The Highlands Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and the ongoing problem of visitors coming to Highlands.
The Highlands Police Department has already begun checkpoints at various times and locations throughout Highlands. For starters, day trippers are being denied entry.
Motorcycles are also being turned around, unless the driver can prove they work in Highlands with employee ID, uniform, or written proof on company letterhead.
HPD stopped over two dozen vehicles on Tuesday at various checkpoints to question drivers about their business.
“If it moved and it didn’t look the part, it got stopped,” said HPD Bill Harrell. “They all had reason to be here. We didn’t get any pushback except from one person.”
Highlands Town Manager Josh Ward and several commissioners said the checkpoints were working to inform and deter visitors.
“These road checks are really working well,” said Ward. “Let’s continue to do that, keep an aggressive approach and ask people why they’re coming to Town.”
HPD has 13 full-time officers and Harrell said manning several checkpoints around the clock is going to be a challenge. Ward said he will work with Highlands Fire and Rescue Chief Ryan Gearhart to hire firefighters to assist manning the check points.
In terms of second homeowners, they are being allowed to return to their homes but are required by law to self-quarantine for 14 days. To hold them accountable; police officers are taking their name, address, phone number, and license plate and may check up with residents in the future. People found in violation of the mandatory 14-day quarantine order can be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor.
“It’s time we let people know we are serious and expect they comply with the quarantine,” said Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Taylor clarified what a 14-day quarantine entails.
“We want new arrivals to stay at their home,” said Taylor. “It is a judgement decision about going to the grocery store. There are different levels of quarantine. If one has an active case of COVID they must follow the public health rules and they are monitored by public health. For people arriving from other areas we want them to self quarantine, isolate and shelter in place for 14 days. We asked people to bring food with them. If they didn’t, we can’t stop them from going to the grocery store. I would hope that they keep trips to a grocery store to a minimum or even getting a neighbor to shop for them.”
The Board voted to approve changing the language of the most recent supplemental proclamation to include all rentals.
It now reads “All Lodging Facilities for example, hotels, motels, resorts, inns, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, RV Parks, vacation cabins, home rentals and any and all rentals or leases by Air-BNB, Homeaway, VRBO and other rental programs shall be closed in the Town of Highlands, EXCEPT exemptions as hereinafter set forth.” See full amended proclamation below.
Harrel said HPD has received numerous complaints about VRBO and AirBnB rentals with tenants coming and going.
“We have, to the best of our ability, confirmed they (tenants) have been there for an extended period of time,” he said. “We’ve got compliance from everyone we’ve visited. Other than follow them around 24/7, there’s not much we can do.”
Harrell added that rental companies that continue to rent to visitors in Town will be targeted and can also be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor.
Taylor said the Board is working with all available information and are basing their decisions on what is best for the community.
“Some people may have problems with this in normal times, but this is an emergency situation,” said Taylor. “We may look like we’re confused and struggling, but we are trying to do something rather than sit on our hands.”
Pictured at the top of the article, a Highlands Police Department checkpoint asking visitors why they are coming to Town on Tuesday.
Highlands utilities update
Effective immediately, with the State of North Carolina Utilities Commission Order Suspending Utility Disconnections for nonpayment, allowing reconnection, and waiving certain fees, the Town of Highlands will not be disconnecting utilities due to non-payment, except where necessary as a matter of safety and waive the application of late fees incurred during the State of Emergency until further notice in correlation to COVID-19.
At the end of the State of Emergency, customers having arrearages accrued during the State of Emergency shall be provided the opportunity to make a reasonable payment arrangement over no less than a six-month period and shall not be charged any late fees for payment for arrearages accrued during the State of Emergency.
No provision in this Memo by Order shall be construed as relieving a customer of their obligation to pay bills of receipt of any utility service covered by this Memo by Order. Online Electronic Payment fees are being waived as an incentive to pay online to limit citizen outside exposure to COVID-19.
Town Hall is closed to the public until further notices as well. Please use the two drop off boxes located at Town Hall, 210 N. 4th Street, Highlands, NC 28741 or at the United States Post Office, 43 Dillard Road, Highlands, NC 28741, make electronic payments or mail utility payments to: PO Box 460, Highlands, NC 28741. If anyone has any questions, concerns or comments on this memo or other procedures during this volatile time, please feel free to call Town Hall 828.526.2118 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. or visit the Town’s website HERE.
Supplemental Municipal Proclamation