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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Joint Meeting Between Macon County and the Towns of Franklin and Highlands

The Boiler Room Restaurant

The Macon County Commissioners held a joint meeting with the Town Boards of Franklin and Highlands at The Boiler Restaurant in Franklin, NC at 7pm on April 22, 2010. The local governing boards met to keep each other informed of what they were doing, and share plans for the future, and to foster communication between each group.

Socializing Before the MeetingBefore the meeting began, members circulated and socialized as they waited for everyone to arrive. At about 20 minutes after 6pm, a blessing was said before everyone lined up and got their food, and ate. Socializing continued during the meal.

To start things off, everyone took turns introducing themselves to the others in the group, including the members of the media. I gave my name and introduced myself as a local blogger.


David Wilkes, the Mayor of Highlands, introduced himself, noting that he was still learning the ropes at being Mayor. He reported that the economic situation in Highlands seemed to be getting better, that tourism would probably improve this tourist season. The Highland Commissioners were focusing on improving communication between the different departments of the town and the local community. He mentioned that there would be a ribbon cutting on the new Soccer Field next Tuesday.

The FoodFranklin Mayor Joe Collins went next. He noted that the Town Hall had been completed, and that the Police Department had moved into their new building. He said that both buildings had room to grow, and should serve the Town of Franklin for a long time.

He spoke of the water and sewer improvements that had been undertaken and the commercial development started by Phil Drake in Frogtown. Collins said that he believes that the worst of the economic downturn is behind us, and that better times are ahead.

Franklin Alderman Sissy Patillo spoke next, since she had to leave early. She spoke about the Main Street Program and about improvements that would be underway soon on backstreet that would include sidewalks. She updated everyone about the festival schedule for this summer.

Sam Greenwood, Town Manager of Franklin, went next. He spoke of water and sewer improvements that were underway and were planned. A sewer Line through the center of town would be soon replaced, and a water line near Angel Medical Center was also going to be replaced. He spoke of tourism development and addressed budget concerns. The Town of Franklin had adopted a conservative posture with a net cutback of about 5% in all areas in an effort to build up the town reserves.

Expanding the ETJ and areas of Annexation were top priorities for the town. He said that there were several subdivisions and commercial developments were underway or in the planning stages.

Ronnie Beale, chairman of the Macon County Commissioners spoke of concerns regarding problems with the highlands Road in the Cullasaja Gorge, which did not make it through the past winter so well. Like the Wayah Road in the western part of the county, it had undergone periods of freezing and thawing and parts of the roads had collapsed. He said that the NC DOT would be spending quite a while playing catch up in repairing the damage caused by the severe conditions of this past winter.

He addressed the desire of the state government to turn secondary road maintenance over to the counties. He said that the county did not want to get into the road repair business. Macon County has about 580 miles of secondary roads and that in order to properly maintain them, taxes would have to be raised by about 4 cents on the dollar, given that a 1 cent raise would bring around $900,000.

He spoke about the renovation of the old library in Franklin and the re purposing of the building as a community resource, housing a senior services center. He spoke of the Animal Patrol and the Animal Shelter.

Mayor of Highlands
Jack Horton, the Manager of Macon County, continued by noting that both the towns of Franklin and Highlands had adopting the County Animal Control Ordinance as their own.

He mentioned water and sewer improvement projects that were underway and those that were being planned and turned to school construction projects in the county. A K-4 (Kindergarten through 4th grade) school was planned to replace the Iotla and Cowee Schools that would also serve some students who were currently attending the East Franklin Elementary School. He said that it was expected that federal stimulus funds would ease the tax burden on the citizens of Macon County for this project. 

Horton spoke of the Nantahala School renovation that would be taking place over the summer. Nantahala School is a K-12 school. Two of the three K-12 schools are in Macon County. Highlands has a K-12 school. The only other county that has one is Pamlico County. 

He said that in another two to three years, the school buildings in Macon County would be in good shape. Another problem facing Macon County was the desire of Raleigh in the past year was to reduce monies being sent to the counties and offloading responsibilities to the counties, like secondary road maintenance. He illustrated the problem this posed to the counties by noting that the state collects about $150 million from the gas tax and spent about $400 million to maintain the roads. 

Brian McClellan, Macon County Commissioner, reported on the Hudson Library renovation in Highlands. He said that the library board was able to contribute 20-25% to the project, with the county handling the balance. Costs were being reduced by using county maintenance personnel. He said that they were doing quality work. The long range plan for Hudson Library is to transfer ownership over to the county like all other libraries in the Fontana library system. He added that improvements to the softball field in Highlands would be started after the end of the school year to improve drainage.

Bobby Kuppers, Macon County Commissioner, spoke to issues concerning the planning board. He reported that it would take a while to generate a steep slope ordinance. He said that the people involved build on steep slopes, sell properties steep slopes or lived in the areas that has steep slopes. He said that not everyone agreed with each other and that they were in the process of haggling things out. 

He expressed that he has tremendous confidence in these people, that they will come up with something that can be owned by the community. Meetings would soon be held that would seek input from people in the community. People would be given the opportunity to have their concerns heard. 

He said that while it was easier to throw rocks at the end of the process, it would be more constructive to show up at these meetings and contribute then.

Jack Horton brought up the importance of the US Census count in determining how some $400 billion in federal dollars would be distributed to the states, and the only way to ensure that we got our fair share was to get counted. So far, the turnout is much better than the count ten years ago and reminded everyone that if you had a PO Box, you wouldn't get a US Census form...that you would have to seek a form for yourself. 

The meeting ended at that point.