The seven Town Board candidates line up for final Q&A: number 6

Running for re-election Tuesday, Nov. 5 are Commissioners, John Dotson, Eric Pierson, and Brian Stiehler. Opposing them are Marc Hehn, Nick McCall, Michael Rogers, and Hank Ross. There are three seats open on the board.

Each candidate has been asked to answer six questions. This week we will feature answers to the final question – question 6 by the candidates in alphabetical order.

Question 6: 

The Highlands-Cashiers Hospital is important to the sustainability of Highlands. As in every other sector in town, affordable housing for hospital employees is an issue and is said to be one of the reasons the hospital is 20 employees short. Do you think the town should assist in this and other hospital matters? 

Also, is there anything else you would like to impart to your future constituents?

John Dotson

Having a hospital has always been a very important asset to the town, but it is not an asset OF the Town of Highlands. The administration of the Highlands Hospital – now the Highlands-Cashiers Hospital has never been within the purview of the Town of Highlands. By agreement and in support of the hospital, the Town provides water and sewer to the facility and adjoining Chestnut Hill.

Highlands has always been a more costly place to live, and virtually everyone who owns or has owned property here has benefitted from the higher values. “Affordable housing” has been the topic of many discussions over the years and it has always come down to land prices and construction costs. 

From the various country clubs to Old Edwards Inn, larger businesses and operations have had employee housing needs and each has taken it upon themselves to resolve their respective housing problems.

The demographics of Highlands do not fall within the guidelines for Federal assistance and the Town of Highlands should not put itself and the taxpayers money in the “affordable housing” business.

Marc Hehn

Yes, the Eckerd Living Center provided excellent care for my mother. That experience afforded me the opportunity to see firsthand the outstanding services available on the Highlands Cashiers Hospital campus. I have taken four patients to the Emergency Room in the last 20 years and always received excellent service. I want to do all possible to keep it that way while acknowledging the need for more Family Practice Physicians and medical staff. I will encourage our Town Board to be a true partner in the effort to attract medical professionals to our area and housing is part of that puzzle. My top goal is to insure out community has excellent health care. The Town can best assist as a true partner with the Highlands Cashiers Hospital Chief of Staff, the Highlands Cashiers Hospital Board of Trustees, the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation, the Dogwood Trust and Hospital Corporation of America to attract medical professionals. The Town needs to have the energy to develop projects that will attract healthcare workers, the money is available from our partners. It is estimated $65,000,000 will flow annually from the Dogwood Trust for healthcare projects in Western North Carolina. The Highlands Town Board needs to be proactive in developing projects that will help our town.

Nick McCall

Affordable housing in Highlands is a subject that does not get as much exposure or attention as it should. This problem has been building for years and it can be contributed in part to the desire and push for exclusivity. I can remember back in the days when Highlands was filled with homes owned by middle income families and property was much more affordable. But with the demand for property ever increasing and the supply decreasing, the real estate market and land values in Highlands have skyrocketed. 

This in my opinion is a double edge sword and has helped to create the problems we now are facing with VRBOs and finding affordable housing for workers. It is not that difficult to understand why our hospital is facing such alarming staffing shortages, or why this has been one of the hardest seasons ever for local businesses regarding employees. Just turn to the back of this paper and look at the help wanted section. What is difficult is solving this crisis. 

I do say when it comes to healthcare or lack thereof and staffing issues at our hospital it really is a crisis. I have many ideas on solving this critical issue and its importance is another reason I entered this race. 

I believe the town could and should get involved regarding this issue in any and all ways it can when it comes to the health and lives of the citizens not just inside the town limits but all those in the surrounding communities. The town simply cannot afford not to. 

There is nothing in this world I am more passionate about than the people of Highlands and this amazing place we get to call home. I take great pride in where I come from and it would be the greatest honor to be able to serve the community that has given so much to me. Thank you all for your consideration of electing me to serve the people on the Highlands Town Board. 

Eric Pierson

For the 20+ years that I have been involved in local government, affordable housing is a topic that is always brought up. We have looked into this issue and discussed it many times, and the conclusion is always the same: affordable housing in Highlands is just not feasible. Granted, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital is a very important entity to have, however, it is a private company and taxpayer monies should not be used to supplement it. Besides, how are we to know that housing is the main reason they are lacking 20 employees. Old Edwards, Wildcat CC, Cullasaja Club and several other large employers in the area have been responsible and created their own housing for employees, which are vital for them to operate. The Town should be supportive of the hospital, where we can, but again, it is a private entity and it is not for the town to be involved in hospital matters.

Michael Rogers

Yes, the hospital is critical to the sustainability of Highlands. If our residents do not feel they have adequate health care and cannot get to the doctors they need in an emergency situation, we may lose a huge component of our economy as they will quit coming to Highlands. 

I am not sure the town should be involved in housing per se, but to help the hospital obtain and or build housing would be something I would be in favor of. The hospital has the property, as well as the sewer and water, to build the housing. We need to see if we can get Federal and State assistance for this project. 

Hank Ross

The Town of Highlands and our community in the past have provided tremendous support to the hospital. The nature of our support has changed now that it is no longer a nonprofit. Community contributions and direct operational influence has ended. Although the hospital is outside of the town limits, Highlands currently provides water/sewer and this should continue. Our local fire and rescue department is also a great asset to the hospital. 

After serving on a local workforce housing committee, I have a greater understanding of the difficulty of constructing low income housing. The most successful formula is to build a multi-unit development with a mix of high, medium and subsidized low-income units. Tax breaks are part of the formula, however Highlands does not qualify due to the absence of nearby grocery and drugstore national chains. I believe that the large number of apartments or condos needed for a project of this type is not something many in our community would embrace. 

I am not in favor of Highlands providing financial support or water/sewer to HCA sponsored workforce housing located outside the town limits. However, I am in favor of encouraging more affordable housing within town using zoning to allow more basement, garage and other small quarters in commercial and residential areas. Having an adequate living wage and affordable housing is a national problem and corporations such as HCA need to address it.

I look forward to serving the citizens of Highlands if elected. We are so fortunate to live in this special town and can work together to make it even better. 

Brian Stiehler

The Highlands-Cashiers Hospital is important to the sustainability of Highlands. As in every other sector in town, affordable housing for hospital employees is an issue and is said to be one of the reasons the hospital is 20 employees short. Do I think the town should assist in this and other hospital matters?

I think that the hospital is one of the most important aspects of the Highlands Community. Like every single business in Highlands, attracting and retaining employees is a serious challenge. While I think it would be great to have local “affordable housing,” I am not sure how realistic that is. If it was feasible, I am unsure how the town would fit into that equation.We will always rely on the surrounding towns of Franklin, Clayton and others to supply labor to our area. I do not think that will ever change. As for assisting the hospital, I think the best thing we can do to support it is use its services, just like we should support all businesses in Highlands. The hospital is incredibly important, but it is also a for-profit business venture which limits the support it can receive from outside entities. There may be opportunities for community groups to take an active role in this kind of support but for now, I think the town needs to proceed cautiously in how it gets involved. If there is an opportunity that presents itself, I would certainly be in favor of studying how the town could help our hospital.   

  • Don’t forget to vote Tuesday, Nov. 5. Polls open at 6:30 a. m. and close at 7:30 p.m.

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