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Wednesday, 03 January 2007 00:00

Hopeful thinking for the coming year

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New Year’s resolutions? Don’t believe in most of them, especially those that are akin to a miracle diet or those no-risk investments tips that keep junking up the inbox in our email program. A sound resolution is more of a decision to dedicate one’s self to hard work and perseverance, not capricious fantasizing about how one wishes things could be.

 

With that in mind, we hope leaders — and the citizens who hold them accountable — will make 2007 a kind of Year of the Mountains, a time when we get a handle lingering issues that threaten a lot of what’s good in this region. Here’s a few examples that provide hope or leave us hopeful for a resolution.

Haywood County

The groundwork has been laid for the creation of a Haywood County land trust. A study group has recommended a couple of different scenarios for how this organization could be set up, and we encourage county commissioners to pursue this goal.

We all know the dilemma many landowners are facing, especially farmers nearing retirement age. Developers are pushing up the asking price for large tracts of land, meaning the tax burden is also increasing as the market value goes up. Polls have shown that citizens think using tax money to invest in green space is important, so now is the time to try and save some of this land.

Mountain ways being what they are, the concept of local land trusts with boards made up of local people seems the best method for protecting some of this land. This is an idea that must come to fruition in 2007.

Jackson County

With the recent election, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners appears to be set for a run of enlightened leadership over the next couple of years.

To begin with, we were impressed when this board adopted a resolution in support of the statewide Land for Tomorrow campaign. That is the initiative to protect farm and forestland and create new wildlife preserves. The General Assembly will consider funding the initiative when it goes into session in a few weeks.

The board’s resolution of support pointed to the quality of life, health and economic benefits of conservation, comparing the payoff for such as investment as similar to that from investing in schools and roads.

“We need to do some things if we’re going to protect the things that are important to us,” said Commissioner Tom Massie.

The majority on this board ran on a pro-planning and wise land-use campaign, and we expect Jackson County citizens will reap the benefits of their leadership in this area.

Macon County

This is a county in need of a comprehensive land-use plan, and it needs to get it done as quickly as possible.

Macon is in a precarious situation as land is being developed very quickly and the county is straining to keep pace. Just last week an emergency meeting had to be called to discuss how to deal with a backlog of 270 applications for septic tank permits. Last month county commissioners were forced to enact a moratorium on high-rise buildings to block what had been rumored to be a 10-story condominium to be built on the outskirts of Highlands.

Every county must find ways to deal with the rapid growth we all see around us, but it starts with a good plan and adequate investment in personnel like inspectors and professional planners. A good staff helps provide elected officials with the expertise and advice to help develop a good plan. So far Macon has suffered from taking a slow and somewhat piecemeal approach to planning. Here’s hoping all of that changes in 2007.

Swain County

The county commissioners’ recent adoption of a new policy for how it conducts meetings should lead to a more open and responsive government. That’s always a welcome move, and we think Swain citizens will reap the benefits.

During the November election several county commission candidates made an issue of the fact that too much was being decided without public input. When almost immediately after the election but before new commissioners were sworn in a vote was taken to change the way business was conducted at the sheriff’s office, it seemed to confirm the issue raised during the election. Never mind that the change at the sheriff’s office did away with an outdated meals-for-pay system, the fact is that the vote was taken during a tense meeting where commissioners refused to let the public speak.

Public meetings should not be conducted in an arbitrary fashion. There should be published rules for how the public can make comment, and citizens should be able to see meeting agendas prior to the meeting. The new policy includes measures addressing these issues and more, and it’s always positive when one sees evidence that elected leaders are listening to their constituents. Swain County citizens now must make use of this new policy to make sure their voices are heard.

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