Last week I began sharing a list of budget priorities that I see for the coming year. The Town Board members will also have their priorities. In the next five months we will go through a process of coming to agreement on a new budget for FYI 2020/21.
I believe there will be a consensus among board members that we need to continue the momentum of paving town streets in 2020. The town spent over a half million dollars in paving roads this past year. There are still many roads that need to be paved. I hope this road paving initiative will continue, and I doubt taxpayers will take us to task for spending money on good roads.
Over the last five years, needed improvements have been made to what was then our aging recreation facilities. Improvements were made by raising property taxes by 1.5 cent per $100 of property valuation. The county also made a substantial contribution to these upgrades and continues to support recreation here on the plateau. The tax has a sunset provision for this coming year. I will propose that we continue the sunset tax, but redirect it toward road improvements.
That redirection would mean that for a period of years, the town would always have about $275,000 earmarked annually for road paving. That base sum could be increased annually to address specific road paving needs. While $275,000 may sound like a lot, to really make progress more funds would be needed. For example, the upcoming paving of the remainder of Cullasaja Drive could easy approach that figure.
Another item on my list is to complete the sidewalk on US 64 across from the ball field and to address the water drainage problem near the proposed sidewalk. There is a natural spring that causes water to run onto and down US 64 at the curve just before Foreman Road. It forms dangerous black ice in the winter. It will take time, funds and engineering to develop a plan that diverts the water into our stormwater system, but it is much needed.
Another project I would like to see completed is to improve the intersection on NC 28 at South and Satulah Streets. The intersection is a confusing conglomeration of yield and stop signs. Lamar Nix, our town engineer, believes there is a design that can simplify and thereby improve the intersection. DOT has already said they would be willing to work with the town in improving the intersection. Almost all of the work would involve the improvements of the two town streets, South and Satulah. Again, this project will require time, planning and town funding.
Finally, working with the Highlands Chamber, downtown merchants and local residents, I believe it is time to review the status of the downtown business area and how improvements can be made. A lesson learned from last years’ tree issue is that any changes and plans will have to come from a broad range of stakeholders.
Happy New Year to all.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor