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After 20 years in Macon County, Caterpillar Precision Seals (CAT) will be closing their doors and moving to Mapleton, Illinois, taking 150 jobs with it.

Since 1995, Caterpillar has operated a plant in Macon County at the county’s Industrial Park off 64W. Generations of family members have worked for the plant and as of Thursday, will now have to find some other means to make ends meet.

The announcement doesn't mean the plant is closing tomorrow, instead it gives a timeline to have the Franklin location closed by 2016. The news was a surprise for local residents.

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A fourth grader at East Franklin Elementary School thought he was just showing off his Christmas gift of a BB gun. While officials quickly determined there was no ill intent, the student will still be facing possible legal implications from his decision.

“We want to ensure the public that we are confident that the student who brought the gun did not have any bad intentions," said Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland. "The gun was not loaded and the student involved, by all reports, is a fine young man who has never had any behavioral issues of any kind while at school. All school and law enforcement officials did an outstanding job handling the situation without interfering in the normal activities of the students. Having said that, any time a weapon is brought into one of our schools we consider it to be a serious offense and must be dealt with appropriately and consistently.”

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Every year seems like a battle as rural school districts across the country eagerly wait to see if they will receive federal funding from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRSCA) or Secure Rural Schools (SRS). This year, Macon County awaits word on $180,000. While the amount of funds from the federal programs have decreased a little each year, the funds have always come, but maybe not this year.

SRSCA has historically provided federal funds which are used to directly fund teachers salaries and crucial education programs throughout the county. Any decrease in funding could lead to a loss in teaching positions, as well as continued decrease in programs such as More at Four and after school programs. The $180,000 Macon County hopes for equates to three teacher salaries.

Despite a bleak look on whether or not the federal funds would be included for 2015 at all, the federal government announced last Thursday that monies would be provided to the rural counties historically receiving SRSCA funds. While funds will be provided, they have drastically decreased.

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While counties throughout Western North Carolina have passed anti-fracking resolutions, and have sent messages to the state declaring their objection to the state's plan to allow it, Jackson County took it a step further.

"Commissioner Vickie Greene made the motion to adopt the resolution and indicated that this was consistent with what many surrounding local governments had done," explained Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten. "She also indicated that she had unsuccessfully tried to get a similar resolution approved by the previous board."

Instead of only passing an anti-fracking resolution last week, Jackson County commissioners also instructed the county's planning board to immediately review the county's current law in order to change the current language, or even develop a new ordinance that would essentially prohibit the practice in Jackson County.

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In order to get from the town of Sky Valley, Georgia to Sky Valley's town hall, citizens have to pass through a strip of Macon County. With the road connecting the town's main city and town hall winding through North Carolina, often times, emergency personnel from the small Northern Georgia town were first to arrive on scene in the event an accident occurred.

While they have often rendered aid while waiting for Macon County personnel to arrive, the two entities just formalized a plan to allow Sky Valley emergency workers to legally operate in North Carolina.

In an Emergency Management Mutual Aid and Assistance Agreement unanimously approved by Macon County Commissioners last week, both Macon County and Sky Valley are given permission to legally render aid along the border road which meanders through both entities.

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Macon County's finance director had good financial news to share with commissioners Tuesday during their annual mid-year review retreat. With four months of the county's sales tax to report, Finance Director Lori Hall reported that revenue is up eight percent over last year.

While the numbers are preliminary, Hall is optimistic the trend shows an increase in revenue for the county for 2015.

"Our sales tax collection is up over last year so far, and with a three month lag in reporting, the increase doesn't even include the holiday shopping months," said Hall. 'While I like to be conservative and it is early, if we continue on this trend throughout the year we could have additional revenue by the year's end."

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For years elected officials in both Macon and Jackson counties have debated where the county line between Cashiers and Highlands falls. With homes in the area valued at millions of dollars, the debate has finally been assigned a monetary value, showing the importance of settling the dispute once and for all.

Shortly after being elected to the board, Macon County Commissioner Jim Tate was approached by a Highlands town official who informed Tate that he paid property taxes in both counties, yet the amounts were incorrect and he was being doubly taxed because both counties had differing opinions of where the property line actually lies. Tate began researching the issue and recently, with the help of Jackson County officials, has been able to put a value on the properties in dispute.

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Each year, Macon County leaders recognize the dedication and longevity of county employees by honoring them during a service award presentation. As milestones in their careers are reached, county officials take time to thank them for being the backbone of what makes the county operate day in and day out.

Employees who reach the 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 year marks each receive a plaque and pin from the county memorializing their service. While it does occur, it is rare that the county has the opportunity to recognize employees beyond 30 years, but this year was different. This year, all commissioners, as well as a room full of people who have worked alongside her for more than a quarter of a century, recognized Fannie Buchanan.

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One inmate learned the hard way Saturday morning, that unfortunately, the Macon County Detention Center does not store their phones in the jail's ceiling.

Cameren Paul Shaffer, 21, crawled into the drop ceiling of his cell and disappeared into the crawl space. When asked what he was doing, Shaffer informed officers that he was only attempting to find a phone to make a phone call.

While attempting to book five individuals into the jail, a loud noise was heard at Macon County Detention Center, alerting officers of an attempted escape in progress.

“At the time of the incident, detention officers had a total of five individuals (inmates) waiting to be processed," said Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland in a statement. "The detention officer went to investigate a strange noise and discovered that inmate Shaffer had crawled up into the drop ceiling of his cell and had disappeared into the crawl space."

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Community asked to report suspicious behavior

Thieves once again stole copper cable from Frontier Communications, this time in the Nantahala area on Jan. 2, and in Needmore on Dec. 30, disrupting communications services and placing local residents at risk, General Manager Ken Maxwell said.

The thefts are the latest in a rash of six copper theft incidents in the four weeks prior to the latest incidents that have left hundreds of customers without telephone and broadband service in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon or Swain counties, Maxwell said.

“These criminal acts affect hundreds of Frontier customers who depend on their telephones and broadband to stay in contact with family, friends and emergency responders,” Maxwell said. “Copper theft disrupts commerce and creates significant inconveniences for entire communities. Some of these thefts have also included stolen or damaged fiber optics cable, which increases the extent of the damage and the risk to local residents and businesses. These outages leave customers unnecessarily exposed in the event of an emergency.”

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