County manager looks at year ahead for Ashe
Last modified: Jan. 3
With 2013 here, Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell discussed important issues facing the county in the new year including economic development, the county's role in the Boone's water intake project, and the 2013/14 budget process in a Dec. 28 interview.
Budget work will begin in March and April, according to Mitchell, as commissioners work to piece together a 2013/14 budget.
“The commissioners and I talked (in 2912) about the importance of not continually dipping into the Fund Balance to balance the current year's budget,” said Mitchell. “We will certainly review that as we work this year.”
Commissioners will keep an eye on economic indicators, including “increased or decreased sales and property tax” collections from a year ago to have an idea of the county's financial position, according to Mitchell.
Mitchell said each county department meets monthly to evaluate spending, and said unspent funds at the end of the year revert back to the county's fund balance.
“Increased tax collections, increased economic activity (such as building permits) and unspent funds affect the funds we have to work with at budget time,” said Mitchell who also said county departments are “constantly looking for ways we can affect expenditures.”
As an example, Mitchell cited a recent investment in a new heater by Ashe County Environmental Services recycling building.
“If we use waste oil (an item currently being recycled) that will save us approximately $5,000 per budget year in propane costs,” said Mitchell. “We are currently looking at some opportunities to save on diesel purchased for our garbage collection trucks.”
NEW RIVER/BOONE WATER INTAKE PROJECT
Mitchell said she has received no new information on the Boone Water Intake Project.
“In my previous conversations with state and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (held in November I believe) FEMA instructed the state to secure new maps and project information from Boone and deliver to the Ashe County Manager's Office,” said Mitchell. “We have not received any new information.”
Mitchell said commissioners believe current, accurate information is important to effectively protect the citizens and the (New) River.
“If part of that project is on Ashe County land then they need to know that and make decisions accordingly,” said Mitchell.
In an Oct. 19 email, Mitchell requested a meeting with Boone Town Manager Greg Young to obtain current maps and plans of the intake project, including an access road and the route of a proposed transmission line.
Young's response, six days later, read “I'm not sure that meeting will be beneficial to you as I don't think I would be at liberty to provide the information you're seeking.”
The 4 million gallon-per-day raw water intake facility is planned for a 10-acre site on the South Fork of the New River between Todd and Brownwood in Watauga County and will transport water to Boone's water treatment plant via a transmission line along Brownwood Road and U.S. 421.
Mitchell, who has served as the county's Economic Development Director since 2004, hired Abingdon, Va., native Cory Osborne as the county's Assistant Director of Economic Development to help her with the duties.
"I am looking forward to having an Assistant Director...who will work closely with economic sectors that will create opportunities for new resources as well as better marketing of existing resources," said Mitchell.
Mitchell, who has served as the county Director of Economic Development since 2004, hired Abingdon, Va., native Cory Osborne as the county Assistant Director of Economic Development in November. Osborne will graduate from Appalachian State University with a Masters in Public Administration in May.
"Ashe will participate in the Certified Entrepreneurial Community that will assist small business development through an identification of county, regional and state resources," said Mitchell.
On Nov. 5, county commissioners approved a resolution to begin working toward Advantage West's “Certified Entrepreneurial Community,” program.
The certification process focuses on encouraging economic development across the entire western North Carolina region, and is designed to energize local, and lure outside, entrepreneurs to create new enterprises and fuel the local economy.
“Ashe will look at our role in the local food initiatives including expanded use of the commercial kitchen - this will involve collaboration with Cooperative Extension.”
Mitchell will also work closely with Chairman of the Economic Development Commission Chris Robinson and Wilkes Community College in business recruitment.
"We will continue an emphasis on industry expansion and recruitment of business to our empty buildings," said Mitchell, including Jefferson plant that formerly housed Leviton. "The EDC also plans to re-initiate the workforce development task force."
A six-year old partnership between local government, industry and education the Workforce Development Commission brings each of those partners to the table, according to Mitchell, to talk about “how all of us can best meet the county's economic needs.”
Mitchell also said she expects the county partner closely with local municipalities to serve the citizens of Ashe County.
"I believe the appointment of Donnie Johnson as Interim Superintendent of Ashe County Schools is a very effective appointment and I look forward to working with him," said Mitchell.
New River Behavioral Healthcare
Mitchell said she expects the former New River Board to meet during the first quarter of 2013 to review any lawsuits against the board.
At least 79 former employees of New River Behavioral Healthcare are seeking compensation, interest and punitive damages related to unused vacation time and other expenses that were not paid to them when they were laid off in the fall of 2011 when the mental health service provider collapsed after more than four decades of service.
The suit, filed in April 2012 against the New River Service Authority, its five member counties (including Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Watauga and Wilkes) and the five board members, alleges a variety of offenses, including various types of fraud, negligence, conspiracy and breach of contract.
“The current employee suit, we have been told, would take considerable time to work through the courts,” said Mitchell. “I don't know that we will see a resolution to it in 2013.
“I believe our Board of Commissions did a commendable job in working through the entire New River "mess" and ensuring throughout the process that people were served, that employees were paid and that we held on to the real estate that New River occupied, the old Jefferson School,” said Mitchell.
NRBH provided services for 13,000 patients in the five counties, 1,000 in Ashe County alone, and employed 300.
On Sept. 22, 2011, NRBH CEO Pam Andrews received a letter from the N.C. Division of Medical Assistance (the organization that handles Medicaid reimbursements) that Medicaid payments would be suspended due to “a credible allegation of fraud,” until an investigation could be completed. The investigation suspended Medicaid payments worth $626,977 to NRBH.
The five counties then passed an amended 160A agreement that replaced NRBH's 13 member board of directors on Oct. 7; the new 10 member board met for the first time on Oct. 12. During the meeting, the board accepted former CEO Pam Andrews' resignation and Smoky Center announced Daymark as the new service provider in the five counties; Daymark began operations on Nov. 1.
Martin Starnes, and outside consulting agency, was hired by the NRSA to determine what brought about NRBH's collapse. On Dec. 21, 2011, Martin Starnes released the results of its investigation and said, “Unreliable financial reporting, ineffective management of patients accounts receivable, and lack of operational controls over service delivery were the primary cause of the financial demise of New River Behavioral Healthcare.”