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Archive for April, 2011

Government Reaps Where It Destroys

Back in November, the Smoky Mountain News reported that local colleges in Western North Carolina were bracing for state budget cuts that could run as high as 10%. At the same time, the Southwestern Community College in Sylva announced a new degree program to train wilderness therapy leaders. The program’s director, Paul Wolf, justified the program:

While “natural consequences” — i.e. if you don’t make a dry shelter and it rains, you get wet — are still a primary tenant [sic.] of wilderness therapy, the industry has moved to an “empowerment model” rather than a “punishment model.”

Earlier this week, the same paper reported Southwestern’s $8-million construction project should be complete next March. It is reportedly “the first state-funded construction to take place at SCC’s main campus since 1986.” Funds from a bond referendum were also contributed. The building, as was previously reported here, was substantially scaled down. It is green, but it forewent LEED certification to save money. It also took advantage of low bids offered in an all but stopped private-sector construction economy.

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Confusing Math

Henderson County teachers intend to picket the county commissioners’ meeting Monday because among other things, according to Karen Mathieson, president of the Hendesron County Association of Educators.

A 7.5% cut would result in Hendersonville High math classes of 75 to 100 students being held in the school auditorium.

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The Ghost Town is Sinking . . .

It was recently reported that Wheels through Time was the only remaining tourist attraction of any size remaining in Maggie Valley. Now, Wheels through Time is threatening to leave. Reportedly, the move is motivated by the establishment of a nightclub in front of the museum. The museum’s board of directors unanimously decided to relocate October 31.

In a press release, Curator Dale Walksler related:

In spite of its huge successes in drawing visitors to the area, the museum itself has been met with a dismissive attitude and approach from local and regional power structures.

Some people think Walksler is bluffing. Nothing has been reported about a new location.

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Yanked on a Chain

Haywood County is considering increasing the contingency funds in its budget because the state is introducing too many moving pieces into theirs. Schools are still waiting to hear how much will be cut, and the county does not know how much “hole-plugging” will be demanded of them. The state has proposed cuts in its health and human services expenditures. (The numbers in the Smoky Mountain News don’t add up.) Haywood County’s demand for services was described as “busting at the seams,” by County Manager Marty Stamey. In addition, the state has not yet confirmed which four of its prisons would be closing.

In Haywood County, sales tax redistributions are low, and property taxes stayed flat after the recent revaluation. Stamey expected a preliminary run of the county’s budget this year would be $250,000 out of balance. He said that is good compared to numbers from other counties. A property tax increase is not yet out of the question.

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Shades of Bastiat

The extra layer of government created in Sylva to generate economic prosperity is having funding wars again.

[The Downtown Sylva Association, formerly known as Sylva Partners in Renewal] is seeking $25,000 from the town as it moves toward dropping what it claims is an unsustainable funding method – begging for money directly from merchants – developed as a defense during previous funding attacks.

Getting government to do one’s dirty work is not new. The concept was recently updated in post #110 on this site.

Advocating for the DSA, Robin Kevlin claimed:

The Main Street program is a proven strategy for revitalization, a powerful network of linked communities, and a national support program that leads the field.

Why, the same could be said of – anything!

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What Would You Do for Recreational Rail?

According to the Smoky Mountain News:

Depending on which town leader you ask, Dillsboro is prepared to co-sign on a more than $300,000 loan for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad — or, short of that, the town is inclined to help the railroad in some significant, still-to-be-determined manner.

That loan amount is nearly double the town’s annual budget of $171,610.

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Council Discusses Raleigh

The hot topic at last night’s city council meeting was the General Assembly’s runaway, anti-Asheville bill-making. The mayor was perhaps even outraged that the legislators would craft bills affecting Asheville without “having a sit-down.” City leadership was left to find out about the laws by reading legislative bulletins.

One annoyance was a variety of anti-annexation bills. Special legislation had been crafted to de-annex Biltmore Lake, but then several bills had been submitted for de-annexations across the state.

Perhaps the greatest annoyance, though, was an attempt to create a Regional Airport Authority. Currently, the board consists of three representatives from Asheville, three from Buncombe County, and one appointed by the others. Asheville and Buncombe would both be asked to surrender a seat to Buncombe County. Then, the legislature wants to be very picky about qualifications for board members.

Brownie Newman didn’t think that was all bad. He currently serves on the airport authority and says the FAA is so regulatory, it likely wouldn’t make too much difference who was seated. However, the worst part of the bill was that it presumed to convey airport property now owned by the city to the authority, evidently without any provision for compensation.

Councilwoman Esther Manheimer asked if the conveyance would be enforceable or defensible. City Attorney Bob Oast said there was that presumption since the language had made it into a bill. Manheimer countered that when she used to draft bills in Raleigh, she had been told to write things that weren’t Constitutional and let other people deal with the issues down the line. Oast added that a lot of the property had been acquired with federal grants, in perhaps 90%-10% matches. In that event, the city might have a more difficult time demanding compensation.

Council unanimously directed staff to draft in strong language a resolution stating their opposition to the proposed regional airport authority, and another resolution proclaiming their opposition to the “non-deliberative” way the legislators are going about governing.

Council did give a 4-3 approval for the incorporation of Leicester. They gave advocates a big runaround the last time they tried. Members of council thought the area was too large, and they wanted the people to make the decision in a referendum. Newman voted against the measure because he didn’t think the incorporation of rural lands was good land use policy. Jan Davis was not in favor because incorporation advocates had added a section of highly-annexable land from the ETJ to their proposed territory. All along, the incorporation movement has been viewed as a defensive maneuver against potential annexation. Cecil Bothwell cast the other “no” vote.

While discussing legislative actions, Bothwell wished to comment on a couple bills. First, he spoke against the attempt to rewrite the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He said the city had already taken a stance with its Equality Resolution. The resolution put city council on record for supporting civil unions, and committed it to establish a domestic partner registry, anti-bullying ordinances, and policies protecting employees from discrimination on the basis of gender orientation. Mayor Terry Bellamy, who had cast the lone “no” vote, strongly opposed the policy in spite of rudeness and intimidation she continued to encounter for saying so. Bill Russell was absent that day.

Bothwell also wanted to support Patsy Keever’s bill to legalize pot. He said several constituents had asked him to use the big microphone to raise awareness about the bill. Bothwell said in his travels about the country, he has seen big-time differences where marijuana had been legalized. In particular, newspapers had been growing. One could only wonder if the editorials rambled on and on trying to be funny, or if newsprint was the in-thing for rolling paper. Bothwell finally explained: There was an incredible surge in adverts for medical marijuana.

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The Cruel of Claw

The agenda for the February 8 Asheville City Council meeting looked rather thin. It looked as if council might even get out in less than a couple of hours – a feat accomplished only once in the last ten years if memory serves. Unfortunately for those who despise overreaching government yet feel compelled to sit through the meetings, the council chambers filled early with citizens.

“Why are they here?” I asked a representative of CIBO.

“Kenilworth,” she replied.

Funny. I didn’t remember seeing anything about Kenilworth on the agenda. In fact, “Kenilworth” was not explicitly mentioned in any of the staff reports.

However, those in the know knew that two more-or-less housekeeping amendments to the UDO were to be discussed. Planning Director Judy Daniel explained they were meant to clear up language to better reflect council’s intent.

It seems a developer had wanted to construct high-density, infill apartments near a transit line. He owned land and hand enough money to proceed. That was rare in the current market. He proposed meeting many of council’s Smart Growth goals. But, the neighbors didn’t want him to build. They weren’t NIMBY’s, just normal folks who thought Smart Growth was good for other people.

Frank Howington’s proposal made it all the way up to the finish line of Asheville’s development review process, and then city council decided he ought not to build the 100-unit complex on his own property. Regrouping, Howington subdivided the property and came back with two 50-unit complexes on adjacent lots. The smaller project needed only city staff approval, and it was granted.

Neighbors appealed the decision, but the Planning and Zoning Commission ruled in Howington’s favor. The neighbors responded by suing Howington for improper subdivision of his land.

City staff reacted by initiating a rezoning of the property to intercept Howington’s new designs as they came around the pass. As reinforcement, staff rushed two UDO amendments before council to stop the construction. Council split its vote, some members uncomfortable with the hasty, irregular, and obviously targeted manner in which the matter was brought before them. The matters eventually passed with a second reading, giving staff time to discuss the amendments with the normal “key-playing” groups.

An update in the Citizen-Times reports no major progress on any front. The matter is making its way through the court system.

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The Ghost Town Has Landed

A lot of business has left Maggie Valley following the closing of Ghost Town in the Sky. In addition, many Post-Recession families are still hoarding, and not frittering away the few extra pennies they may gain here and there. Business is, however, picking up. For each business lost, the town is gaining one or more. Most are restaurants or nightclubs, but a few cater to novelty interests like beading or custom décor for mobile homes. Manufacturing is not a priority of the city fathers, who are interested in supporting a tourist economy. “Elk watching” and “going to Asheville” are two claims to fame the valley still offers. The town now attributes its survival to Wheels through Time, a museum that draws motorcyclists.

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Connect the Dots – If You Can Draw a Straight Line

The headlines from the Smoky Mountain News look like the plot to some sci-fi pulp. The Haywood County Homebuilders Association is having to remake/remodel itself. Membership has dropped in recent years from 200 to 130. The number of realtors in Haywood County has fallen from 430 to 261 since 2006. Over the same period, the number of building permits issued by the county plummeted from 753 to 416. A big tourist trap, Ghost Town in the Sky, has no chance of coming out of bankruptcy.

In the halls of government, the Jackson County Commissioners are looking for partners to help with the electric bill in the newly-renovated courthouse. Money must also be found to cover higher HVAC operating costs, more payroll for more janitors, and higher insurance rates. Even the state is hurting. The commissioners had to triage their list of road projects to be funded by the NCDOT.

Amidst all the poverty, one thing is certain . . . Booze! Yes! Glorious booze will attract tourists. It’s relatively inexpensive, sometimes addictive, and highly taxable! What better way to turn the Useless Eaters into government revenue!

Harrah’s alone pulled in more than $1 million in alcohol sales last year, and now the rest of the reservation is hungry for a slice of such a lucrative pie.

“It gives them an option to have more revenue,” said [executive director of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce Matthew] Pegg, “and that’s more jobs and more tax and more everything.”

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