I was on the road last week. My travel was connected to current town issues.
On Monday night Sallie and I drove to Brevard to hear a talk by Tony Buettner about the creation of a BlueZones community. Tony will be in Highlands at 5 p.m. on Monday, June 10, at the Performing Arts Center to do a presentation concerning creating a BlueZones that encompasses Macon and Jackson County, including Franklin, Sylva, Cashiers and Highlands. If you want more information about this BlueZones event, please call Sallie at 828-506-7025. She has been leading the effort to develop this important community program.
On Tuesday night Josh Ward, Rebecca Shuler, Matt Shuler, and I traveled to Franklin to make a presentation to the Macon County Board of Commissioners concerning the Highlands broadband network. I stressed to the commissioners that the network will eventually extend beyond the town and into the county. In fact, we already serve some county residents, and anyone in the county already on our utility grid will also be on the network. I also reminded everyone that Highlands residents are also county taxpayers. When the county develops a broadband network, much of the Highlands Plateau will already have broadband.
I invited the county to partner with the town, like the town and county already does with recreation. The county provides support for the Highlands Recreation Department so everyone in the county has full access to the facilities. I proposed that the county allocate $250,000 a year for the next four years as a capital contribution to the development and expansion of the broadband network.
On Wednesday morning I drove to Hickory to attend the North Carolina League of Municipalities annual conference. I spent Wednesday and Thursday morning attending various workshops and presentations.
A recurring topic was how small communities can develop community broadband networks. Frankly, Highlands is way ahead of most small towns. All small, rural communities now realize providing broadband is an essential utility for their future economic vitality. I told one workshop group on Thursday morning that Highlands is on the verge of building a fiber network. I failed to tell them I was leaving after lunch for a town board meeting Thursday night where the network construction contract would be reviewed.
As I presided over that approval of the fiber network contract on Thursday night, I reflected on what I heard at the conference. I am convinced that the fiber network will be a critical investment in the future of Highlands. Yes, it will cost a lot of money and there are associated calculated risks. On the other hand, to sit back and do nothing is a greater risk to the future vitality of this community.
One of the reasons for a fiber network is that it allows the town to operate a smart utility grid. At the conference I learned that some cities are already operate smart grids where usage and bills are monitored by customers. Highlands is close to offering these options. Stay connected.
-Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor