During the Sept. 20 Town Board meeting, Mayor Pat Taylor spoke his mind.
It’s hard to say which issue riled him the most – the “modernization” of NC 106, tractor-trailers on the Gorge Road, the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) acquisition of Mission Health, or the bear/people dumpster problem in town.
As it turns out, at the Southwestern Rural Planning Organization meeting Monday night, Sept. 24, at which Mayor Taylor chaired, the NC 106 improvement project was nixed.
Staying in the funding pipeline depended on the number of points the project was given in various categories – public comment, environmental, economic development and safety. A project could get up to 100 points. The NC 106 project got 17.63 local points but zero quantitative points, therefore it is no longer in the pipeline.
Instead, attention and the points NC 106 garnered, has shifted to West Main Street in Franklin due to a higher quantitative score and a better chance of funding.
Mayor Taylor said some aspects of the proposed project were good, but not the one-size fits all scenario concerning curbs, rights-of-way, and widening.
Highlands School Principal Brian Jetter said he would like to see the three intersections realigned for bus safety and the mayor said he would still like sidewalks on NC 106.
According to Taylor, monies for those projects could possibly come from another DOT account and could be recycled later.
The Gorge Road
Though not on the agenda, also at the Southwestern Rural Planning Organization Monday night, MC Commissioner Ronnie Beale and Taylor were able to talk to NC DOT Division Engineer Brian Burch about the problem of tractor-trailers traveling up and down the Gorge Road.
“Brian Burch agreed that this needs to be addressed,” said Taylor. “He acknowledged that what’s in place now – the signage and the turnaround – isn’t working.”
Tuesday night, Sept. 25, Highlands, Franklin and the county met for their quarterly meeting – this time in Highlands – and as a coalition, agreed to present a resolution to NC Rep. Kevin Corbin stressing the importance of solving the “tractor-trailer on the Gorge Road” problem.
Various solutions include flashing signs in Highlands so truckers know to turn down NC 106 instead of proceeding down the Gorge Road as well as flashing lights on 441 and again at the turnaround on the Highlands Road, so truckers know not to proceed up the Gorge Road to Highlands.
“I believe with this coalition, something can be done,” said Taylor.
At last Thursday’s Town Board meeting, Mayor Taylor requested permission to send a letter to the NC Attorney General in conjunction with the resolution the town wants to send itemizing its concerns outlined in the Asset Purchase Agreement (APA) between Mission Health and HCA.
However, at the urging of H-C Foundation Chairman Dr. Walter Clark, the board agreed to table the letter until the three entities can go over the terms outlined in the APA so everyone understands its implications, thereby correcting the resolution and subsequent letter to everyone’s satisfaction prior to sending it on to the AG.
What’s most concerning to the Town Board is what happens to the H-C Hospital complex if in five or ten years HCA doesn’t see the bottom line it desires and it decides to sell the property.
“If HCA were to sell the hospital campus, we want assurances that community organizations would have the first option to obtain the facility and continue to provide healthcare access to the community,” said Taylor.
Mayor Taylor is also concerned that if no one steps forward to purchase the hospital to run as a healthcare facility, the property could become a shopping center or the like.
Commissioner Dotson, who was against tabling the resolution, said he wanted a guarantee that a healthcare facility would be here forever.
“I don’t believe Mission has been forthcoming as far as the sale was concerned until it absolutely had to. I have no faith whatsoever that this hospital will be here 10 years from now as a hospital. I, too, would like to see it last forever,” he said.
He went on to say he will only support whatever it takes to continue the hospital.
Commissioner Donnie Calloway said he is still miffed that neither the hospital nor the foundation board notified the Town Board of its intentions to sell to Mission Health in the first place. But he did appreciate the fact that the foundation board has been forthcoming this time – concerning the sale to HCA.
This year has been “the year of the bear” in Highlands.
They are walking through the business district at all hours, knocking over garbage cans, grease containers, crawling in and out of dumpsters – basically making a mess.
In many cases people are to blame, because even though the dumpsters have clip pins and chains that when properly used deter the bears, many times people don’t bother to shut the lids or clip the pins.
At the Thursday Town Board meeting, Mayor Taylor asked the board to give the town staff approval to study the feasibility of developing a bin system for use on Oak Street in particular, like the one John Lupoli constructed for his tenants in the alley behind Town Square. Removing the large dumpsters on Oak Street – some of which are on town property – would also improve the appearance of the street, he said.
“The bin system may curtail residents from illegally dumping their garbage in these commercial spaces and the bear issue would also be reduced,” said Taylor.
The board agreed to have staff examine the feasibility of implementing the proposed system by looking at the costs, fees, location and operation of the system. If doable, the system could make it into the 2019 budget.
– Kim Lewicki,Highlands Newspaper