BOONE — The Watauga Board of County Commissioners on June 4 unanimously approved the purchase of the Valle Landing property in Valle Crucis.

The sellers of the property are listed in the offer to purchase contract as follows: Joanne L. Wootton, Valle Properties LLC, Robert M. Abee Irrevocable Trust, Patrick Tucker Brown, Nichola Mary Nagy, Andras Nagy and the Valle Landing Owners’ Association Inc. The purchase price is $375,000, with the closing date set for Nov. 15, 2019. The property is 3.36 acres and is next to the existing Valle Crucis School.

This decision comes after the Watauga Board of Education approved the purchase of a 14.4-acre tract in March for the building of a proposed new Valle Crucis School. This tract of land is along Broadstone Road between the Mast Farm Inn and the Mast Store Annex — approximately one-quarter mile from the existing school.

County Manager Deron Geouque said the county had been in discussion with the owners of the Valle Landing property before the school board approved its contract for the other piece of land. The Valle Landing property could potentially be used as a back-up plan for the new school if there are any issues with the 14.4-acre property, Geouque said.

The contract the school board approved for its property is under a due diligence period to allow testing to be conducted on the viability of the property. If the contracted land is deemed not to be viable for a new school building, Geouque said the school board would not purchase the property as the due diligence period allows them to back out of the offer.

However, Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott said the board is encouraged so far by the results of the tests on the contracted property, including a survey, a soil structure analysis, a septic system check, a wetlands study and an archaeological survey.

“So far all of them indicate that the Hodges site is viable for the construction of a new school,” Elliott said. “Right now we are moving forward with plans to build the school on this site.”

Elliott said he appreciates the hard work of the board of education and the investment of the commissioners for a new school in Valle Crucis.

“I look forward to working together with the county and the Valle Crucis community to build a safe and healthy school that the community will be proud to have in the valley for generations to come,” Elliott said.

If the Valle Landing property is not needed for the new school, the county could use the property for other ventures such as parking for the nearby Valle Crucis Park and Mast Store. Geouque said the county could also decide to not use the property immediately and leave it open for long-term planning. For example, if the county would need to replace the Valle Crucis School again 50 to 60 years from now, the county would have open property to use.

“That’s the issues we have now when it comes time to replace our school, we have nowhere to go and we have to try to find property,” Geouque said.

“I think the purchase of the Valley Landing property by the commissioners really reflects that they are forward-thinking and looking at how to improve recreation opportunities for the community in the future,” Elliott said. “It will be a great addition to the park and whatever future use the former school property may bring to the community.”

The commissioners also approved its fiscal year budget for 2019-20. Few changes were made to the proposed budget that was put before public hearing on May 21. The commissioners decided to award the Southern Appalachian Historical Association’s full request of $22,000. This amount was originally proposed in Geouque’s draft budget but was reduced to $12,000 by the commissioners during their two-day budget workshop in May.

The original $10,000 reduction was planned to be used as a contingency to give to the Mediation and Restorative Justice Center for a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. The Mediation and Restorative Justice Center originally asked for $29,500 for the program, which the commissioners did not propose to approve. They did, however, plan to use the $10,000 in contingency as a match if program coordinators could find grant funding.

The commissioners now plan to give SAHA its full request, in addition to keeping $10,000 in contingency for the Mediation and Restorative Justice Center. The extra $10,000 is planned to come from the county’s general administration contingency fund, Geouque said.

The now-approved budget will implement a 5 cent increase in the property tax rate to 40.3 cents per $100 valuation. To assist with the construction of the new Valle Crucis School, 3 cents of the 5 cent increase will be appropriated to the project.

The board of commissioners will not have its first regularly scheduled July meeting set for July 2. The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be July 16.

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