BOONE — The Watauga County Board of Commissioners adopted the 2020-21 budget on June 2 with a change to the county’s recommended fee schedule.
The county increased fees in the areas of emergency management/fire marshal’s office, planning and inspections and sanitation solid waste fees. Most of the fees that were adopted were new, while one saw an increase.
The board adopted a new illegal burning fine, which includes one warning given and then a fine of $100. County Manager Deron Geouque said the county has seen an increase in people who are illegally burning materials.
According to the North Carolina Forest Service, it is illegal to burn garbage, paper, cardboard, tires and other rubber products, building materials (including lumber, wire, plastics and synthetic materials), asphalt shingles, heavy oils, paints as well as household and agricultural chemicals. Only leaves, branches, yard trimmings or other plant growth can be burned.
Emergency Services Director Will Holt explained that the North Carolina Forest Service has jurisdiction greater than 100 feet from a structure; jurisdiction within 100 feet of a structure is given to local fire marshals. The new fee would help the Watauga Fire Marshal’s Office enforce illegal burn restrictions, Geouque said.
The county will also be adding a new safety violation fine of one warning and then a fine of $200 after that warning. Holt said that a safety violation would be included in chapter 10 of the fire code, and covers violations such as an establishment having locked or blocked exits in an occupied building that would hinder someone from escaping in the case of a fire.
The fee for an explosive materials/blasting permit was increased to $500 annually or $100 for a 48-hour permit from the previous $100 annual fee or $40 fee for a 48-hour permit.
In the Planning and Inspections department, the county approved a new remodel permit fee of $75 per trade. For the Sanitation department, a new mixed recycling by ton fee was added and will now be $59 per ton.
The county also set collection and delivery fees per lift within the 28607 zip code: $150 for industrial, $34.65 for commercial and $34.65 for recycling. The extended collection and delivery fee for outside of the 28607 area is now $187.50 for industrial, $43.95 for commercial and $43.95 for recycling.
The only other additional change made to the recommended budget was an approved reclassification for the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office that would be a net zero increase to the budget, Geouque said. The commissioners approved the budget with the suggested changes.
The commissioners also approved a resolution and five and six-mile district coverage map for the Zionville Fire Department. Holt explained that the department is adding a second fire station, and the county’s approval is a required step for the department’s insurance rating. Once the station has been rated by the state, Holt said the department can see if any improvements can be made to its insurance rating.
Commissioner Billy Kennedy also made a statement during the June 2 meeting about emails the board has received about the Beech Mountain water intake plan. The board had received about 200 emails in the last four to five days about the topic, according to Chairman John Welch. Kennedy said he wanted the public to know the county is listening to the people, and that the board didn’t have any plans for changing reclassifications for the project.
“We’ve been very clear with them over the years. We think they need to fix their infrastructure first and stop losing over half of their water into the ground,” Kennedy said. “They decided to spend money on this PR campaign and engineering instead.”
Selena Moretz, the director of the Child Advocacy Center of the Blue Ridge and the facilitator of the Watauga County Community Child Protection Team, also presented information to the board about the team’s annual report. The team reviewed nine cases in 2019 — three neglect cases and six abuse. Based on these cases, the team found the following contributing factors: substance abuse involved families (both caretaker and child) including opioid use, domestic violence, parents being unemployed or under-employed, mental health disorders, lack of child development knowledge and financial problems.
The team outlined that there is an increased need for foster care, a need for a Batterers Treatment Program in domestic violence situations and a need for the creation of a life skills class for adults who are involved with the system.
There were also two child deaths in 2019, according to Moretz. The team’s report stated that based on the deaths they recommend an increase in education and awareness around prenatal care.