Watauga County Board of County Commissioners


The Partnership for Watauga’s Future, in keeping with its mission of offering “a full and fair exposition of facts,” sent short questionnaires to all six candidates running for three seats on the Watauga County Commission.




     James Coffey (incumbent) did not respond


     William R. (Billy Ralph) Winkler


DISTRICT 3 (open seat)

     Jim Deal


     Joe Phillips ... did not respond



     Allen Trivette (incumbent)


     Winston Kinsey


(alphabetical by name)


     Q. If elected what do you want to be known for when your term as County Commissioner ends?

     A. It would be a great honor for me to have the opportunity to serve as Watauga County Commissioner. I grew up in Watauga County and my family has lived here for several generations. At the end of my term I would like to be known as a Commissioner who made a positive difference in the quality of life for the people of Watauga County.

     Q. In your opinion what are the most pressing issues facing Watauga County and what would you do about that issue?

     A. In my opinion the most pressing issues are as follows:

     I believe that our most critical issue is education. I was privileged to serve Watauga County on the Board of Education for eight years. During that period of time I served as the Finance Committee Chairman and I am aware of the co-operation that must take place between the County Commissioners and the Board of Education. If elected I would propose that County Commissioners meet frequently with the Board of Education to develop long range plans. These plans would deal not just with facilities, but also the academic needs of our students. In order for our education system to continue to provide the opportunities to our students we must recruit quality teachers, provide adequate support for the staff and administrators, and develop and enhance programs for the 21st Century. This requires a partnership between the County Commission and the Board of Education. In order to effectively meet the needs of our school system, a County Commissioner must understand the problems that the school system faces and work actively with the Board of Education to develop plans to solve these problems and plan for the issues that we will face in the future.

     A second issue is affordable housing. I currently volunteer with the Affordable Housing Task Force. If we are going to be able to provide affordable housing in Watauga County it will require the leadership of the County Commission. The Commission needs to take an active role in seeking solutions to the problem, including ideas such as partnering with local developers or land owners, working to provide water and sewer in areas where it does not exist, and streamlining government regulations help to hold down the cost of building.

     A third issue that Watauga County faces is a need for a comprehensive recreation plan. I believe that the County must develop recreational needs that provide opportunities to all of our citizens of all ages. It is extremely important that these recreational opportunities be located throughout the County and not just in the Town of Boone. This will require long range planning and not just a short term approach.

     A fourth issue is working closely with county departments and agencies. If elected I would propose regularly meeting with various departments and agencies to understand their needs and how the county can develop a budget to allow them to be more effective.

     All of these issues require a co-operative process between the County Commission and the various agencies that are involved. It is my belief that the County Commissioners should regularly meet with the representatives from the various agencies, seek to understand their problems, help develop comprehensive planning and work together to develop a budget that would meet these needs.

     Q. What role should the County play in providing water and/or sewer to the corridors around Boone?

     A. It is my belief that the County Commission must take the lead in providing water and sewer to various areas of the County. There are several reasons that this is needed:

     For additional development of a commercial nature to take place, water and sewer must be provided. Our current commercial park is full and if we are to provide job opportunities for our citizens and business opportunities for our local business owners, we must be able to provide water and sewer for the development of commercial parks. The Commissioners should meet with local property owners to help develop opportunities for commercial parks where appropriate. The longer we wait, the greater the cost will be.

     It is becoming more difficult to construct septic systems and more land is being required to provide drainage areas and repair areas. This increases the overall expense to our property owners who are building homes and to those property owners who are building commercial buildings.

     Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the survey. As a life long resident of Watauga County, I know that we are truly blessed by God to live in such a wonderful area. The County Commissioners must provide leadership and intelligent solutions to the problems that we now face. In addition the County Commissioners must have a vision of what Watauga County can be and the opportunities that our citizens should be provided. If elected, I pledge that I will help create that vision.


     Q. If elected, what do you want to be known for, when your term as County Commissioner ends?

     A. I want to be known as a concerned citizen (a farmer and retired teacher) who has served his county, who put his name forward to give people a choice and a voice in their county’s business.  I would not want to be known as a demagogue,  who plays upon people’s fears and anxieties just to get elected.   In particular I would like to be known for (a) support for public schools, after hearing the recommendations and requests of the Watauga County Board of Education; (b) support for widening and paving of all county secondary roads; (c) support for law enforcement, fire departments, and first responders; (d) support for joint government/private projects to realize "affordable housing"; (e) listening to the people, especially in public hearings for all high impact projects; (f) protecting the environment and the rural heritage of the county; (g) promoting economic growth to broaden our base; (h) support for recreational projects for individuals and families countywide.

     Q. In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues facing Watauga County and what would you do about those issues?

     A. LAW ENFORCEMENT.  I will listen to our excellent sheriff, Mark Shook, who has been very efficient and professional in shutting down numerous meth labs.  We have a serious problem on our hands that is straining the resources of the Law Enforcement Center.  This problem threatens the well-being of all citizens of our county.  Additionally, the new Law Enforcement Center will be inadequate by the time it is finished.  Mr. Shook has made outstanding presentations to the Board of Commissioners on his needs to make our county a safe place.  The Board should do whatever it can to meet these needs at budget time instead of making our sheriff return later to find money and then having to take this money out of county savings.

     AFFORDABLE HOUSING.  I think that we should support efforts to obtain state and federal financial support (loans or grants) for purchase of some large blocks of land for housing.  Land bought in a block is cheaper than buying it one-half acre at a time.  In large blocks of land, roads can be built (and paved) on the contour or on a reasonable grade to minimize erosion problems, and septic and water systems can be planned in a logical manner and built before purchase and occupation by individual families.  Private companies could work with the Department of Planning and Inspections to develop these subdivisions.  Individuals could then purchase a lot and contract with a builder for construction of a house, or the contractors could build speculation houses in advance on part of the lots.  Ideally, water and sewage facilities would be developed subject to guidelines from the county.  In the current situation, some landowner, needing some money, sells a half-acre tract and then next year does the same thing, and so on (which leads to conflicts between neighbors).

     Public sources for funding of projects might be the following: The Carolina Farm Credit Service (which merged Production Credit, FmHA, and the Federal Land Bank) would be a source for farmers desiring to build a home or make other improvements.  The best source for government assistance is probably the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), which could call upon HUD and the Kellogg Foundation for support.  However, what the ARC does is on the state level and local level through "local planning councils" which can get money through the "revolving loan fund" of the ARC to develop infrastructure (water, sewage, roads, etc.).

     EDUCATION.  County Commissioners need to listen to the elected Board of Education (and the school administration and teachers).  At present, the high school is the top concern.  In the spring of 2004, the committee studying this said that the consensus was for "one high school on this or another location."   Regardless of the location, it will cost much to build for the next 30-40 years.  This said, education is more than bricks and mortar.  Another major educational issue is personnel, as the experienced teachers are retiring in large numbers.  How can we attract and keep the best of the new teachers?  Presently, our county supplement for the teachers is ranked about 49 out of 100 counties.  We must do better.  We must support programs which will prepare our children and grandchildren for life in this county or elsewhere.

     ENVIRONMENT.  We live in a beautiful county, and we must preserve the beauty and the resources.  Three (or four) rivers have their headwaters here.  We must be concerned with clean water and soil erosion, and avoid unwise practices.  The contractors who I know are generally sensitive to these issues; they live here too! In general, they work with the planners and inspectors to do the job right.

     While I am concerned about the environment, I know that our economic base is rather narrow and that we must strive to bring in new and clean industry or businesses.  We are a wealthy county, but we now essentially have only four engines driving our economy:  Appalachian State University, tourism and second homes, construction related to the above, and traditional family farms.  Our farms are a way-of-life, but we have difficulty earning a living on them.  We have lost many of the small industries which were once located in our area.  We must expand our industrial park and study the incentives necessary to bring in more small clean industry and business into our county.  We now have an excellent highway linking us to the major interstates.

     BUDGET AND FINANCES.  At present, it seems that the board makes out their budget and then tells the various agencies what they will get and then to "come back later and scratch for more."  Why not decide the funding needs, and then make out the budget and steps necessary to meet that budget.

     I think that we should lower the sales tax as it is a burden to those with modest incomes.  In the past two years under the current board, our property taxes have almost doubled due to the property reappraisal.  The current board still says that they "lowered" our taxes; the board lowered the rate per hundred valuation from 39 cents to 37 cents per hundred (about $20 per family, with the larger property owners getting the most benefit).  Because reappraisal is an expensive process with many appeals, I would continue the eight-year cycle instead of the four-year one. Farmers who have inherited or otherwise own high-priced land that produces a low profit margin (if any) still have the agricultural exemption so that they do not have to sell the family farm just to pay the taxes.

     RECREATION.  I think that we should build a new swimming complex in Boone.  The current one has been repaired too many times.  While doing so, why not make it large enough for competition training with six lanes so that swim meets can be held here.  Caldwell County's pool is often used as a model for what we might be able to build here.  The pool would be paid for by the county, offset by fees charged those who use the facility.  I do not know how the YMCA might work into this picture, but I am open to learning about this attractive possibility.  ASU is building a new pool, and so is the Wellness Center, but whether these can accommodate our county needs is a point needing much discussion.  Consideration needs to be given to increasing recreation facilities (other than swimming pools) in each part of the county.


     1. We must listen to the people.  At present, there are no “public hearings” on high impact land use or other matters.  There are only “open meetings,” as in the case of the recent open meeting to accept and hear bids for the ambulance service from only two entities (in a room so small that only about ten people could be seated, while the rest were in the foyer outside, unable to hear.

     2. I will search for ways to assist the fire departments of our county.  They receive a fixed sum from the county government, as well as an inequitable district fire tax.  Demands on their time and resources now have gone far beyond fighting fires - to include highway wrecks and emergency management.  I have learned that an out-fitted pumper truck now costs upward of $130,000.  When one asks the fire departments how they are doing financially, they usually reply “We are getting by.”  “Getting by” is not sufficient for the men and women who are on the front line of defense for local emergencies as well as terrorist incidents.

     Q. What role should the county play in providing water and/or sewer to the Boone-Foscoe corridor, to the Boone-Deep Gap corridor, and/or the Boone-Blowing Rock corridor?

     A. The above question leaves out the Boone-Todd, Boone-Bethel, and Boone-Zionville corridors.  As it is hard to pump sewage or water uphill, consideration must be given to development of “mini” sewer or water systems in the county where there are housing developments or other high-impact land uses.   Most farm or rural families with an acre or more of land can drill a well and have adequate space for a septic system.  In a rural subdivision with half-acre lots, individual home well and septic systems are becoming problematic and causing friction between neighbors.  In these situations, the “mini” systems would help.  As to the corridor, this is a question too big to answer for this occasion.  I have learned that a corridor served by sewer and water is developing now by accident on Old Highway 421 toward Deep Gap, which resulted from Carroll Leather Goods, Inc. losing its septic tanks to the new Highway 421.  For good reason, the Town of Boone agreed to run their water and septic system to them.  Now, the Town of Boone - with trepidation - has allowed Food Lion to be added on after long discussions and their agreement to follow the town’s regulations (and then some).  There are hints that another business wants the same treatment, but has not yet applied.

     The current Board of County Commissioners has done nothing to plan to handle the problems related to the county’s exploding development.  Joe Furman (Planning and Inspections) has done his job well so far as is possible.  Lack of planning rests with the Board who has followed its typical “band-aid” approach.  In trying to rid Watauga County of any zoning, the Commissioners have virtually negated any attempts at planning for future development.  Water and sewer issues will determine the future of this county (industry, business, and affordable housing).  I want the Board of Commissioners to appoint a panel of experts and citizens to study and plan for the future.  A water and sewer study committee of the Town of Boone will report its findings on September 16.  The Town of Blowing Rock now has a moratorium on extending water and sewer lines.  Obviously, the Towns of Boone and Blowing Rock are being more responsible than the Watauga County Board of Commissioners.  Again, I support study and planning by a panel of experts and citizens and a careful public hearing of their findings and recommendations.

     Thank you for the opportunity to respond to these important issues.


     A. Watauga County is my home. I love this place and the people. I want the best for Watauga County as we all do. Watauga County is facing major issues that will greatly impact our lives, zoning-not a dead issue; tax increases; liquor by the drink; funding a new high school; and affordable housing.

     Zoning is not a dead issue! Watauga County voters said “no zoning”. I have fought to represent our people and keep zoning from interfering with property rights.

     Our county budget is 32 million, school system-27% (8.5 million), sheriff’s department-20% (6.5 million), human services-19% (6 million) and all other county offices 34% (11 million). Each time any division seeks additional funds there has to be a resulting tax increase. Every department should be able to meet our needs but we cannot have all our wants. One of my goals has been to be a good steward of the taxpayer’s dollars.

     Liquor by the drink is knocking at our door. Again Watauga County has said “NO”. As county commissioner, I will do everything possible to represent the people’s choice.

     In my opinion the issue of a new high school should be presented to the voters as a bond referendum. Watauga County still owes 20 million from a previous bond that will be paid off in 2015. The projected enrollment numbers is expected to decrease within the next ten years. We all agree that something has to be done but the decision should be made by the voters not the county commissioners.

     Affordable housing is a major issue for many county residents. The majority of jobs in Watauga County are low paying service jobs. As a result of low rages, finding adequate housing is difficult, especially for young adults and the fixed income elderly. We all want the ”American Dream”, a spacious well constructed house on a large landscaped lot. Many have found that modular and mobile homes provide affordable housing. Our county has to make room for housing available to everyone, regardless of economic status. I will continue to support affordable housing for all our citizens.

     Everyone cannot agree all the time. Whether we agree or not, we are obligated as neighbors and citizens of this community to listen and respect each other. Watauga County is my home not just a place I am passing through. I have done my best for the people of Watauga County and with your support we can make Watauga County a home that we can all be proud of.

     Thank you.


     Q.  If elected, what do you want to be known for, when your term as County Commissioner ends?

     A. If I were to be remembered for one thing, I would want it to be as an advocate for educational programs and facilities. The Watauga County Board of Education has spent a great deal of time and resources studying both the current and future needs of the schools. It is absolutely imperative that whatever action is taken cuts no corners. It will be much more cost-effective and productive to do it right the first time instead of having to come back and ask for more every eight to ten years. This is why it has become so difficult to properly renovate the existing facility. Our children are not second-rate citizens and they don’t deserve second-rate facilities. Our teachers are innovative and motivated and they deserve to work in a facility that enables them to do their best work instead of wasting their creative energies just trying to figure out how to “make do”. The child from Bethel (or any other area of our county) deserves to have the same opportunities as would be available in Caldwell, Burke, Orange or Wake County.

     Q. In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues facing Watauga County and what would you do about that issue?

     A. Law Enforcement: The fact that Meth Labs are so incredibly prominent in our County is not only embarrassing but a serious threat to the health and safety of our families and our communities. Our Sheriff’s Department has proved to be committed to solving this problem and deserves our complete partnership in this effort. In the last fiscal year, the commissioners did not listen to Sheriff Shook when he told them what he needed.  As a result, they were later forced to dig into county savings to find more money to run the department.  It would have been much better for the department and less costly to our citizens if the sheriff’s requests had been honored from the beginning.  Sheriff Shook had it right when he told the commissioners, “The best investment you can make is for the safety of your citizens”.  I can’t think of a way to say it any better.

     Economic Development: While I am in agreement with the commissioners support of a new Arts Center and their decision to help a small business out on leasing a space, I completely disagree with the current boards decision to cut all funding for economic development and to hand those responsibilities over to the Planning and Inspections Department.  Instead of a unified effort between local business leaders and concerned citizens, decisions are being made mostly in closed-door sessions with input from only a handful of people.  It almost seems that they (the commissioners) just don’t want to have to deal with anyone who may disagree with them.  In this area as in so many others, the RIGHT decisions can only be made if ALL sides of each issue are considered.  This is a major difference between my opponent and myself.  I WANT to hear opposing viewpoints.  I want to know what impact, whether positive or negative, our decisions will have.

     Land Use: We need to make sure that our ordinances, the ones already on the books, are being applied fairly to everyone.  Many people have expressed concerns that they are being treated differently than more powerful people when trying to work through the requirements of our ordinances. All people, regardless of who they are, should get the same fair treatment from Planning and Inspections. I also differ with my opponent in that I believe in all citizens’ rights to make their voices heard and have their opinions considered.  A certain group from the Meat Camp area was refused an audience by the commissioners when they came with concerns that their rights were being jeopardized by  a certain proposal for large development.  While it is true that the county is under no obligation to hear this group (or any of us for that matter) I believe they SHOULD have allowed these citizens to present their side of the story.  As I’ve said many times, we have a better chance of reaching the right decision when we listen to all sides of the issues.

     Environment: Environmental concerns must also be high on our list of priorities. Practically every major decision made will have some impact either directly or indirectly. Good environmental policies are not only morally justified, but make good long-term economic sense. Plans for future growth and development must include full consideration of environmental impact.

     Affordable Housing: Creating incentives to enable affordable housing opportunities is important to the continued growth of our county and to young families trying to build a future for themselves.  The current board has taken no action in this area.  Possible solutions can be found from studying successful programs implemented in other areas of the state with emphasis on those that help families afford homes that will increase in value.

     Recreation: Our recreational programs are a true reflection of how we value our families.  The current Board has taken a bandaid approach to the problems concerning our county pool, despite the fact that the report commissioned by the previous board of commissioners showed repairing the county pool rather than replacing it would amount to throwing good money after bad. As a result, the county is now in over its head on the repairs. There are many unexpected issues in the repairs to the boiler systems, problems with pumping water out of the diving well, problems with drainage and cracking in the flooring.  This is yet another area in which the cheap fix will end up being more expensive to taxpayers.

     Taxes and Spending: The current Board of Commissioners is taking in and spending more money than any previous board.  My opponent may have voted for a 2% property tax rate decrease, but he supported the half-cent sales tax increase.  For many Watauga County citizens, particularly those working to support a family, the sales tax increase cost more than the savings from the lowered tax rate.  This is a basic difference between Democrat and Republican candidates from the national level on down.  Republicans talk about lowering taxes, but in the final analysis, the burden of paying for essential services is always increasingly shifted to those who can afford it the least. The commissioners have also raised fees on county services.  They have spent more money on lawyers, and less on recreation, economic development and programs for senior citizens.  Despite collecting more tax revenue than ever in the history of our county, they have had to dip into our savings to meet “unexpected” building and other needs (such as not fully funding the Sheriff’s Department requests).

     County Contracts: In 1999, the Board of Commissioners voted to “revise” the old ambulance contract, no longer allowing for automatic increases and insisting on bids from private providers every five years in order to keep costs down for Watauga County citizens. This year, our commissioners voted to return to old habits by refusing bids from all except the current provider and Watauga Medical Center.  If we are determined to use private providers for this service, then an open bidding process is essential to insuring quality of service and fairness to all concerned.

     Q. What role should the county play in providing water and/or sewer to the Boone-Foscoe corridor, to the Boone-Deep Gap corridor, and/or the Boone-Blowing Rock corridor?

     A. Like so many other issues, those concerning water and sewer projects must be made in partnership with all involved. For the best opportunities to be available to our citizens, the townships, the university and the county must work together cooperatively. I am skeptical of proposals for privatization of these services.  Profit should not be the motivating factor for those charged with handling our most precious resource.