BOONE — Approximately 23 people spoke during the Watauga County Board of Commissioners’ public hearing on the proposed county budget on May 21, with a majority showing support for the construction of a new Valle Crucis School.
The county’s proposed budget recommends a five-cent property tax increase to 40.3 cents per $100 valuation that would bring in $4,468,000 in additional revenue. County Manager Deron Geouque has told commissioners that three cents of the five-cent increase is recommended to be appropriated to the construction of the new Valle Crucis School.
In March, the Watauga County school board approved the purchase of a 14.4-acre tract for the new school along Broadstone Road between the Mast Farm Inn and the Mast Store Annex — approximately one-quarter mile from the existing school.
Mary Mast addressed the commissioners as a retired school teacher who taught at Valle Crucis for 33 years and continued volunteering 20 years after retirement. She said the flooding issues at the school have been a problem since the very beginning, and she remembered walking to lunch in ankle-deep water when she was in the sixth grade at the school. She advocated for the construction of a new school.
Wayne Eberle, now serving as the Watauga County Schools director of accountability and school improvement, supported the building of a new school as a former Valle Crucis School principal. He said the need for a new school school is not a new topic.
“While improvements have been made over the years, the reality is the building is out of capacity in just about all facets — physical space for students, electrical infrastructure and the ability to handle rising waters brought on by rain and flooding,” Eberle said.
Charlie Clement said his children went to school in Valle Crucis and his grandchildren now attend the school. He said he wanted to convey how badly the school needed to be replaced and how important it is to leave the school in the Valle Crucis community.
“That school is the anchor of Valle Crucis,” Clement said. “Not taking anything away from Mast Farm Inn, Taylor Inn, Mast Store or the conference center — all of which are critical to our community. But our school is the anchor.”
However, Henri Deschamps — owner of the Mast Farm Inn — had concerns with the potential placement of the new building. He said it was possible the county did not have enough input from the community, more specifically residents and businesses in the Valle Crucis Historic District, about the location of the new facility.
Deschamps asked if there will be a public hearing held about the location of the building before closing on the property; if a public hearing will be held if the property is purchased to receive input on entrances and exits to the school as well as a construction schedule; and when the county would plan a public hearing or why it would not plan to do so.
Subsequently, Lyle Schoenfeldt — the former owner of the Mast Farm Inn — also questioned the sought-out location. He said while few would dispute the need for a new school, placing the school adjacent to the Mast Farm Inn would threaten the sustainability of the inn.
The commissioners also heard from community leaders such as Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers, Renee Boughman and Elena Dalton with F.A.R.M. Café, Carson Sailor with Horn in the West and Monica Caruso and Mary Reichel with the Appalachian Regional Library — all thanking the board for appropriations proposed in the budget but requesting the full funding amounts that each entity had requested.
Commissioner Perry Yates said he wasn’t against any nonprofits that request money from the county, but he feels that taxpayer money should be spent on infrastructure, services for the community and education. Yates also said he was in support of the sales tax increase that was voted down last spring. He said that increase would have raised about $2 million that could have gone toward education.
Disagreeing with Yates, Commissioner Charlie Wallin said the nonprofits requesting funding from the county assist in critical needs to the community and their support does a great service for the county. He also said he felt like the sales tax was not as stable of a revenue source as property tax increases.
Commissioner Chairman John Welch said the board would take into account the comments made during the public hearing and would be approving the budget at a later meeting.