At their last scheduled meeting for 2011, which took place on Tuesday, Dec.13, Macon County Commissioners unanimously voted to accept Jimmy Tate to fill the District 1 seat of Highlands vacated by former Chairman Brian McClellan. Tate was nominated by the county’s GOP executive committee at a special meeting last week. Tate will serve on the board throughout 2012 and will be up for reelection in November.
The Board of Commissioners also voted on a new Chairman. Republican Commissioner Kevin Corbin will step into the leadership role in 2012. Fellow Republican Commissioner Ron Haven made a motion to appoint Corbin to be the board’s new Chairman, and board members subsequently approved Corbin’s nomination. North Carolina General Statutes requires county commissioner boards to vote on a chairman annually. Corbin, who was picked by the county’s Republican Party to fill former Commissioner Jim Davis’ seat in Jan. 2010, will serve as Chairman through the duration of 2012. Board members also voted to retain Commissioner Bobby Kuppers as Vice-Chairman, a position he has held since last January.
The county received more welcoming news from Starnes & Associates, a firm hired to conduct the county’s fiscal year audit report. Erica Brown, a representative of the firm, reported to the board that despite the tough economy, Macon County’s finances were in good shape. Brown presented the firm’s Comprehensive Financial Annual Report for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which ended in June. The firm gave Macon County an unqualified opinion, a misleading term which actually means the firm found no internal weaknesses or financial problems within the county’s budget.
Relative to other counties in North Carolina, Macon County has battled the recession quite well, according to County Manager Jack Horton. Commissioner Ronnie Beale commented that the county’s finance department, led by former finance director Evelyn Southard and current director Lori Hall, are largely responsible for ensuring that Macon County’s finances are well managed. Beale noted that a previous board’s decision to keep the county’s fund balance at 25 percent, rather than the state mandated eight percent, has paid off enormously in keeping Macon County frugal.
Board members later welcomed Andrea Leslie with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Leslie is the western watershed planner for DENR, and her team recently completed a comprehensive watershed plan encompassing 154 square miles of the Little Tennessee River watershed between Lake Emory and Lake Fontana in Macon and Swain Counties. Leslie attended the commissioners meeting to present the team’s findings.
Leslie said the location was chosen because of the acute interest of local and regional stakeholders, the area’s natural resources, and cultural landscape. Their objectives were to assess the health of the Little Tennessee River and its tributaries, identify the problems that are impacting stream quality, and develop a set of specific recommendations to restore and protect watershed resources in Macon County and the surrounding area.
A local advisory committee made up of representatives of local government officials, conservation organizations, and resource agencies was formed to complete the project. The group began their study in June of 2008 and completed the project last July.
Leslie revealed that a large portion of the watershed is in good condition, but said that several areas within the 154 square mile zone have problems. Leslie’s report said that the subwatersheds in Iotla Creek, Watauga Creek, Cat and Rabbit Creeks, and the Franklin area were adversely impacted by poor habitat practices. Leslie said that Crawford Branch in Franklin has become highly degraded due to urban storm-water runoff problems.
The primary problems associated with the area studied, according to DENR, were excess sediment inputs, excess nutrient inputs, storm water runoff, tomato pesticides, bacterial contamination, lack of woody streamside vegetation, channel straightening, and barriers to fish passage. Leslie concluded her presentation to the board by offering recommendations to help alleviate the problems associated in some of the subwatersheds. When asked by Beale if there was money to fund some of the recommended projects, Leslie stated that although state money is scarce, there are resources available to counties that actively pursue grants.
Leslie, speaking on behalf of DENR, also proposed for the board to look at two potential county ordinances that could help remedy the problems identified in her report. She stated that a county steep slope ordinance and a storm-water runoff ordinance would go a long way in protecting the county’s resources and addressing existing and future threats to the stream’s health. The policy issue surrounding steep slope development has been extremely controversial in Macon County, and the debate over whether or not the county should endorse such an ordinance has raised intense debate among several county residents, most notably planning board members.
Haven asked Leslie about the implications of a county steep slope ordinance, specifically addressing how the ordinance could resolve some of the problems laid out in her presentation. She responded by saying that a steep slope ordinance, along with a storm-water ordinance, were good preventive measures county officials could use to preserve the area’s natural resources by controlling erosion and other problems pertaining to runoff.
Haven did bring up the board’s take on term limits for advisory boards, something Haven and former Chairman Brian McClellan brought before the board in October. Commissioners did not take up the issue at the meeting last Tuesday, but delayed the debate until next January. “I know there is lots of problems at replacing people on some boards, but there is one in particular, the planning board, that I feel like needs term limits on it. We got some good people out there that deserve an opportunity to serve on that board,” said Haven in proposing term limits for Macon County’s Planning Board.
In consequence to the term limit debate, the board approved of a new policy that allows citizens to apply for a position on a county advisory board. Applications are available on the county’s website, www.maconnc.org.
The Board of Commissioners will continue their discussion on term limits and other matters at its next scheduled meeting on Jan. 16.