Mayor plugs partnering at combined meeting

Last week, Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor, town commissioners and staff traveled to Franklin for a joint meeting with the Franklin Town Council and the Macon County Board of Commissioners. Three times a year, the town and county elected bodies come together with each taking a turn to host the event which includes dinner and updates from each area of the county. The Town of Franklin hosted the recent meeting at the Franklin Fire and Rescue Dept.

In addition to Taylor, Highlands was represented by Town Commissioners Donnie Calloway, Amy Patterson and Eric Pierson as well as Town Manager Josh Ward, Town Clerk Gibby Shaheen and college intern Olivia Stewman.

Partnerships between the elected bodies was the underlying theme of Taylor’s update. He began with a discussion on the county’s critical need for broadband, and the progress Highlands has made in fulfilling this need for the town. He stated broadband is just one area the town governments and the commissioners can partner together for the betterment of the entire county.

“Despite the fact that NC House Bill 129 and NC House Fiber House Bill 431, have stalled, the Town of Highlands has been working on building a broadband fiber optic network for the last five years,” said Taylor. “We are not talking about it anymore; we have signed a contract for $4.6 million and are partnering with a private provider, Wide Open Networks.”

According to Taylor the provider will be investing a substantial amount of money to help build a network that will provide fiber to every business and home in Highlands. He anticipates the investment will also provide an opportunity for Highlands to partner with other areas in the county to expand broadband between Scaly Mountain and Highlands which would create an opportunity for the Otto community to hook onto the network.

The contractor has 300 days to complete the building of the network. Taylor said the only problem is that the big fiber bundles are on backorder because of the high demand; however, in the meantime work is being completed building outside of the network’s central hub. 

Taylor also said a partnership between Highlands, Franklin and the county commission may prevent truckers from using the gorge road. 

“Trucks on the gorge road are a real problem for both of our communities,” said Taylor. “It takes one trucker who doesn’t pay attention to the signs and gets stuck on that gorge road to create a tremendous amount of problems. My goal is to stop the truckers from using the gorge road.”

Taylor said the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has appropriated money to install a radar activated system in Highlands and in Franklin in front of the turnaround. If a large truck approaches, the signs’ flashing lights will be activated and will instruct truckers to go down NC 106 or use the turnaround. The radar system should be in place within the next month. 

According to Taylor, the NCDOT has also suggested cameras be installed on both ends of the gorge road to photograph truckers going by the signs and continuing down the road. The cameras would allow state highway patrol or local police to document truckers who willingly drive past the warning signs and continue down (or up) the road. The use of the cameras would require special local legislation to be passed in the North Carolina legislature. Mayors Taylor and Scott are working with Representative Kevin Corbin, Senator Jim Davis and Brian Burch, Engineer for NCDOT Division 14, to gain legislation to permit the use of cameras on that stretch of road.

Taylor also shared how Highlands is becoming a “bear wise community” to address the increased visits by bears to the town and residential areas. With much of the bear problem being connected to how the town handles its trash, a few changes have made a successful difference in fighting the bear problem. The town trash cans, which the bears frequently turned over in search of food last summer, have been replaced with bear-proof street cans. The town also wants to stop using shared dumpsters in the commercial areas of town which are an invitation to the bears. The plan is to replace the dumpsters with bear-resistant Barricuda toters.

The public works committee is working to implement the same practices in the residential areas of town. Such practices will help with the bear problems and prevent back injuries from hauling trash cans. Eventually, residential trash cans will be replaced with bear-resistant toters which will be emptied using the toter lifters on the town trucks.

Taylor said the county and the town are also partnering to improve convenience for trash disposal and recycling. Currently, the town has two options – the Buck Creek and the Rich Gap recycling centers but he is working with the county to find additional areas for trash disposal in Highlands. 

With an increased fire tax and recent purchase of the old deVille property at Main and Oak streets, the Highlands Fire Department is moving forward with plans to build a new fire department. 

Taylor also spoke of a potential partnership with the county to enhance EMS services in the Highlands area. With the changes in health care, the community has expressed concerns about availability of medical access in a timely manner. He suggested that EMS be relocated to the new fire station and barracks added for emergency responders to help improve response time for EMS and ambulances. 

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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