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.

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