proposals and the Town’s proposal was selected due to the cost being less. In July, McGill Associates presented a rendering and cost estimate of the proposed deck at the Queen Street lot to the Board. The price tag was $10 to $15 million dollars but no soil borings were completed to determine the viability of the project. Continuing to delay construction of the parking lot/deck to meet the long-term parking needs of the courthouse facility only increases the escalation of cost to the County. Bids were received for demolition of the Turner House and the lowest bidder was D.H. Griffin in the amount of $21,300. Due to the price and the uncertainty of the viability of the project, staff seeks direction from the Board on how to proceed.
Adequate funds have been budgeted to cover the expense of the demolition. Should the Board wish to proceed forward; action is required to accept D.H. Griffin’s bid in the amount of $21,300 to demolish the Turner House.
Commissioner Turnbow seconded by Vice-Chairman Kennedy moved to accept D.H. Griffin’s bid in the amount of $21,300 to demolish the Turner House.
B. Boards and Commissions
County Manager Geouque presented the following:
Boone Rural Fire Protection Service District Board
Watauga County Planning Board
Each Commissioner nominates a representative to the Boone Rural Fire Protection Service District Board and the Watauga County Planning Board whose terms run concurrent with the term of the appointing Commissioner. Planning Board members must live within the appointing Commissioner’s District and action must be taken by the entire Board of Commissioners to make these appointments. Boone Rural Fire Service District Board members must own property and reside within the respective Fire Service District.
Commissioner Turnbow stated that Ms. Katy Abrams had moved out of his district and he was looking for a replacement.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy stated that he was also looking to select a replacement for his Planning Board member and was awaiting confirmation indicating the individual would like to serve on the Planning Board.
Commissioner Pertalion nominated Mr. Dave Robertson for her representative on the Planning Board. Commissioner Pertalion also stated that she has someone in mind for the Boone Rural Fire Service District Board who is awaiting confirmation that the meetings would be virtual and could be done by telephone.
Commissioner Wallin seconded by Commissioner Turnbow, moved to waive the second reading and approve Mr. Dave Robertson as Commissioner Pertalion’s representative on the Planning Board.
Watauga Medical Center Board of Trustees
The Watauga Medical Center Board of Trustees recommended the reappointment of Dr. Paul Dagher, MD, and Ms. Mary Louise Roberts, and the appointment of Ms. Meagan Phillips as Board Trustees. Each of their terms would be effective January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2023. These were first readings.
Commissioner Turnbow, seconded by Commissioner Pertalion, moved to waive the second reading and reappoint Dr. Paul Dagher, MD, and Ms. Mary Louise Roberts, and to appoint Ms. Meagan Phillips as Watauga County representatives on the Watauga Medical Center Board of Trustees with each of their terms to end on December 31, 2023.
County Manager Geouque announced that the Ethics for Elected Officials Online Training - Incumbents only can receive the required ethics training, via Zoom, on February 26, 2021, or March 23, 2021. Newly elected County Commissioners would receive the training through the Essentials of County Government course.
Written public comments were submitted by Mr. Cameron St. Clair, Ms. Pam Williamson, and Dr. Eric Plaag
At 7:19 P.M., Vice-Chairman Kennedy, seconded by Commissioner Wallin, moved to enter Closed Session to discuss Attorney/Client Matters, per G. S. 143-318.11(a)(3) and Land Acquisition, per G. S. 143-318.11(a)(5)(i).
Vice-Chairman Kennedy, seconded by Commissioner Wallin, moved to resume the open meeting at 8:15 P.M.
Vice-Chairman Kennedy, seconded by Commissioner Pertalion, moved to adjourn the meeting at 8:15 P.M.
John Welch, Chairman
ATTEST: Macy Hafner, Substitute Clerk to the Board