Website Updates

February 28, 2021

Dear Blowing Rock Homeowners

We are pleased to share some important updates for our website located at https://www.brcivic.org/.

2021 Advocacy Plan

Each year we update our Advocacy Plan to prioritize our work plan and voice the concerns of homeowners. We believe that homeowners represent the foundation of our economy along with the tourism and business economies. Our strategic priorities are to:

Protect our Vibrant Village
Protect our Homeowner Economy
Protect our Neighborhoods
The complete plan is available on our website under the Advocacy Menu – Advocacy Plan at https://www.brcivic.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Blowing-Rock-Civic-Association-2021-Advocacy-Plan.pdf

Reports
The board commissioned two independent reports to assist the Town and community in addressing important decisions. The reports are available under our Advocacy Menu – Reports at https://www.brcivic.org/reports/

The first is a report on the Valley Boulevard Vision Project based on the Benchmark Report commissioned by the Town Council. The report was prepared by Mosaic Civic Studio to address recommendations dealing with:
Health & water quality of the New River Headwaters (Middle Fork) – Establish a Watershed Overlay District on the west side of Valley Boulevard
Potential of Middle Fork as recreation & aesthetic amenity – Establish a Walking Trail between North Main Street and Sunset Boulevard
The second report is a report on our EMS and Transport Ambulance Service in Blowing Rock and Watauga County by Joe Lord. During the summer of 2020, we researched and challenged the County Commissioners to address the imbalance in ambulance service between Boone and the rest of the County. The Blowing Rock community and Town Council has continually asked the County Commissioner to address this imbalance for over 40 years. The Town funded an upgrade to our EMS service provided by Blowing Rock Fire & Rescue to address the risk, but the Transport Ambulance Service continues to be unacceptable. The Town Council is in the process of addressing a solution as evidenced by a recent meeting with the owner of Watauga Medics who is the contractor for services to Watauga County. A link to that meeting on February 22nd is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShyePItB7BM

Voter Registration

Your voice and vote counts in Blowing Rock elections. The mayor and three council members are up for election this year. You can read about your elected officials at https://www.townofblowingrocknc.gov/government/elected-officials. Elections are won by 35 to 50 votes. So, if you are in a position to change your voter registration to Watauga County, you too can make a difference. We added a new menu item for Voter Registration that links you to the voter registration form. Your representation is ” I shall have been a resident of North Carolina, this county, and precinct for 30 days before the date of the election in which I intend to vote; (3) I will not vote in any other county or state after submission of this form and if I am registered elsewhere, I am canceling that registration” . The North Carolina voter registration form is available on our website at https://www.brcivic.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/NC-Voter-Registration-Form-06W.pdf

Videos

We added our videos under the About menu. A recent grant from The Mariam and Robert Hayes Charitable Trust co-funded our investment in video productions. You can view the videos on our website at https://www.brcivic.org/videos/

Membership Renewal & Levels

We updated our membership levels to encourage and recognize the importance of your support. You can refer your neighbors and update your membership at our Become a Member Menu on our website at https://www.brcivic.org/become-a-member/ We will launch our annual membership drive this spring and appreciate your support to insure that homeowners have a voice within the community. If you are not already a member please join today!

Town 2021 Priorities – “Show me the Money”

February 21, 2021

Dear Blowing Rock Homeowners

To understand the Town budget, you need to understand the sources available to the Town Council to fund the general operating budget. The devil is in the details!

Let’s look at the “Numbers”.

Funding Sources
Property Taxes – 63%
Consumer Sales taxes – 14%
User Taxes collected by NC – 6%
Tourism Occupancy Tax – 6%
Other – 11%

Property Taxes Base
Residential Home Owners- 85%
Commercial Property Owners – 15%
Downtown Property Owners (TC&CB) – 9%

Population Data
Census – 1,400 – 33%
Seasonal – 2,900 – 67%
Registered Voters – 1,250 – 29%

The W&S operating budget is funded separately from W&S fees – 80% residential and 20% commercial customers. The W&S budget is not part of this discussion.

The Town does a great job of preparing and documenting the budget. You can read the details on the Town’s website https://www.townofblowingrocknc.gov/residents/town-budget/fy-2019-2020-proposed-budget.

We used the FY19-20 Budget since the FY20-21 budget was significantly affected by the risks of reductions in revenue due to the pandemic. Actual results have positively exceeded the conservative estimates.

Funding sources that are available to the Town Council is less that the gross general operating budget because gross revenue includes funding that is not controlled by the Town Council . For FY19-20 the reduction was 17% of the gross operating budget – 47% of sales tax revenue returned to Watauga County by agreement, 67% of occupancy tax retained and controlled by the Tourism Development Authority to promote tourism, Caldwell County reimbursement the Town for Fire & Rescue services and fund balance reserves and debt proceeds counted as revenue. Our calculations reflect these reductions to match the economics to the decisions available to the Town Council.

The Town maintains a Fund Balance Reserve “Rainy-Day Fund” of at least 50% of the general operating budget. Excess funds above the target is used to supplement the general operating budget as needed. This factor positively affects our bond rating.

Property taxes provide 63% of the general operating budget available to the Town Council. Our property tax rate is $0.39 per $100 of our property tax valuation for FY21-20. One cent of property taxes produces $117K of revenue. Our average property valuation is over $900K because the calculation is based on census data. These factors positively affects our bond rating.

The Blowing Rock property tax base is approximately $1.1B – 85% residential property and 15% commercial property. As noted in our last posting, the Downtown (Town Center & Central Business District) tax base is relatively low compared to the total property tax base.

Sales taxes and occupancy taxes are paid by consumers not business owners. The Town relies heavily on homeowners to fund both the general operating and W&S budgets. Sales taxes are based on sales in the County, not the Town, and are allocated to the Town by the County based on an valorem formula reduced by an interlocal agreement. The Town does benefit from a 33% allocation of occupancy taxes to fund infrastructure investments related to tourism.

The challenge for the Town Council is to maintain a fair balance between cost of services to property owners versus tourists. The costs of supporting our tourists particularly in Downtown has been growing as have sales taxes and occupancy taxes, so we recommend that the Town Manager and Town Council objectively match tourism expenses to funding sources. The need for adequate and clean bathrooms, more frequent trash pick-ups, parking enforcement, event management, wayfinding, enhanced tourist park infrastructure to attract tourists and cross walks are examples of costs driven by the impact on the Town to attract and host tourists. The upcoming budget process using 2021 retreat priority to set up a Special Downtown Tax District are opportunities to address the fairness challenge and reset the decision framework.

Special Meeting of Town Council – EMS – February 22nd 6 PM

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE – February 22nd at 6PM

The Town of Blowing Rock Town Council will hold a special meeting on Monday, February 22, 2021 beginning at 6:00 p.m. The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the Blowing Rock Ambulance Service. Council will hear a special presentation from Craig Sullivan with Watauga Medics.

The meeting will take place at Town Hall, 1036 Main Street Blowing Rock, NC. No public will be able to attend due to NC Executive Orders and public comments will be allowed during this time.

The public may access this meeting by video by accessing the Town’s YouTube Channel, no active participation during the meeting will be allowed other than those scheduled to participant via the agenda.

Access the meeting via this link:
http://www.townofblowingrocknc.gov/meetings

Hilari H. Hubner
Town Clerk

Blowing Rock 2021 Winter Retreat Report

February 13, 2021

Dear Blowing Rock Homeowners,

The future of Blowing Rock is important to all who live in Blowing Rock whether you live in Blowing Rock full-time, part-time throughout the year or during the season, we all have a stake in the future and should have a voice. Homeowners are the foundation of our economy.

Keeping our finger on the pulse of Blowing Rock is a 12 month commitment on our part as we acknowledge that the Town operates on a 12 month basis.

Our Town Council conducted a three-day retreat to discuss and set priorities for the year. Our Town Manager and staff led and conducted a well organized discussion of the challenges facing Blowing Rock.

The only thing missing was a vehicle for the public to share their priorities with or ask questions of the Town Council. We hope to work with the Mayor and Town Manager to figure out a process for the public to share their concerns and priorities with the Town Council for inclusion in future retreats.

The Town Council ranked the 16 priorities listed below. We are highlighting 3 priorities that were included and 1 that was not. Additional posts will follow on specific topics.

Water & Sewer System – W&S topped the list with 4 of the 16 items. Major expenditures will be required over the next few years including $4M for replacement of Main Street water and sewer lines that we not included in the prior bond issue. The need should not be a surprise to the informed taxpayer. In recognition of the impending need, we added W&S to our 2019 Advocacy Plan to encourage the Town to address the long-term needs of upgrading our W&S system. The Town Manager, Mayor and Town Council recognized the need to address the improvements and discussed these difficult decisions. The bond issue funded $3M of improvements, but the needs are substantial and should not be kicked down the road any longer. We support the commitment to catch up on deferred improvements with a commitment to properly maintain the system in the future. Funding for the improvements will be provided by stepped rate increases in the short-term, annual COLA type increases in the future and lowering the minimum. Customer demographics are similar to our tax base – 80% residential and 20% commercial. The rate study showed that our W&S rates are below other comparable communities.

Downtown Tax District
The Town Manager introduced the opportunity to provide additional funding for operating expenses and infrastructure expenditures unique to downtown. Downtown Tax Districts are common in most communities to address their unique needs. Downtown property owners usually embrace the tax district to fund needed improvements and expenses. The tax base for Town Center and Central Business Districts is $89.6M, producing $350K of property taxes or 7.6% of all property taxes. We believe that the incremental costs of serving the needs of our tourists well exceeds the property tax revenue generated from downtown property owners and TDA funding. Consumers, not business or lodging owners, pay occupancy and sales taxes. Sales taxes are allocated by the state to the county based on sales in that county and to municipalities based two methods and inter-local agreements. Sales taxes and are used by local municipalities to fund general expenses. Blowing Rock nets sales tax revenue of $697K or about 8% of the $8.7M operating budget. We encourage the Town to balance the cost and revenue of providing services to support the downtown tourism businesses and property owners. Additional funding from a downtown special district tax would help balance the funding for business & tourism related expenses and capital expenditures.

Ambulance Services
Chief Graham shared information about our Blowing Rock Fire & Rescue services and the lack of transport ambulance services that should be provided on a 24/7 hour basis to Blowing Rock. The Civic Association engaged Joe Lord to prepare an independent report that was shared with the Mayor, Town Council, Town Manager, Chief Graham and the County Commission to make sure an updated set of facts were available. The report can be reviewed on our website. The Town Council has committed challenge the County to provide equal transport ambulance services to Blowing Rock and all other areas in the County outside of Boone. We will continue our support and advocacy to challenge the County Commission to provide Blowing Rock with 24/7 services as they do for Boone.

Conditional Use Permit – Not Included
The Town Council discussed Conditional Use Permits (CUP) at length. Use of CUP have been a source of much criticism and division. We have advocated to eliminated CUP because it excludes the voices of taxpayers, does not allow Council members to discuss a project with taxpayers and requires an arcane quasi-judicial process. In a small historic village like Blowing Rock, new developments impact all who live in, invest in and love our historical village. The trend throughout the state is to eliminate CUP in favor of Conditional Zoning Permits that do not require a quasi-judicial hearing and allow citizens to voice their views with our elected officials and our elected officials to consider those views.

The Town Council discussed and set the following 16 priorities:

1 Main Street Water and Sewer Replacement
2 Blowing Rock Ambulance
3 Crosswalks – Main Street
4 PRVs and Vaults
5 Water and Sewer Plant Updates
6 PARTF Project – Park Project
7 Police Department Retention
8 ST Rentals
9 Parking
10 North Main Sidewalk
11 Downtown Municipal Taxing District
12 Stormwater Ordinance/Changes
13 AMR/AMI Replacement
14 Sustainability (Solar/Electric Vehicles)
15 Cemetery Expansion
16 Main Street Conduit

Town of Blowing Rock Winter Retreat – Next Week

Dear Blowing Rock Homeowners

The Town Council will conduct their annual Winter Retreat on Monday through Wednesday.

We believe this process is vitally important for the Town to set priorities and provide a framework to plan and implement decisions. We appreciate the time and preparation by the staff and council to set priorities.

Agendas for the meeting were released yesterday and are available on the Town website at https://www.townofblowingrocknc.gov/residents/meeting-agendas/town-council-agenda.

You will also be able to watch the remote meeting on the Town website at https://www.townofblowingrocknc.gov/residents/meetings.

One major discussion topic on the Tuesday morning agenda is a review and discussion of Blowing Rock Ambulance service. The Civic Association engaged Joe Lord to prepare an independent report on the state of EMS services in Blowing Rock and Watauga County to assist the Town in documenting the facts and evaluating solutions to our transport ambulance services provided by the County. Mr. Lord will present his report and field questions from the Council. We will post his report on our website under Advocacy.

The Town Council sets its major priorities at the retreats, so monitoring and contacting the Mayor and Town Council members by email, phone or text during the sessions is the only way to make suggestions.

Normally, we would be in attendance and could make comments on the side with the Mayor, Council and staff. Our plan is to follow up after the Council determines their priorities and provide our input on the priorities.

Tim Gupton, President

Valley Boulevard Vision – Mosaic Civic Studio Report

One of our key priorities is to “Protect the Village”. The future of Valley Boulevard is of major importance to the future of our Village.

You will recall the Valley Boulevard Vision process that took place in 2019. The community came together to make recommendations to the Planning Board to set a vision for development and redevelopment along Valley Boulevard after completion of the highway.

The Civic Association attended all of the committee meetings and public meetings leading up to the Benchmark Report.

The Planning Board has been reviewing the recommendations to propose changes to the Land Use Code to the Town Council. We have also attended those meetings.

During the public meetings, we decided to focus on two of the most complicated opportunities dealing with the watershed and specifically the New River Headwaters streams along the west side of Valley Blvd.

We engaged Mosaic Civic Studio to prepare an independent report to address specific recommendations in the Benchmark report dealing with (1) embracing the New River Headwaters of the Middle Fork Stream and River as an extension of the Middle Fork Greenway into Downtown and (2) evaluate changes to the Land Use Code to improve water quality and restoration of the streams in the area.

The focus area of the study was the west side of Valley Blvd and specifically the Middle Fork Stream which is an extension of the New River Headwaters that crosses over Valley Boulevard at the Fire Station to the ABC Store and heads north across Sunset Drive and then North Main Street across from Chetola Lake.

The current Land Use Code does not uniformly address protection or enhancements of the streams that face watershed issues and do not embrace the recreational opportunity for walking trails or small pocket parks.

We worked with Teresa Buckwalter and Taylor Broyhill, principals with Mosaic Civic Studio, to address these opportunities.

Pete Gherini, Chairman of the Planning Board, has encouraged and facilitated our interaction with the subcommittee and Planning Board.

We presented a draft report to the subcommittee including Pete and Kevin Rothrock and then to the full Planning Board on November 19th. We have offered for Mosaic to present the report to the Town Council.

The two broad recommendations follow:
1. Complete a feasibility study to establish a plan for a Middle Fork Trail from Sunset to North Main which is the most accessible and offers the best opportunity to develop a walking trail to connect Middle Fork Greenway at North Main Street to Downtown along the stream to Sunset Drive.
2. Consider establishing a Middle Fork Overlay District to standardize Land Use Code for managing development and re-development in the critical watershed area on the west side of Valley Boulevard.

The report has been well received to date and is a great example of how we can positively contribute to direction and decisions of our Town government by proactive involvement.

The biggest lesson we as a community learned from this process is that key recommendations like these must include and benefit greatly from including the public along the way.

Hopefully the community will take advantage of the recommendations from this independent expert report.

Without our investment, these recommendations may not have matured to this level given the complexity of implementing the Benchmark recommendation.

Request for 24/7 EMS Coverage in Blowing Rock

Dear Chairman Welch, Commissioners Kennedy, Turnbow, Wallin and Yates and County Manager Geouque,

I received and read Mr. Geouque’s reply to my letter of July 9, 2020 requesting that the County Commissioners vote on placing the new 24/7 EMS team in Blowing Rock.

A tit for tat reply will not be productive because the current rational for staffing the EMS system throughout the entire county is the core issue.

We believe that the County’s decision to base success on one Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of an average response time of 10 minutes is totally inadequate. Accepting an outcome of an average response time of 9:01 minutes for emergency calls as success means that 50% of the calls for actual people, not stat istic s, are above 9:01.

Mr. Sullivan’s 2019 Annual Report documents that only 56% of emergency calls are less than 9:00 minutes. If you live in Boone, all is well, since the average emergency call response time is 6:10 minutes. Otherwise the average emergency response times for other districts range for 10:24 to 24:51 minutes.

We ask the County Commission review your priorities and set qualitative KPIs for providing EMS services throughout the county that recognizes our Effective Population that includes both permanent census and season taxpayers and geographic responses times as the 90/9 KPI would drive. See the following link https://fems.dc.gov/page/ems-response-time to explain the 90/9 benchmark. The health and safety of all residents throughout the County is a top priority that the County should fund. Saying that the County cannot afford to expand the EMS services is not a reason to short change the health of any residents and taxpayers because of geography. Funding against priorities is a decision that should be made by the County Commission as elected officials in consultation with the County Manager. We all know you can fund what you prioritize.

Other counties achieve a much higher quality outcome than Watauga County, so the outcomes are a choice of the County Commission. You should have access to successful models and outcomes in other counties to use as examples for the Commission to consider. If not, we can provide you with contacts.

Attached is a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Chief Graham in 2014 to make a case for expanding coverage throughout the County based on a 90/9 KPI. So, the need and case for expansion for Blowing Rock has been on your table for 6 years.

Just this weekend, we had an example of inadequate response time in Blowing Rock. A hotel guest experienced a cardiac event and it took 30 minutes for the Watauga Medic’s ambulance to arrive! When it is your life at risk, averages response time is not acceptable explanation. The tourist population is an additional factor to consider when calculating Effective Population.

Finally as to “commitments”. Commitments or statements of support have been made by Commissioners in multiple meetings. I made this comment based on those who heard the “commitments” first hand. I realize that there was no vote by the County Commission evidenced in minutes, but local leaders have been led to believe that Blowing Rock would have a 24/7 EMS team if we would be patient. As the second largest Effective Population center in the county with a substantial property tax base, we believe that the time is now.

Please read my letter of July 9 th with the correction of Madison rather than Monroe County during the Public Comment section of the agenda at the July 21, 2020 meeting.

Thank you for considering our request.

Tim Gupton

Tim Gupton
President
Blowing Rock Civic Association
919-418-8555

Ask your County Commission to put new 24/7 EMS Team in Blowing Rock

July 9, 2020

Dear Chairman Welch, County Commissioners & County Manager,

I am writing on behalf of the Blowing Rock Civic Association to request that the Commission vote to approve locating the new 24/7 EMS team at the Blowing Rock station.

My observations and recommendations are based on my research, data provided by the County Manager, and consultation with EMS experts.

As you know, the leaders of Blowing Rock have asked the County for 24/7 coverage for a number of years and were told that Blowing Rock would be the next location after the new facility was built and staff in Vilas in 2017. We are now in 2021 with an opportunity to fulfill that commitment and expectation.

Investing in protecting the health and safety of our county residents is a major responsibility of the County Commission. We realize that there are a lot of demands on resources, but given that health and safety of all county residents is at the top of your priorities, we believe that placing the new 24/7 EMS team in Blowing Rock is an important next step in achieving the national standard of 90 and 9, meaning reaching 90% of the residents within in 9 minutes.

The current strategy set by the County Manager and County Commission and reflected in the contract with the provider sets a standard average response time of 10 minutes and does not address coverage of 90% of the population. These criteria do not reach or even setting a long-term goal of reaching the recognized 90/9 standard. As you know, the only way to meet the standard is to place EMS teams throughout the county like was done for the new station in Vilas. As a consequence of the current standards, the County does not meet the recognized standard of maintaining an ambulance to serve each effective population group of 10,000 of people.

Your decision making process is evidenced in the February 2017 consulting report that did not include mention of the effective population of the county. For example, Blowing Rock was set at the census population of 1,200 with little growth and did not include the additional 5,000 to 6,000 higher risk taxpayers who return to Blowing Rock in May through October. All resident taxpayers and their risk profile throughout the County should be included in setting standards use to measure results.

Currently only 57% of the response times for emergency calls are under 9 minutes, leaving 43% of the county below standard. Response times for emergency calls outside of Boone are all above 9 minutes. Boone is 6:10 minutes and all over districts range from 10:24 minutes to 24:51 minutes. Adding a 24/7 EMS team in a no cost facility already built by Blowing Rock taxpayers will decrease response times by 12% of all emergency calls bringing 69% of all emergency calls toward meeting the 90% goal. It only make sense to house EMS teams in the two concentrated population areas of the County in addition to key rural locations. The current system is too centralized to achieve a high quality outcome. This is not the fault of the contractor, but the County who sets the rules of the contract. Examples of rural counties who do achieve much higher outcomes are Caldwell County that contacts with the Blowing Rock and Monroe County that contracts with the current County contractor.

The taxpayers of Blowing Rock and the greater Blowing Rock Fire District invests $1.6 million annually in Fire & EMS services that enable the county to leverage our all paramedic EMS teams as Quick Response Vehicles with Advanced Life Support Equipment (QRV) for Delta and Echo emergency calls. This investment has allowed the county to improve the quality of emergency calls without funding. Our local investment should not be used to avoid improving our arrival and transport times to the hospital. Thank goodness we have this first responder coverage for critical emergency calls, but our teams are not allowed to transport patients to the hospital because the revenue is contracted to the third-party provider.

In summary we ask that you consider the following:

• Honor your commitments from 2017
• Adopt the 90% and 9 Minute Benchmark for the entire county and work towards raising the standards for service
• Place the new 24/7 EMS team at the Blowing Rock facility that has been provided at no additional cost to the County
• Serve the areas north of Blowing Rock with the 24/7 EMS team as appropriate
• Consider the higher risk and effective populations throughout the County in setting your standards

I am happy to speak before the Commission or with you individually. Please place this letter in the public records as part of the next board package.

Regards,

Tim Gupton
President
Blowing Rock Civic Association
919-418-8555

Time to Renew your Membership

Dear Homeowners,

COVID 19 has gripped our personal and public lives, but we must continue to advocate for changes that affect the future of our village.

You should have already received a membership renewal with a progress report through March 2020. Thank you for continuing to support the Blowing Rock Civic Association.
Since March, we have worked to end the 14 Day Quarantine for residents concurrent with the Governor’s plan, reviewed the FY21 Town budget and reviewed the Planning Board work plan that is focused implementing the Valley Boulevard Vision recommendations from the community.

Your board of directors reviewed and set our short-term priorities that we think are achievable given the limitations we face:
1. Set a vision for West Main Street
2. Advocate to upgrade EMS Services
3. Set a vision for restoration of the New River and extension for Middle Fork Greenway.

In addition to these 2020 priorities, our Advocacy Plan includes a long-term goal to eliminate the contentious Condition Use Permit that does not allow the Council to communicate or worse not consider input from the community. We believe that all citizens have a stake in significant projects in the village, not just developers. The Town should eliminate Conditional Use Permits and choose Conditional Zoning Permits as the best process insure significant projects respect and preserve the village.
Together we can be a unifying voice for the homeowners of Blowing Rock.

If you have not already yet sent your membership, please consider sending today. Memberships start at $55. Many choose to raise support to $100 or $500 and we are fortunate to have support at levels between $500 and $2,000.
Please mail your checks to Blowing Rock Civic Association at PO Box 2471, Blowing Rock, NC, 28605 or submit on our website at https://www.brcivic.org/become-a-member/