The League of Women Voters hosted guest speaker Kevin Corbin, Chairman of the County Commissioners on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Corbin gave updates of the goings on within the board of county commissioners and allowed the audience a chance to ask questions and make comments.
The discussion began with an update regarding the situation of Whitley Products Inc., the local manufacturing plant that closed down recently and that has since reopened for production. The company is currently in a state of‚ “receivership,” which means that the company can no longer pay its bills and therefore becomes bank owned. The bank then puts a third party in charge to run it until it is sold. The commissioners have worked with the Economic Development Commission (EDC) and County Manager Jack Horton to keep the factory up and running. Commissioners, the EDC, and the Town Board have since held meetings with an engineering firm who has shown interest in purchasing the company. Corbin was unable to disclose the name of the potential buyer.
Moving on to discuss the local schools, Corbin compared their current state with how they were in past years when 60 trailers served as classrooms throughout the county. Fifteen years ago, the school board developed a long-range plan that concluded with the completion of the Iotla Valley School that opened last fall. “For the first time in about 30 years, there's not a single kid in Macon County that goes to school in a trailer,” said Corbin, “These schools are state of the art. We've got the latest technology, we have everything that any kid in any state in the Union can have. We have that here in Macon County.”
Stressing the importance of a strong infrastructure, Corbin discussed the new construction taking place at the Macon County pool which has seen very little change in the last 40 years. One new addition that will come with the upgrade is a heater which will allow for a longer swim season, possibly from April and into September and that could also accommodate the swim team and the senior games.
“The kids from Macon County, their parents were starting to take them to Sylva, Waynesville, and Bryson City,” said Corbin. “Our kids at least deserve decent recreational facilities.”
Continuing with the theme of infrastructure, the discussion moved to the Parker Meadows project. Corbin gave an update that reminded citizens where the county is with the proceedings. The county board gave its approval to buy the property that was valued at $700,000 for just over $500,000. Commissioners are waiting for the due diligence phase to end on April 15, before deciding whether a second appraisal of the land will be necessary in addition to the one done 18 months ago.
Following a short mention of tax revaluation that will go out in the Fall of 2015, Corbin moved on to the issue of School Resource Officers. The county currently has five, but the Sheriff may ask for more in the next budget. After voicing concern that people who intend on carrying out attacks like the one in Sandy Hook, Conn., will likely be able to execute their plan regardless of how many SRO officers are on duty, Corbin explained why he still supports the program.
“If we're going to look at SROs, let's look at them for their full purpose and that's to have them in schools to help educate the kids, to help the kids become associated with law enforcement,” said Corbin.
A significant amount of attention was given to a proposal that Corbin worked on with Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan and then sent to Rep. Roger West and Sen. Jim Davis requesting the representatives develop a local bill that would allow a different approach to the state funding of K-12 schools than has been used in the past. Three K-12 schools operate in North Carolina with two of them here in Macon County — Nantahala and Highlands schools. The state funds schools by allowing one teacher per 22 to 24 students, but this can create problems if the total number of students in a grade does not exceed single digits. This bill would request the state to make an exception to K-12 schools and instead of using the number of students to fund teachers, would fund teachers per grade.
“We get one teacher for about four grades over in Nantahala,” said Corbin, “You can't combine kindergarten through the fifth grade. We don't do that. We fund local teachers. We pay for it. Your tax money goes for what the state should pay for.”
Corbin ended the meeting by detailing some highlights of the board of commissioners meeting held two nights prior. He shared information about the possible purchase of new EMS equipment, followed by budget discussions since the budgeting process was set to begin on Feb. 14. County Manager Jack Horton went more in depth by describing what that process would look like. Department heads will develop what they expect to request in the upcoming budget and those documents will need to be submitted to the county by March 15, for review and discussion. According to state law a balanced budget must be submitted to the board of Commissioners by June 1, but Horton expects the process to be completed by April 14. Until June 11, the board will have work sessions which will be followed by opportunities for public comment. The goal is to have the budget in place by June 18, well before the state mandated deadline of July 1.
Also mentioned was a looming plan to revisit the floodplain ordinance and the development of an alternative Needmore plan by the DOT, both of which will likely be topics of future forums.