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Wednesday, 15 September 2010 20:24

Nothing comes easy when Highlands’ town limits jag into Jackson County

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Call Highlands home and you live in Macon County, right?

Not necessarily.

Some town of Highlands residents have discovered they actually live in neighboring Jackson County — which can make matters confusing, all the way from the voting booth to which county responds to a 911 call.

“Those folks could actually get a Highlands fire truck, Macon County ambulance and a Jackson County deputy,” said Warren Cabe, director of Macon County Emergency Services.

And with a general election just around the corner, election directors in both Macon and Jackson counties are starting to sort out which Highlands residents vote in what county.

“It is just confusing for everybody,” said Kim Bishop, director of the board of elections for Macon County. “For us, Jackson County, and all of the residents who are involved.”

The list that has been compiled shows 113 possible Jackson County voters living in the town of Highlands. But the number will probably prove much smaller when it is scrutinized address by address, said Lisa Lovedahl-Lehman, Bishop’s counterpart in Jackson County.

That is because it is often just the end of a road, or part of a road, that creeps over the line into Jackson County. A whole road might be questionable, but in reality, only a few residents on that road usually actually live on the Jackson side.

Prior examinations have shown about 25 people or so are residents of both Highlands and Jackson County.

Ultimately, however, only a few of those identified before the last general election even showed at the polls to cast their vote, Bishop said. Many of the people who live in Highlands, an upscale resort town, are seasonal residents who do not vote in North Carolina anyway.

During general elections, those Highlands residents living within Jackson County’s borders drive to nearby Cashiers to vote and also pay Jackson County taxes. During odd-numbered years, when a town election is held, these same residents vote in those elections in Highlands. This means these dual residents pay town taxes to Highlands and county taxes to Jackson.

The oddity was discovered in about 2001, Lovedahl-Lehman said, when mapping techniques and 911 technologies became more advanced. Address pinpointing became commonplace, and continues being refined, meaning more people might one day discover they live in a different county than they thought.

Over at the Macon County 911 and emergency services office, Cabe is crystal clear about what happens when an emergency unfolds at a residence that might or might not actually be within his county.

“We treat those people just like Macon County folks,” he said.

Emergency responders go to these houses without quibble or question.

Jackson County, Cabe said, kicks in some money every year to help support the fire department for serving its Highlands-based citizens. However, law enforcement — to respond to an official call — must have jurisdiction. So Jackson County deputies, not those from Macon County, must handle legal matters when they arise.

Macon County is no stranger to the difficulties blurry boundary lines can cause, and not just with neighboring counties, but the state of Georgia.

Luckily, the county’s emergency services and law enforcement offices have established close working ties with Jackson County officials and with their counterparts in Georgia.

As an example, residents of both Sky Valley (in Georgia) and Scaly Mountain (in North Carolina) jointly man Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire and Rescue. The people in that area are building a new fire station, which will also serve as a community building.

The Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain fire and rescue volunteers are dispatched independently by 911 offices located in both Macon County and Rabun County, Ga., Cabe said. The looking-after-your-neighbor concept extends even further.

The town of Sky Valley, population about 250, and Macon County, population just more than 33,000, are currently at work on a mutual-aid agreement. This is being drafted in the event a Sky Valley police officer traveling through nearby North Carolina sees an accident. N.C. 106, or Georgia State Route 246, zigzags across the state line five times.

“If they run up on something, they’ll be able to stop and help the people legally,” Cabe said. “They want to help.”

Sky Valley’s five officers are trained to the first-responder level. This is a national designation, so it encompasses all states.

In the event there is a question about which county — Macon or Rabun, Ga. — should send an ambulance, both always elect to send one. This means on occasion, two ambulances respond to emergencies along the state line.

“We have great mutual-aid agreements,” Cabe said.

Routers are used to siphon 911 calls to the proper designation. There is a router in Sylva, with a backup all the way in Durham, to sort out which Highlands phone calls go where. The same is true for the Nantahala community, which borders Cherokee County, though the router, in that case, is set up in nearby Andrews.

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