The Macon County Planning Board continues to consider the needs throughout the county, namely when it comes to the growth that some areas may experience in the years to come. At last Thursday's meeting, Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor was in attendance to give an in-depth overview of the town and the current state of its infrastructure, noting some expenditures that he hoped could be carried out in the future.
Highlands is an unusual municipality in that its population fluctuates throughout the seasons. It has a water plant that produces 100,000 gallons of clean, purified water per day in the winter months, but 1.5 million gallons per day in the summer with a sewer system that produces similar numbers.
Highlands has its own zoning regulations, Unified Development Ordinances, buys its own electricity and boasts many upscale restaurants and hotels. It is a hub for tourists who are visiting western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains which may be a reason that the town and its surrounding area brings in such high property tax income for the county. Referencing a 1,700 square foot home that generates more than $2,000 in property taxes, Taylor pointed to the importance of the income generated by the residents of Highlands.
“I would venture to say that the property taxes that are collected from the Highlands area makes about 40-50 percent of the property tax collected in Macon County,” said Taylor.
Taylor gave the board a list of upgrades that would soon be facing the town that would require assistance from the county.
When asked which project he considers the most important, he pointed to the chlorine gas treatment replacement as the most concerning improvement needed.
"I think the federal and state governments both would like to see us get away from the use of chlorine," said Taylor. "Right now we use chlorine gas cylinders. Homeland security, the state, the feds, everybody is concerned about those cylinders. We bring them up the mountain and store them and we've actually had a small leak before. So we're facing a $650,000 outlay project to convert to an onsite process where we generate bleach instead of chlorine to treat our water."
When the county commissioners initially tasked the board with considering areas of expansion and growth, some members discussed the expansion of broadband internet. Taylor also hinted at potential interest in seeing the venture in Highlands.
"If we had broadband internet then maybe we could attract an IT business of some sort that would bring even more jobs into the area," he said.
The planning board will continue to gather information to present to the board of commissioners. Members are currently considering the infrastructure throughout the county.
The next board meeting will take place on May 15 at the health department at 4 p.m.