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Commissioners agree to refinance animal shelter's mortgage

BOONE — The Watauga County Board of Commissioners’ Nov. 19 approval to refinance a mortgage loan for the Watauga Humane Society was met with a standing ovation and cheers of relief from society members.

County Manager Deron Geouque said the balance on the loan is currently $373,355.86. The refinancing will nearly halve the nonprofit’s monthly mortgage payment, Geouque said.

Earlier this year the humane society appealed to the public for financial support, as it was facing a balloon payment in early 2020 on a refinanced mortgage for its shelter facility that opened in 2011. The building was originally slated to cost $2.4 million, but the costs ended up around $3 million, the society said. In 2012, the humane society refinanced its mortgage to cut its interest rate from 7 percent to 3.85 percent.

“Refinancing the loan will enable us to better care for the over 2,000 animals that come into our shelter on an annual basis,” Watauga Humane Society President Alice Roess said in a letter to the commissioners. “The Humane Society is not requesting the county forgive the loan but rather provide an opportunity to reduce costs and allow us to develop a longterm plan for the continued sustainability of our organization and the partnership with the county.”

The county will now pay off the mortgage, with the humane society making payments to the county. Staff recommended an interest rate of 3 percent over a term of 10 years. Geouque assured the board that the refinanced loan wouldn’t be “free money.”

Geouque added that the humane society’s new monthly payment would be roughly $4,500.

Commissioner Larry Turnbow said he, Geouque and Finance Director Misty Watson had been working with the humane society for months on the details of the refinancing. He said they all three were in full support of the request. Geouque added that the county has had a successful relationship with the humane society thus far.

“It’s been a great partnership that’s hopefully going to get even better,” said Chairman John Welch. “We appreciate everyone who is a part of this board. It’s another great asset we have in Watauga County.”

The commissioners made the unanimous approval, and the room — full of humane society members — erupted with applause.

The commissioners also voted to re-table the discussion of the Valle Crucis Historic District ordinance amendments. This is the second time the board has tabled the discussion. The board did not state when it would pick the discussion back up on the agenda item, but Welch assured the crowd that it would not be added to an agenda without first being advertised.

The commissioners also watched as Watauga County Parks and Recreation Director Stephen Poulos was presented with the North Carolina Recreation and Parks Association Fellow Award.

Lee Tillery, the N.C. Recreation and Parks Association president elect, explained that the award is the highest award the NCRPA bestows to leaders who demonstrate exemplary professional leadership and development. Poulos joins a group of 99 other professionals who have received the award from the association. Tillery said he submitted Poulos’ nomination for the award, and said Poulos is well respected across the state.

Keith Jenkins, the NCRPA president, read aloud some of Poulos’ background and achievements. Poulos is a graduate of the sports administration program of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the master’s program at Appalachian State University.

Poulos has worked with Watauga County Parks and Recreation since 1992, when he served as athletic director until becoming director in 2002. He has served as a high school football official, started the Roundball Classic 17 years ago and has coached both of his sons. He serves as president of the Watauga County Community Foundation Board and served on the advisory committee for the Elk Knob State Park. Additionally, he routinely speaks to recreation program students at App State.

“He serves when asked, volunteers to assist whatever the cause may be and works really hard to move forward the global mission of parks and recreation in our state and across the nation,” Jenkins said. “He is a friend and mentor to everyone, and never hesitates to share information, ask a question or provide feedback to make our profession better as a whole.”

Poulos said he was appreciative of the award, as well as the support from his friends, coworkers and family. Poulos also accepted the NCRPA Healthy Plan and Recreation Initiative Grant that will go toward the purchase of playground equipment at Rocky Knob Park. The $70,000 grant has a 50 percent match that will be provided by the Watauga County Tourism Development Association.

Michelle Wells, executive director of the N.C. Recreation and Parks Association, explained that statewide, the grant has awarded $1.4 million to programs. The grant also has an educational component in which grantees attend a day-long training with information and research on best practices for playgrounds, Wells said.

Watauga election results confirmed

BOONE — The results for Watauga County’s elections were made official on Friday, Nov. 15, as the Watauga County Board of Elections signed off on the results without incident.

The election canvass finalized the results for Boone Town Council, Blowing Rock Mayor, Blowing Rock Town Council, Beech Mountain Town Council and Seven Devils Town Council.

Watauga County Board of Elections Director Matt Snyder said during the meeting that it was a “very smooth” election with no issues.

“All our votes and ballots and electronic records matched up,” Snyder said. “We are very grateful for all the poll workers and election officials who worked.”

In Watauga County, 10.87 percent of eligible voters – 2,131 out of 19,599 – cast a ballot. The total is down from the 2017 municipal election, when 11.68 percent of eligible voters – 2,326 out of 19,915 – took part.

Protests and recount requests were due to the Watauga elections’ office at 5 p.m. Monday. As of 4 p.m., no requests had been made, Snyder said.

For Boone Town Council, Dustin Hicks and Loretta Clawson will receive four-year terms as the top two vote-getters. Nancy LaPlaca receives a two-year term for coming in third over Virginia Roseman.

Blowing Rock citizens elected David Harwood and Albert Yount for four-year terms over Ray Pickett and Jim Steele and voted for Charlie Sellers as mayor in an unopposed race.

Beech Mountain will have three new council members as Jimmie Accardi, Kelly Melang and Erin Gonyea won over Renee Castiglione, Carl Marquardt and Wendel Sauer. Accardi and Melang receive four-year terms while Gonyea picks up a two-year term.

Seven Devils had Larry Fontaine and Key Ehlinger win four-year terms while Jeff Williams got a two-year term. Fourth-place Wayne Bonomo was appointed to council to replace a departing Tina Bailey on Nov. 12.

The towns of Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain and Seven Devils include results from multiple counties as each have citizens on each side of the county border. Both Caldwell and Avery counties finalized their election results on Nov. 15 as well.

Board Chair Jane Ann Hodges complimented the elections office staff for their work.

“There is not another county our size that had the number of registrations that we do in Watauga County,” Hodges said.

Board member Eric Eller said it’s remarkable how much the elections office does on a daily basis.

AMB parent company to merge with Anheuser-Busch

ST. LOUIS — Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewer of American-based beers, announced Nov. 11 that it plans to buy the remaining stock of the Portland-based Craft Brew Alliance, which owns the Boone-based Appalachian Mountain Brewery.

“Today’s announcement represents an exciting next step in a long and successful partnership with Anheuser-Busch, whose support for the growth of our business and brands traces back over 25 years,” said Andy Thomas, CEO of CBA, on Nov. 11. “By combining our resources, our talented teammates and dynamic brands, we will look to nurture the growth of CBA’s existing portfolio as we continue investing in innovation to meet the changing needs of today’s beverage consumers, all while delivering certainty of value to our shareholders.”

Anheuser-Busch, which had owned 31.6 percent of CBA stock, will purchase the remaining stock at $16.50 a share, according to the Nov. 11 release. The sale is expected to be finalized in 2020, both companies stated.

“The partnership between our parent company Craft Brew Alliance and Anheuser-Busch means a lot to us here at AMB since last year we officially joined Craft Brew Alliance, giving us access to distribute our beers through the Anheuser-Busch network and reach more consumers, foster our creativity and support our local community,” said Nathan Kelischek, co-founder and head brewer of Appalachian Mountain Brewery. “As part of CBA, we’ve seen first-hand how Anheuser-Busch is working to nurture the growth of craft brewers, investing more than $130 million to support their breweries and local communities. We’re really looking forward to what this could mean for us but also craft beer drinkers.”

According to CBA spokesperson Jenny McLean, there are no changes planned for AMB or CBA at this time.

“We have been partners with (Anheuser-Busch) since before (CBA) was founded,” McLean said. “There are no changes in Portland (Oregon), no changes to the brand portfolio, no changes to employee headcount and no changes to employee benefits as a result of this deal.”

McLean brought up Wicked Weed Brewery in Asheville, noting that despite a negative reaction from within the craft brew industry to its sale to Anheuser-Busch in 2017, the sale provided Wicked Weed with more opportunities for distribution.

The St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Companies – which brews domestic beers Budweiser, Michelob Ultra and Natural Light among others – has been expanding its craft beer portfolio in recent years, now owning Shock Top, Goose Island, Breckenridge Brewery, Stella Artois and more.

According to the Nov. 11 statement, the vast majority of CBA’s brands are already distributed through Anheuser-Busch’s network of independent wholesalers per the companies’ existing commercial agreement.

“Our partnership with CBA goes back many years and we look forward to supporting CBA as they continue to bring great products to beer drinkers across the U.S.,” said Michel Doukeris, CEO of Anheuser-Busch, on Nov. 11.

CBA would join Anheuser-Busch’s Brewers Collective, which is described as a “collection of craft partners spread throughout the country committed to providing consumers with innovative, quality beers and investing in their local communities.”

“CBA’s diverse portfolio of regional breweries and innovative lifestyle brands is an excellent complement to our family of craft partners and would continue to help fuel the growth of the craft beer category,” said Marcelo “Mika” Michaelis, president of Brewers Collective.

AMB, which was founded by Sean Spiegelman and Kelischek, was sold to Craft Brew Alliance in October 2018, with the sale closing in November 2018 for an undisclosed amount. Kelischek said in August that there were no plans for AMB to move from its original location at 163 Boone Creek Drive.

The sale comes after Anheuser-Busch decided against making a qualifying offer to buy all of CBA’s stock at the price of $24.50 a share by an Aug. 24 deadline. The stock price was hovering around $15-16 a share in August, but after the Aug. 24 deadline, the stock dipped to as low as $6-7 a share. However, after the Nov. 11 announcement, CBA stock more than doubled up to $16-17 a share.

“Anheuser-Busch’s craft partners have created nearly 1,000 new jobs in their home communities to support their growing breweries,” the Nov. 11 statement said.

New NC Congressional maps pass NCGA, legislature adjourns

RALEIGH — The Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly adjourned its long session on Nov. 15 after the state Senate approved new Congressional maps along partisan lines.

The 24-17 vote in the N.C. Senate enacts House Bill 1029, a redistricting bill that changed the state’s 13 Congressional districts. The previous maps, passed in 2016, were found by a bipartisan three-judge panel on Oct. 28 to be unlawful partisan gerrymanders that violated the state constitution. The court encouraged the NCGA to draw new maps before the start of the 2020 election and 2020 primaries, as the filing period is slated to begin on Dec. 2 and run through Dec. 20.

In its Nov. 15 vote, the state Senate made no changes to the maps that were approved by the state House on Nov. 14. Redistricting bills do not need to be approved by the governor, so it goes to the three-judge panel for final approval. If the new map is not approved, the filing period and primary for N.C. Congressional candidates could be delayed, the court said in its Oct. 28 order. The 2020 N.C. primary is set for “Super Tuesday,” Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) voted in favor of the maps while Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) voted against the maps.

“We have drawn this map in public,” said Rep. David Lewis (R-Dunn), a co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting, in a Nov. 14 statement. “We have amended this map in public. We have discussed and debated this map in public. We have taken thousands of public comments and input in committee. This is a good-faith effort to make districts that are fair and compact.”

“This is a map you can vote for and feel proud that you have done a good job in providing legislative districts for the U.S. House in North Carolina,” Lewis added.

Lewis was also the defendant in the lawsuit that necessitated the new maps.

In a Facebook post, Russell disputed the claims by state Republicans of an open and transparent process.

“The process used to draw these maps was not really public nor nonpartisan (maps were taken into back rooms and reviewed by unknown and unnamed individuals),” Russell stated on Nov. 14. “The map does not pass the ‘look’ test. Partisan gerrymandering clearly still exists.”

Russell also claims that there are no competitive districts in the new maps and the base maps used to formulate these maps were based on racial data. Federal courts have ruled that racial data can’t be used in drawing representative maps.

“I will say it again, voters should pick politicians, not politicians picking the voters,” Russell wrote on Nov. 14. Ballard did not respond to a request for comment as of press time as she was out of state, according to a spokesperson.

New Fifth District, a new Democratic challenger

If approved by the courts, the new NC-5 will include all of Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes, Alexander, Caldwell, Burke, Cleveland and Gaston counties, plus the eastern half of Rutherord County – 64.92 percent of its population – and a small sliver of northern Catwaba County that contains 9.92 percent of its population.

The Fifth District would lose Avery, Surry, Yadkin, Stokes and Forsyth counties.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) would remain eligible for re-election in NC-5 under the current map as she lives a few hundred yards away from the Watauga/Avery border off N.C. 105. Potential challenger Jeanne Supin, a Boone Democrat, would also be eligible.

Caldwell and Burke would be absorbed from the 11th District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Hendersonville Republican. None of the challengers who have set up a federal campaign in the 11th District are from Caldwell or Burke counties.

The new map also absorbs a good portion of the former 10th District, which is represented by Patrick McHenry (R-Denver).

McHenry, who lives and is registered in Lincoln County, would remain in the revamped 10th District. Two Democratic challengers, however, are in new districts. David Wilson Brown, a Democrat from McAdenville in Gaston County and ASU grad, is now in the Fifth District.

Speaking on Nov. 19, Brown said he’s waiting for the court ruling before making a final decision, but plans on running for office “where it makes the most sense.”

Gina Collias, a Democrat whose campaign is registered to a P.O. Box in Kings Mountain, said in a Nov. 18 statement on her campaign’s Facebook that she has been living in Buncombe County, which is in the 11th District.