In April, Hospice House Foundation of Western North Carolina president Michele Alderson approached the Franklin Board of Aldermen with an important request. Alderson was seeking their support in the pursuit of a $100,000 grant originating from the N.C. Department of Commerce.
A stipulation of the building reuse grant is that a government entity must make the request and the organization who is awarded the grant must create a certain number of jobs.
The Hospice House that is set to begin operating once the entire $4.3 million price tag is raised and the construction on the existing home is completed, will serve hospice patients all around WNC, a service that the board agreed is much needed before unanimously voting that they would support the grant once the specifics had been worked out.
But as the paperwork piled up and the town manager and town attorney sifted through the details, they found that the grant would require much more of the town than just their support and at the June Board of Aldermen meeting, town manager Summer Woodard informed the board of some concerns.
“Upon investigation of the application, I feel that there is a considerable amount of liability that the town will have to assume,” she told the board.
At that meeting, attorney John Henning Jr. described a requirement of the town to monitor employment stipulations and pursue a “claw-back” expense in the event that the jobs fell through.
On Monday night at the town board's July meeting, he further expanded on his statement.
“The language of the grant makes it clear that the town can be held responsible for the money,” Henning told the board. “On one hand, you've got $100,000 which is a huge hole in the town budget, but on the other, the property value would be increased to about $1.9 million and provide 10 jobs.”
The board members were obviously thrown for a loop at the thought of being held responsible for the money if things were to go awry.
Alderson was present at the meeting to attempt to persuade the board to continue their support and outlined many of the accomplishments that the foundation has secured so far including the purchase of the property and home where the facility is to be located, a $1 million challenge grant from the State Employees Credit Union, and more than $800,000 worth of private donations.
“There is great community support. We will establish a liaison who will meet with the board each month,” she plead with the officials. “Just last week a lady from Hayesville called me to ask if we were up and running. Her husband is in need of hospice care and she says she just can't do it anymore. I had to tell her that we weren't and suggested that she go to Haywood County. The people in this area need the Hospice House.”
She fielded questions from the board concerning a possible start date for construction, slated for next spring; whether HHF of WNC owns the property, which it does; and if Four Seasons Palliative Care — the managing arm of the house, will be attached to the grant – it won't.
According to the information provided in the grant, a recipient has 18 months to begin submitting the requested information, like employment reports. Alderman Farrell Jamison pointed out that the timeline could provide issues.
“I just don't see how it would be done in time to provide the jobs that are required,” he said.
Alderson pointed out that language in the grant says that the time period can be extended at the request of the town.
“Have you thought about approaching the Economic Development Commission? They are really good about helping with projects like this,” Woodard said.
Mayor Bob Scott asked the board if anybody wanted to suggest a motion. Alderman Joyce Handley moved to pass a resolution of support with Barbara McRae seconded the motion but it was defeated in a 2-4 vote with Billy Mashburn, Verlin Curtis, Patty Abel, and Jamison opposing.