Gary L Herman
Alexander County’s broadband expansion project with Open Broadband LLC continues to progress, although there have been a few issues along the way. Dave McCracken, Open Broadband’s Western Regional Manager, presented an update to the Alexander County Board of Commissioners at the October 3rd meeting.
McCracken said his crew is on track to install equipment on a tower off Thomas Lane in Stony Point in the next couple of weeks, with plans to branch out with additional hubs in northeastern parts of the county. Unfortunately, the Moore Mountain tower, which was the final part of phase one of the expansion project, has been deemed unstable.
“We replaced the cables in April, but now the base is breaking. It’s too unsafe to even have someone climb it to take off our equipment,” McCracken said. “I’m contacting the property owner weekly, but so far I’m not having any luck.”
Randy Bentley, who lives in the Mt. Olive Church Road area, spoke during the public comment period, expressing his displeasure with the lack of broadband at his home after being told that he would be served. Bentley said he even cut eight trees to improve the line of sight to the Moore Mountain tower, but now the tower is unusable.
McCracken said the company is working on an agreement to install equipment on a tower on Pores Knob in Wilkes County, which would serve the Mt. Olive Church Road area as well as parts of the Vashti community.
He said his crew is installing new equipment on the Ellendale tower, off Willie McLeod Road, which will provide non-line-of-sight broadband service to many more residents, extending into the Lambert Fork Road and Dover Church Road areas. They have also updated equipment on Round Top Mountain and Linney’s Mountain towers.
Since the project began, Open Broadband has provided service to 300 customers, with plans to add 50-75 more customers in the next couple of months. He estimated that the company has coverage of 40-50 percent of the county, with hopes of reaching 80 percent coverage in 2023.
“We are willing to put up towers, but it’s difficult finding the right property with electricity,” McCracken said. “It’s a difficult task to get a tower established.”
Commission Vice Chairman Marty Pennell expressed his concerns with the project, especially the problems with the Moore Mountain and Thomas Lane towers.
“Citizens have been promised things that haven’t transpired. I’m very frustrated with the whole process,” Pennell said. “If you or your crew are talking to a citizen about service, I want them to know the truth.”
McCracken agreed with Commissioner Pennell, noting that he just became the project manager in April.
“We have installed 10 hubs in the past two or three months. We are working diligently to bring the best service possible,” McCracken stated.
In other business:
• Commissioners approved the schedule of values to be used for the 2023 revaluation as presented by Tax Administrator Doug Fox and Jimmy Tanner of the Tanner Valuation Group.
• Alison Adams, Director of Community and Regional Planning for the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, presented the new NC Foothills Experience web application, which launched in July. Work began on the project approximately two years ago, with funding from the EDA CARES Act (Economic Development Administration Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security).
“It’s a quality-of-life portal for our four-county region. This region is vibrant and there are lots of things to do here,” Adams said. “We’ve received a lot of great feedback, but we want to continue to make it even better.”
She said the web portal focuses on four key categories that contribute to the region’s quality of life: outdoor adventures, fun places, farm fresh, and cool spaces. Each location and event included in these categories are represented by icons on a map, which users can click on to view high-definition drone videos, photos, descriptions, directions, and links.
Adams said the project is designed to retain residents and attract new residents and businesses by demonstrating the area’s exceptional quality of life.
Experience the web app at www.expncfoothills.com.
• Commissioners approved a proclamation naming October 23-31 as Red Ribbon Week in Alexander County. The proclamation encourages citizens to participate in drug prevention education activities throughout the week. The proclamation was presented by Young Marine Sergeant Vince Sothoron of Mecklenburg County, who also led the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the meeting.
• Zack Shepherd, Community Relations Regional Director for Vaya Health, presented an update on the health organization’s challenges, goals, and initiatives. He said that since the end of the pandemic, there has been an increased demand for mental health services while experiencing a loss of mental health professionals, resulting in waiting lists for services.
Shepherd said that Vaya has taken measures to stabilize Crisis Walk-In Centers by increasing rates to retain and recruit staff, improving access in rural communities, and expanding access to substance use services. He said Vaya has increased its rates across all service areas to promote competitive recruitment and retention.
He said that Vaya has a statewide child and youth improvement initiative, which involves working with mental health organizations across the state to establish a seamless transition of care for children who are placed outside the Vaya Health Plan region. Vaya is also working with Departments of Social Services to expand access to crisis/emergency beds to help reduce the need for DSS to temporarily house children. Vaya currently has 38 crisis beds and is working to add 20 more beds over the next three months. He said they are also expanding access to Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC) by increasing rates, expanding the number of therapeutic homes, and providing additional support and training to TFC families.
From January to March 2022, Vaya served 374 Alexander County residents on Medicaid and 177 residents not on Medicaid.
• In the County Manager’s Report, Rick French asked commissioners to check their calendars for January and February 2023 so that meetings can be scheduled to interview potential architects for a new county courthouse. Mr. French also presented a brief update on the Bowman Court sewer project, which is scheduled to begin construction in early 2023 with completion in December 2023. He also made note of numerous upcoming events, including the Fleetwood Mac tribute band concert on October 8, the Stony Point Volunteer Fire Department’s Annual Cruise-In on October 8, the Taylorsville Apple Festival on October 15, the Alexander Friends of the Library Book Sale on October 20-23, the Run for the Dogs on November 5, the Veterans Day Parade on November 11, and the Christmas Parade on December 3.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is set for Monday, November 7 at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (room #103). Regular meetings are recorded and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at https://alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.