Watauga Co. Commissioners

Article Published: Nov. 5, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners approved the pursuit of state grants and federal recovery funds during Monday's regular meeting in Boone.

The Watauga County Tourism Development Authority presented a request to pursue four different grant requests for outdoor recreation. Two of the grants would support the new Rocky Knob Park, a biking-and-hiking project under development near the former landfill in Boone. The 170 acres of county land is being planned for mountain biking, hiking, picnics, and Frisbee golf.

Eric Woolridge, outdoor recreation specialist with the TDA, said the requests would recognize partners such as Boone Area Cyclists, Inc. The grant requests are $10,000 from Bikes Belong and $15,000 from the Conservation Fund.

The TDA is also seeking a $75,0000 grant from a federal Recreation Trails Program. The grant would develop a paddle-trail access at the intersection of U.S. 321 and Watauga River Road. It would provide boat and kayak access, a picnic area, and fishing access to the Watauga River.

The TDA has also submitted a $226,000 proposal to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for development of Phase I of the Middle Fork Greenway. The money, if received through the Bike and Pedestrian Division Transportation Improvement Program, would help connect Tweetsie Railroad, Mystery Hill and Sterling Cook Park near U.S. 321.

"We have written commitments from all landowners related to this project," Woolridge said. "No local dollars will be required for this."

Woolridge said some of the grants would meet grant-matching requirements and occupancy-tax money could meet other grant requirements. Land donations could also serve as grant matches. The commissioners approved applications for the $326,000 in grants.

Commission chairman Jim Deal noted that, though the county serves as fiscal agent for the ownership of the Rocky Knob project, it is funded by the TDA through occupancy-tax dollars and is not being purchased with the county's General Fund revenues.

County planning director Joe Furman presented an update on federal bonds available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Furman said the county would be required to designate the entire county as a recovery zone and then submit eligible projects by Dec. 15.

The projects are for any public economic-development projects. Furman said there wasn't a "pot of money set aside." Private project lenders would still have to approve the loans but the borrower could save nearly half the amount of interest from the bonds. The bonds could also be used by private businesses for buildings or equipment, though not for multi-family housing.

Watauga County could be eligible for up to $4.5 million in economic development bonds and $6.8 million in facility bonds.

The commissioners received an update on the Watauga Community Housing Trust, with a board of directors, bylaws, and meeting schedules in place. The trust will be a non-profit organization that will pursue public-private affordable-housing projects. The organization grew out of the longstanding Affordable Housing Task Force and is currently undergoing Internal Revenue Service review of its non-profit certification.

Insurance costs for county employees are increasing. The commissioners approved a plan that would keep benefits the same but increase premiums by 17.8 percent next year. The county government had anticipated and budgeted for a 20 percent increase. Assistant county manager Deron Geoque said 280 employees were on the plan.

"An 18 percent increase is pretty tough," Deal said. "That's why we have health-care reform being discussed these days."

The commissioners also adopted a resolution recognizing "I Have A Dream Week" for Jan. 15 through 24, 2010.

The commissioners announced public meetings for the Citizen's Plan of Watauga County. Monday night's meeting was at Cove Creek Elementary School,. Other meetings are Nov. 3 at 6:15 p.m. at Parkway Elementary School and Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. in the Watauga County Administration Building in Boone.

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