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News Town and county joint meeting outlines continuing progress and economic boost

Officials from Macon County, Franklin and Highlands met last week to update each other on recent activities. Above, county commission chairman Brian McClellan addresses the group.At a joint meeting held three times a year for Macon County and the townships of Franklin and Highlands leaders met to discuss recent accomplishments and continuing projects within their respective jurisdictions. The meeting was held last Thursday, July 21, over dinner at Franklin’s Cajun Connection.

Mayor of Highlands David Wilkes began the meeting by introducing Bob Zoellner as the new interim town manager, taking over after Jim Fatland was dismissed for performance issues. Wilkes described Zoellner as being a “long-time Highlander from a long-time Highlands family” and having deep roots in Highlands. “We are real happy to have Bob with us, helping us out.”

Wilkes extended thanks to the county commissioners for their assistance in providing a generator for emergency use in disaster situations in the town of Highlands. The town paid $5,000 to have the 250- kw Onan generator transported and installed with a concrete mounting slab at the Highlands Civic Center. The generator, which was donated to the county by William Cheney, will be used to provide power to the town’s disaster shelter in case of emergencies.

Commissioner Ronnie Beale noted the benefits of the generator which now qualifies the Civic Center to be a Red Cross certified shelter, and allows the town to be reimbursed for expenses in disaster situations.

Wilkes offered an update on other ongoing Highlands’ projects, including renovations to the police station and the building of a new post office, which broke ground last week. The building for the post office and the land being used was donated to the town entirely by Jane Woodruff.

Despite the current state of the economy, Wilkes reported that Highlands was experiencing a positive economic boost since the July 4th weekend, particularly in the restaurants and shops and a 12.5 percent increase this year in room tax revenues.

Brian McClellan, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, announced that a comprehensive transportation plan for the county was presented at the board’s most recent meeting and a public hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 9.

McClellan was happy to report that two recent controversies in the county over proposed upgrades to Needmore Road and McCoy Bridge have led to compromise and plans that are more acceptable to the majority of the parties involved. Kuppers confirmed that recent discussions with the NCDOT have indicated that it may be possible to save the McCoy Bridge, for at least pedestrian and bicycle use. “I think we’re going to be able to work that out.”

Commission Vice-Chair Bob Kuppers, noted that after almost 12 years, the extension of the runway at the Macon County Airport has finally been finished. “That was a culmination of 11 or 12 years’ worth of work by the most dogged group of people I’ve ever been around: the Airport Authority.”

Beale spoke on the economic indicators in the county by noting a higher number of building permits have been issued this year compared to previous years. He also mentioned that Shaw Industries and Caterpillar – two of the county’s major corporations – have had strong financial reports.

Alderman Farrell Jamison, the newest member of the board, said that he has noted a positive business climate evolving in downtown Franklin. He said that the Main Street businesses have given him very positive feedback regarding downtown festivals, even those which have closed Main Street off to traffic. “They really like the idea. They feel that it is a positive force on things to improve the economics in the downtown area.”

Alderwoman Joyce Handley said, “Our economy is not where it’s supposed to be, but people are going into shops now. ... Word of mouth is starting to spread that Main Street is open.” She recalled talking to representatives of another town recently who remarked that they would “kill to have” all of their Main Street store fronts occupied as Franklin does.

Franklin’s Town Manager, Sam Greenwood, reviewed progress on the economic development program headed by the town’s Main Street Program. The town is also preparing for a $5.5 million renovation on the sewer plant as well as future expansion on the town water plant. He reported that two major water and sewer projects are in the process of being completed, and a final sewer line project on Wells Grove Road is still in progress.

Commissioner Beale noted that the portion of the Greenway which has been closed for more than a year due to unanticipated difficulties with contractors on the Wells Grove sewer line project, should be reopen later in the summer.

Town Alderwoman Sissy Patillo reported that a planned river cleanup for Franklin’s portion of the Little Tennessee River will be funded by the N.C. STEP Program. She said the goal of the cleanup program is to increase access to the river for recreational purposes such as boating.

Franklin Vice Mayor Verlin Curtis asked that others join him in opposing Duke Energy’s recently announced plans to see a rate increase. “I’d remind you that the Little Tennessee River is flowing freely, though it hasn’t generated any power here in Franklin in over a year, now. You’ve got two generators, one scheduled to be in operation again sometime in December and the other sometime, maybe 2013. ... They’ve got the one in Franklin generating no power at all. If they turn it on, we may not need that rate increase.”

McClellan extended an invitation to the aldermen, commissioners and staff who attended the dinner to join in celebrating the grand opening of the Hudson Library in Highlands on July 31 at 2 p.m.

Earlier in the meeting, Commissioner Beale took time to praise the unique and valued level of communication between the county and townships that the three times a year meetings allow. “We all know the economic outlook for our county—though we may be in better shape than most. But I think that the relationship we have and the partnership that we have formed and worked hard at, will pay off in the future.”


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