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No increase in taxes, more funding for the new public library, the same amount for the schools and a more than 3 percent overall drop in spending highlight Jackson County’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Does the proposal simply sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not, interim County Manager Chuck Wooten reassured commissioners this week when presenting the fruit of Finance Officer Darlene Fox and his labors.

The proposed budget would total just more than $58 million; the general fund would come to just more than $49 million. A budget work session is set for 1 p.m. on Monday, May 9, when commissioners meet with the Jackson County Department of Social Services. At 2 p.m., they will walk through the proposed budget with Wooten to determine what, if any, changes they want to make.

“We just trimmed every department,” Fox explained before the meeting while passing out copies of the budget to reporters.

County employees won’t see a pay increase for the second consecutive year, and there is a net decrease in county employment by 17.1 positions (through elimination of open positions, consolidation of some duties, and privatizing some of the solid waste operations).

Additionally, Jackson County would give the school system the $235,000 extra in capital outlay administrators requested recently. School leaders said during a work session with commissioners that the money was necessary to fix roofs, buy security cameras and meet other basic facility needs.

School board members and administrators also requested commissioners hold steady at the same nearly $6.8 million amount budget this year, which is accomplished under the proposed budget.

The new Jackson County Public Library in Sylva would see funding increase from $500,000 to $675,000.

Mary Otto Selzer, who attends virtually every commission meeting, including this one, was pleased with the proposal. She is the co-chair of the Friends of the Library committee that raised nearly $2 million in donations and grants to furnish and outfit the new library. The former investment banker praised the working budget for containing sufficient funds to keep the library operating at 45 hours per week.

“The county and community have made a significant investment in this new facility and we want to have it open and accessible to serve the communities needs,” Selzer said. “The community had hoped our new library would be able to increase its hours of operation from 45 to 60 hours per week  — the minimum level recommended by the state — but this is wonderful news in view of the current financial climate.”

Selzer said Librarian Dottie Brunette is working to set the hours of operation for the new library complex (they are in process now of moving the libraries books and other resources to the building). Brunette, Selzer said, is hoping to offer at least a couple of days with evening hours to better serve working families.

Funding for nonprofits in Jackson County was held at current year levels. New dollars amounting to $7,000 was provided for Mountain Projects; Webster Enterprises has new funding in the amount of $10,000; and The Community Table, which requested $10,000, was recommended for $5,000.

“It’s not a surprise – it’s a tough economic climate,” said Amy Grimes, executive director of The Community Table, a group helping feed those in need. “Anything we can get in the form of financial assistance is a help.”

Wooten said the financial climate seems to be improving.

“Jackson County continues to feel the impact of the economic slowdown even though some signs suggest things may have bottomed out,” Wooten wrote in his introductory remarks to the proposed budget. “Foreclosures are up and building permits are down; but, overall, it seems we may be witnessing the beginning of a slow recovery.”

Wooten noted that while the ad valorem tax rate of 28 cents would remain the same, and that the fund balance (the county’s rainy day fund) would go untapped, “overall the projected ad valorem tax value and revenues are less than were budgeted in fiscal year 2010-2011.”

The projected tax base is $11,323,240,141, or $74.5 million less than the current fiscal year.

For Jackson County’s book-loving residents, the temporary closure of the public library in Sylva presents true hardship, a time of doing without and intense, shared community pain.

The current library on Main Street closes May 2 while some 40,000 items are toted up the hill to a grand new library beside the renovated, historic courthouse. The library will boost its opening day collection with 24,000 new books, DVDs, audio books and other materials — even portable audioplayers that come pre-loaded with audio books.

A grand opening celebration is scheduled for June 11.

Recognizing the dangers of widespread reader deprivation, Jackson County’s librarians, bookstore owners and others have taken steps to help during this long public library drought.

Library cards are available at Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University, both located in Jackson County. The Fontana Regional Library card possessed by every Jackson County library user is universally recognized in libraries in Cashiers, Highlands, Franklin, Bryson City, and if you are desperate and don’t mind a really long drive, in the Nantahala community, which has a tiny book facility of its own.

Friends of the Library is laying out the welcome mat at its Main Street bookstore, as is City Lights Bookstore’s Chris Wilcox, who nobly noted, “I’m staying open long hours … of course we do that anyway,” he said.


New assistant librarian

Just in time for a new library, there’s a new assistant librarian in Jackson County: Elizabeth “Liz” Gregg, from Radford, Va., has joined the staff. She graduated in 2008 from UNC-Chapel Hill’s information and library science master’s degree program. Gregg spent two years working in the Piedmont area of the state.


Need a book fix?

Librarians at Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University are prepared to welcome the deprived public-library folks into their institutions. Though, it must be admitted, you might find the general fiction a bit lacking when compared to the choices at a public library. The collections, after all, are geared toward academia. But don’t be intimidated! This is a fine time to take on those classics you’ve neglected to read, or to perhaps to peruse a riveting academic journal or something along those lines. A library card at SCC is free; one at WCU costs $10 a year, you need a driver’s license for proof of residency. Additionally, SCC, keep in mind, in particular is geared toward working-aged students, who rely on the library as a place to get away from home for quiet study. That said, “We’re glad to be able to help people,” SCC Library Director Dianne Lindgren noted.


Rely on the library for Internet access, what to do now?

Well, you can ride up and down Main Street in Sylva and find laptop WiFi hotspots, or you can head to Southwestern Community College’s Holt Library and Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library. Frankly, you’re better off at WCU, which has more computers available. Dean Dana Sally said he’s happy to have the university library help out. “A lot of community members — probably 300 — already use our library,” Sally said. “Maybe this will create an uptick.”  


Got book donations?

Don’t throw those old books away! With the library closed, Sandra Burbank, who oversees the Friends of the Library’s Used Bookstore, is urging folks to bring them directly to the store (on Main Street, so you can pick up bread at the same time a few doors down at Annie’s Naturally Bakery, or stop on the way and get a cup of coffee at John’s place, Signature Brew Coffee Company). “At the same time,” Burbank cleverly added about book givers, “they can take a look around the bookstore.” And, she hopes, buy something, which, after all, goes to help fund the new library.


Want to join in the fun?

Then become a volunteer — Jackson County even has a new library volunteer coordinator, Jeni Silver, who is currently accepting applications. The jobs include tour guides, greeters, shelvers, book repairers, book coverers, patrolling and facility monitoring (in short, all the dirty work we really don’t want to spend taxpayer dollars having staff do). Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or snail mail to: Volunteers, P.O. 1122, Dillsboro, N.C. 28725.


Library recruits readers to help

Jackson County’s library has encouraged patrons to check out as many books as they want — boxes of them, carloads of them, moving vans full of them — to help potentially deprived readers during the library closure and to help the library: because, of course, it then will have fewer to move.

Darlene and Isaac Melcher, children Bela, age 1, and Audrey, age 3, took advantage of the library’s largesse one day last week. The couple filled a diaper box and a cloth bag with children’s books, from 60 to 100, in expectations of a month at least without access to the children’s collection.

“They love being read to,” Darlene Melcher said. “They like story time.”

Of course, while Bela is big on pictures Audrey has recently moved on to enjoying a read-aloud narrative, meaning two sets of books instead of one were necessary to sustain the young family.

With Jackson County set to take possession next month of the renovated historic courthouse and new library, commissioners agreed it’s high time to get some ground rules in place for their future tenants.

The county wants formalized agreements not only with Fontana Regional Library, but also with three nonprofits promised space in the historic courthouse: the arts council, genealogical society and the historical society, so that there is “a written understanding on how that building would be used,” County Manager Chuck Wooten said, “and no misunderstandings.”

Jackson County has been grappling with how to pay for the extra overhead associated with the new and bigger library, plus the renovated historic courthouse, in this time of budget restraints. Bigger heating and cooling bills, higher liability insurance and more janitors could cost the county an extra $70,000 to $90,000, Wooten estimated previously.

The three community groups offered space in the historic courthouse had not been asked to share in overhead previously.

“Their understanding is there was no expectation on them to compensate the county in anyway for the space they occupied,” Wooten said of discussions he’s had with those groups involved, adding that he’s putting together a usage and utilities reimbursement proposal based on square-footage usage.

Wooten also raised concerns about liability insurance.

Commissioners agreed that Doug Cody, Mark Jones and Wooten would meet with the other parties involved to reach an understanding.

In other library-related news, Wooten said the county would use a moving company to cart the books and other items from the old building to the new library.

Jackson County Schools isn’t asking for extra money this year from county commissioners despite an expected 10 percent or more cut from the state.

What is taking a back seat in these tough economic times, however, are school-board members’ wishes to build a new gymnasium and fine arts building at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva.

“Our school board is ... unanimous in wanting to finish the fine arts building and gymnasium,” Alie Laird-Large told commissioners during a joint workshop this week, adding that she hopes a “conversation at some point” could take place on that plan. A site has already been prepared.

Laird-Large said she and the other school board members would like to get some architectural designs and plans done, if possible. There were no commitments one way or another from commissioners.

What dominated the bulk of conversation during the work session were the possible state cuts to education funding. Gwen Edwards, the schools finance officer, outlined scenarios if what is currently being considered in the state House becomes reality. As she pointed out, the numbers “are changing by the minute,” so getting a fix on the future is proving difficult.

Funding for teachers assistants, textbooks, school buses and more is on the table, Edwards said. She projected the schools could lose $2.3 million under the House proposal. An additional $1.1 million or so in federal funding, temporary dollars, are also going away this year, Edwards said.

“We knew this was going to happen, it’s not like this was a surprise,” she told commissioners, adding the schools still hope to receive the nearly $6.8 million the county gave the system last year. Everything that could be done to reduce costs has taken place, she said, including not filling vacancies.

“(So) we’re not asking for increase — but if we could get the same amount of money we’d be very happy,” Edwards said.

Additionally, the schools are seeking $235,000 in capital outlay funding, for such items as roof and boiler repairs, more security cameras and a phone-system upgrade.

Commission Chairman Jack Debnam suggested another joint work session take place when the actual extent of state cuts becomes known.

The likelihood of the state Department of Transportation building a bypass around Sylva seems increasingly unlikely after Jackson County commissioners elected this week not to push for the new highway.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 on a list of its top six road-building priorities. Conspicuously absent from that top six was a controversial “connector” from N.C. 107 to U.S. 74, which DOT has pushed as a means of easing traffic congestion in Sylva.

Instead of a building a new road to bypass the commercial artery, commissioners would rather see N.C. 107 redesigned to improve traffic flow — a project four of the five commissioners ranked No. 1.

The connector ranked seventh on commissioners’ collective list, arrived at by adding up individual commissioners’ scores for 16 road projects. Commissioner Joe Cowan, who personally ranked the bypass as his top priority, was the lone “no” vote against the overall list.

SEE ALSO: Where the commissioners stand

For at least a decade, DOT’s bypass concept has faced active and ongoing opposition in Jackson County. Opponents formed an alliance — Smart Roads — to fight the project collectively, and were successful in turning out residents by the hundreds at various meetings on the project. Several of those Smart Roads members were on hand Monday night as commissioners, by virtue of not including the bypass in their top six, in essence voted against a new highway.

“Thank you, thank you — we truly thank you for that,” Pat Vance, a homeowner in the Cane Creek area where the bypass might be built, told commissioners.

Cowan, however, sounded a dour note. He said he believes Jackson County, by voting to exclude the proposed bypass, has sent the state an unmistakable signal: take its millions in road-building dollars elsewhere, down East most likely, a position Cowan emphasized he could not, and would not, support.

The proposed bypass also hasn’t fared well in other public-sampling tests in Jackson County lately. The project wasn’t a top pick on the list of road priorities compiled by Sylva town leaders or the county’s planning board either.

In the end, however, those lists don’t count — only the county commissioners’ list does: Commissioners’ picks are used to help develop a Top 25 of construction priorities for the six westernmost counties, which are grouped together for transportation-department purposes.

For that reason, commissioners needed to be very clear about whether the bypass is — or is not — a priority in Jackson County, said Ryan Sherby of the Southwestern Development Commission, who heads up a regional transportation planning organization.

So be it then, Chairman Jack Debnam said.

“Then I’ll go down as the one who took it down and kept it down,” Debnam responded to Sherby.

Debnam and other commissioners expressed frustrations with the state’s method of developing road priorities, with the chairman characterizing the process as a “roll of the dice” based on hunches developed without knowledge or adequate information.

“We don’t have traffic counts, no accident rates; when it leaves here — after it runs in the paper this week — nobody is going to be mad at anybody in Raleigh or anybody else, it is all going to be our fault,” Debnam said.

Commissioner Doug Cody agreed. He said he isn’t convinced that commissioners’ participation actually counts for much anyway, except to deflect anger from the state toward local government officials. And ultimately, Cody said, he believes the transportation department is likely to do exactly what it wants anyway when the time comes to build or not build roads.

“We’re kind of sticking our necks out for 100 percent of the blame for 15 percent of the influence,” Cody said, adding that he believes something does need to be done to N.C. 107, but that the answer was not this single choice — a major bypass going from two undefined points through five or six miles of the county — that was on the table.

“I believe there ought to be options, spelled out,” Cody said. “I don’t like a pig in a poke. … The way we are voting doesn’t take the need away form some type of improvement — it just voices our apprehension, or displeasure, with the process.”

Clearly frustrated, Debnam told Sherby, “you are coming to five commissioners ... who have no experience whatsoever in planning, and putting this burden on our shoulders.”

Historically, the 14-member state board of transportation, stacked with political appointees, wielded nearly unilateral influence on which roads got built.

But under Gov. Beverly Perdue, a complicated system aimed at being more objective assigns points for different variables. The list from commissioners is one of those many variables.

“I just don’t know what the governor thought … that we could be knowledgeable just by virtue by being elected? I think this whole system is just a way for DOT, or the government or someone, to throw the burden on us and not take any flak,” Debnam said.

Mark Jones, one of two Democrats on the board along with Cowan, joined his more conservative board members in voicing displeasure in the process. Jones said when commissioners are asked again in two years for another list, he hopes to at least have “ballpark figures” attached to the projects to consider.

“Then we might be able to make a little bit better decisions in two years as times and numbers change,” Jones said.

Sherby told commissioners that he believes their decision to not include a bypass around Sylva will have real ramifications.

“It’s my opinion that if you all don’t rank this project high, funding is going to go away for it,” he said.

Western Carolina University’s next chancellor is David Belcher, a classically trained pianist who is currently a top administrator at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Belcher, 53, will start his appointment July 1. His base salary will be $275,000. Belcher was one of three candidates recommended to UNC system President Tom Ross by the university’s 16-member selection committee. The UNC board of governors last week signed off on Ross’ pick of Belcher, a Barnwell, S.C., native.

The names of the competing candidates were not disclosed.

“David Belcher brings to the task more than two decades of academic and leadership experience at highly respected public universities,” Ross said in a nomination speech streamed live via video from Chapel Hill to WCU. “At each step along the way, he has proven himself to be an energetic and effective leader who encourages strategic thinking, promotes collaboration and inclusiveness, and makes student success a university-wide responsibility.”

ALSO: Belcher brings unique skills to new post as WCU chancellor

Ross said he was convinced Belcher has “the right mix of experience, skills and passion” needed in WCU’s next chancellor.


New chancellor faces challenges

Belcher will replace John Bardo, who, with nearly 16-years as WCU’s chancellor, put a distinctive personal stamp on the university and the surrounding community.

Bardo leaves an “enduring and permanent legacy,” said Steve Warren, chairman of the WCU board of trustees.

Enrollment at WCU went from 6,500 to 9,400 during Bardo’s tenure; buildings  —14 — were built or renovated. These include five new residence halls, a dining hall, a campus recreation center, the Fine and Performing Arts Center and a high-tech Center for Applied Technology.

Additionally, however, Belcher inherits a university facing at least $8.6 million in budget cuts from the state, probably more; and a possible leadership vacuum as six or so of the university’s top administrators — provost and finance chief, among others — have left or retired. Even WCU’s marching band director, Bob Buckner, is leaving after this year.

Joan MacNeill, a member of WCU’s board of trustees, said all three candidates submitted for Ross’ consideration would have been excellent choices to fill the university’s top post.

“We had an impressive group to choose from,” she said.


An opportunity for the arts?

Brad Ulrich, a trumpet professor at WCU, wasn’t much interested in attending the chancellor-naming ceremony last week. He was busy, and there didn’t seem much point to his being there. Then Ulrich heard a rumor: the new chancellor was a classically trained musician. And, a top-drawer one, at that — Belcher went to the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, one of the finest institutions of its kind in the U.S.

“With this kind of leadership, the arts could really explode in this area,” Ulrich said, who is helping lead a push to turn WCU into the first ‘All-Steinway School’ in the University of North Carolina system.

Institutions with this designation use only pianos designed by Steinway & Sons, and such an effort requires WCU to replace 50 or so pianos in the school of music. Since Belcher is a pianist, Ulrich said he hoped and expected the new chancellor would appreciate efforts to bring what many consider the finest-crafted pianos in the world to Cullowhee.

Like Ulrich, Will Peebles, director of the school of music, and Bruce Frazier, who teaches commercial and electronic music, expressed optimism that the arts at WCU and in the community might receive even stronger support. Both men watched the video stream from Chapel Hill after, like Ulrich, learning a musician would become their new boss.

“I’m very excited about the possibility of having someone who is sensitive to the arts, and of the very important role it plays in the community,” Frazier said afterwards, adding he was even more excited about what Belcher’s appointment might mean for WCU’s music students.

And, within minutes of the announcement, word had indeed spread through the music department, and the students seemed suitably impressed by the news.

“I didn’t really know if it would go more toward (supporting) the football program,” said Nicole Segers, a tenor saxophone player from Lexington.

Segers explained she had been concerned that UNC administrative leaders, and the university’s board of trustees, would search for a chancellor with skills to specifically build WCU’s football program, which hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2005.

“I think it is good news,” added Ethan Dyer, a baritone saxophone player from Gastonia, of Belcher’s background in the arts. “Even though Bardo really supported the marching band, the music department seemed overshadowed.”

For his part, however, Belcher said he is a chancellor for “everybody,” and not just a spokesman for the arts.

He emphasized the importance of supporting the football team at WCU, because, he said, that’s a large part of the college experience for students and the community.

This isn’t the easiest time to be a real estate agent in Jackson and Macon counties, not with the crippled housing market and a customer base that is, in most cases, hard pressed to find the dollars to buy new homes.

Nowhere is it tougher than the upscale communities of Cashiers and Highlands, a market catering to second- and third-home owners. Here, where houses just a few years ago routinely sold in the millions, the bottom has fallen out.

Terry Potts isn’t complaining. But, as the owner of four separate real estate offices in Highlands alone, Potts perhaps is experiencing even greater pain than most agents.

“In most cases, property has been selling for about half the tax value,” Potts said of the market in Highlands, adding that what has sold are, generally, bank foreclosures.

“I think that’s why they put it off,” Potts said. “And I do think the values are going to drop a good bit — if they truly use values of (properties) that have sold.”

“It” would be the property revaluations, now scheduled to take place in both Jackson and Macon counties in 2013. Countywide appraisals were last conducted in Jackson in 2008 and Macon in 2007, at practically the peak of the housing boom in Western North Carolina.

Macon County commissioners decided to postpone its revaluation from 2011 to 2013; and Jackson County recently opted to push its back one-year from 2012 to 2013. State law mandates revaluation takes place at least every eight years; both counties had been on four-year cycles.

The issue?


‘True’ market value

In both counties, the tax assessors predicted difficulties with calculating true market value when little property has sold. Bobby McMahan, Jackson County’s tax assessor, recently told commissioners one township with 4,000 parcels had just three property sales in three years — hardly enough to establish a baseline.

McMahan wanted commissioners to delay Jackson County’s revaluation until 2015. This would have meant, however, that taxpayers would continue paying taxes for several additional years on what are now hyper-assessed properties. Some residents, particularly those living in southern Jackson County, cried foul — and not just over the possibility of shouldering an unfairly large tax burden, but about the overall level of services the Cashiers area receives back.

“The emotional irritation is that there is a miniscule percentage coming back to southern Jackson County and these townships,” said Phillip Rogers, who lives near Cashiers in the Hamburg Township.

“I’m personally contributing property taxes on two houses … I don’t mind paying the taxes as much as I mind not getting a return on services,” Rogers said.

But even if property values are lowered, it’s unlikely to provide residents such as Rogers tax relief, as he knows. In light of falling property values, Jackson and Macon counties would have to raise the tax rate if they want to bring in the same amount of money.

“That’s true,” agreed interim Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten of the options facing local leaders. “In order to be revenue neutral there would have to be an increase.”

Wooten estimated that staying revenue neutral in Jackson County would require a tax-rate increase of the current 28 cents per $100 valuation to the mid-30s.

The largest drop in property values, not surprisingly, is expected in the Glenville and Cashiers area — the same areas where they had risen so rapidly over the first part of the decade.

Norman West, a longtime real-estate agent, primarily works in Cullowhee, the fastest growing part of the county population-wise, according to the 2010 Census.

Even so, things aren’t good, West said, “but we tend to be a little more insulated than some other communities” because of Western Carolina University.

West said what Jackson County has yet to truly contend with is the crash of high-end developments — granted, many lots in such developments already have been through foreclosure, but he believes there are many more to come. The fallout from the Great Recession isn’t over.

“These are uncharted waters,” West said.


Things that roll downhill

Jack Debnam, a real-estate agent who serves as chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, acknowledged local leaders have been placed in an unenviable position.

To offset the lower property values when revaluation starts in 2013, they will either have to raise taxes or cut county services.

Commissioners might face that dilemma sooner than 2013, however. The county already faces a budget shortfall. Wooten has asked each department to cut 5 percent from their budgets in the coming fiscal year.

There is every likelihood state leaders will shift portions of the $2.4 billion budget deficit they are facing downhill to local governments. After that, there’s nowhere downhill to go — again, local leaders are left to slash services or raise taxes.

“We just don’t know where the state’s going to put us,” Debnam said.

In Macon County, Bob Holt, a Franklin resident and real-estate instructor for Southwestern Community College, said during the first quarter of this year, sale prices were running at 63 percent of the assessed value. He expects to see values drop after this evaluation.

Richard Lightner, Macon County’s tax assessor, said his office could ask commissioners to delay the revaluation again, up to 2015, but that he doesn’t plan to do that.

“I think we need to adjust to where reality is right now,” Lightner said. “The whole premise of doing a revaluation is to equalize the market values.”

Lightner said the lower- and median-priced homes are generally stable — it’s the high end, speculative markets that are down.

While some counties bring in a specialized appraisal firm to conduct the revaluation, others do it in-house with their own staff. Macon County has done theirs in-house in the past, but Jackson is contemplating bringing the reval in-house for the first time.

Lightner said Jackson is likely to “have a difficult time” if it does. Macon is well along in the revaluation process — some 30 percent of property values are done. Jackson is just starting.

Additionally, Macon has experience doing revaluations in-house; Jackson County does not.

“They’re starting from scratch right now,” Lightner said. “I wouldn’t want to do one like that.”

If Jackson commissioners insist on sticking to its target of 2013, Lightner said he expects Jackson County tax-office staff will be unable to make as many on-site evaluations as Macon County, and instead will be forced to rely more on computer-generated assessments.

Sixty-five runners started and finished the first Assault on Black Rock Trail Race at Sylva’s Pinnacle Park on March 19, raising more than $1,400 for the Community Table soup kitchen.

The 8.3-mile course boasts a 2,700-foot elevation gain and forced participants to use hands and feet to scramble to the craggy pinnacle atop Black Rock. Organizers hope the first-time event – which is basically uphill the first half and downhill on the way back, with the last half-mile of uphill featuring a ridiculously steep climb – will catch on in trail racing circles.


“I am very pleased with the turnout, although I am sure the good weather helped,” said race organizer Brian Barwatt. “… The thought that 65 people stood on the summit of Black Rock on Saturday (not including my volunteers) is awesome because I have been up there about a dozen times in the past couple years and have only seen three people on the trail up to Black Rock.”

Participants traveled from as far away as Atlanta and Raleigh.

The top three men and women finishers were:


(1) Chad Hallyburton, age 42 of Sylva, with a time of 1:31:17

(2) Andrew Benton, age 20 of Hickory, with a time of 1:33:12

(3) Sean Botzenhart, age 18 of Cullowhee, with a time of 1:35:19


(1) (11th overall) Ginny Hotze, age 50 of Asheville, with a time of 1:46:42

(2) (14th overall) Hannah McLeod, age 15 of Waynesville, with a time of 1:51:53

(3) (16th overall) Brenda Holcomb, age 38 of Cullowhee, with a time of 1:56:42

Not to say they told you so, but the truth is … they did.

Construction of a wider bridge to span the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County was abruptly postponed this month after Indian burials were discovered. This frankly seemed to surprise only the state Department of Transportation, which had disregarded arguments made by nearby residents and former landowners that it keep bulldozers and such out of the archaeologically rich area.

Keep the project scaled down, the opponents argued. Even though a wider bridge has been planned for more than a decade, initially the state said it would build a new bridge in the same footprint as the old one, leaving the archaeological site untouched. Plans were altered in 2007, however, resulting not only in a much larger footprint, but also shifting the bridge over to sit on top of the site.

Cherrie Moses, whose family owned the land for 120 years, has been a vocal advocate for protecting the archaeological site in a field along the banks of the river. Moses has a long history of tussling over the issue with the state.

“It is an expansive area, which covers many acres near the Tuckasegee River. If work is done almost anywhere in our valley you’re very likely to discover most anything, including burials,” Moses said.

The DOT was supposed to go out to bid on the work in August but has delayed it until March 2012 to allow more time for an archeaological excavation of the site before building over the top of it.

“Protecting the important historical findings we have uncovered during the course of this excavation is vital to preserving the cultural resources of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and local citizens, as well as all citizens of North Carolina,” said Matt Wilkerson, an archaeologist for the transportation department. “We are prepared to take whatever measure is necessary to proceed with the utmost caution.”

The site was recommended for excavation based on previous archaeological discoveries in the area, although they found more than they bargained for. During the course of the excavation, crews found evidence of burials and at least two prehistoric houses, indicated by distinct patterns of post holes that show the outline of where walls stood.

The excavation was halted last fall because of these discoveries, as well as the onset of cold temperatures. The state said it plans to resume excavation of the site in the next few weeks.

Moses also expressed concern about where unearthed artifacts will go.

“It was my mother’s dream that any artifacts and burials be turned over to the Cherokee Museum including those items which were removed in the 1960s without any written permission from my mother or father. These unique treasures, no matter how small, should remain here within these mountains. They should not be taken to the State Repository where they will never be viewed by anyone from our area,” Moses said.

The $4.2 million will widen the bridge from 20 feet to 50 feet with three lanes, shoulders and a sidewalk to reduce maintenance costs, improve safety and reduce congestion.

Where is the new library located?

The new Jackson County Public Library Complex is located at 310 Keener Street in the renovated and expanded historic courthouse at the west end of Main Street in downtown Sylva.


When will the new library be open?

Construction on the complex is scheduled to be completed sometime in April, 2011. It is anticipated that it will open to the public in May or June.


What will be the hours of operation for the new library complex?

The hours of operation will be determined based on the amount of funding available from Jackson County.


Why was the historic courthouse site chosen?

There was strong public sentiment to keep the library in downtown Sylva. The historic courthouse was an unused building in downtown. It was decided that the best alternative for saving the courthouse was to incorporate it into the new JCPL Complex. This allows us to honor one of the most recognized symbols of Jackson County by making it part of one of the most important institutions – the public library.


Who had the vision to save the historic courthouse?

Members of the community initially suggested the idea of incorporating a new library into the historic courthouse.  In October, 2007, the Jackson County Commissioners voted to incorporate a new expanded library into the 1914 historic building and the surrounding grounds.


What will be in the historic courthouse?

The ground floor will house the Genealogical Society, the Historical Association’s museum, a Conference Room, a vending area and built-in display cabinets. The second floor will feature the former courtroom as a multi-purpose Community Room with seating for over 150, the Arts Council’s office and a catering area.


How long did it take to renovate the courthouse and to build the new addition?

Work began on the renovation and the construction in May 2009, almost two years ago.


How much did the new library and courthouse renovation cost the county and how will it be paid for?

The budget for the new complex is approximately $8.6 million.  The County Commissioners asked the community to raise $1.5 million of this budgeted amount. The remaining $7.1 million is being paid by the county.


How much money was raised by the community?

As of the end of February, 2011 the community has raised over $1.8 million.  This includes $100,000 pledged to cover all the costs associated with the fundraising efforts.


When and how long will the old library be closed to pack up and move?

The current library will be closed for approximately one month in order to facilitate the move up the hill.  During this time the public will not have access to the library building, its collection and its computers.  We apologize to all our customers who will be inconvenienced during this time particularly all of the students who regularly use the library after school.


Who owns the Jackson County Public Library Complex and who owns the contents within the building?

The building and grounds belong to Jackson County. The furniture, fixtures, equipment and media materials belong to the Fontana Regional Library.


What will happen to the building where the current library is housed?

The building belongs to Jackson County. The county officials will determine its future use.

Will there be more parking at the new complex?

There will be a significant increase from the 16 spaces at the current library. There are additional parking spaces in the immediate vicinity along Keener Street adjacent to Bicentennial Park. Once the facility has been completed it is expected to be included on the regular route of Jackson County Transit.


How many items will be in the collection when the complex opens its doors?

The library staff will move over 40,000 items to the new facility. Approximately 24,000 new media items - books, DVDs, books on CD, and Playaways have been ordered - including 18,000 items for adults and 6,000 items for our young people.


How many computers will be in the new library?

There will be 16 in the computer lab, four in teen area, both upstairs, and eight in the children’s area, downstairs. These are public access computers.  There will also be several laptops and netbooks available for checkout for use in the library.


How will the new library complex serve the needs of our community?

The library will create a lifelong learning experience with its expanded collection, increased number of computers, and broader offering of programs. Customers will have the resources they need to explore topics of personal interest, access databases for reliable information, use computers to – check e-mails, find and fill out a government form, write resumes, compile a business plan for a new business, complete a homework assignment or compose a poem.  Individuals can sit and enjoy the company of others or find a quiet spot to read and reflect. There will be something for everyone.


What will be available for children and teens?

The Children’s Area, across from the main circulation desk, will be alive with materials, colors, displays, and programs focusing on early learning skills. There will also be a spacious storytime room with a big screen TV and a colorful floor. It will be the largest public space on the first floor of the new building.

On the second floor of the new addition there is an area designed by and dedicated to serving teens.  There will be four computers, booths for use when working on group projects and WiFi throughout the complex. And, for the first time, there will be programs geared to teens.


What meeting, event and conference space is available within the library complex?

There are a number of spaces available for the community to reserve for use. The Conference Room will seat 12 – 14, the Community Room, a multi-purpose room, will seat between 100 – 150 people. The Atrium, and the outdoor terrace and courtyard can also be reserved for special events.

Smaller spaces, which will not require reservations, will be available. There are three group study rooms which will seat eight people, two tutor rooms which are designed to accommodate two people, as well as comfortable seating, tables and chairs throughout the new addition.


How do I reserve space within the library, what is the cost and can they be used after hours?

To reserve space at the complex call the library to make a reservation.  To finalize your reservation you will need to come in and complete a “Meeting Space Contract”.  This document will outline the terms of the use agreement.

There is no cost to use space within the complex for library programs and community or non-profit groups.  For-profit organizations and groups holding private functions, such as business meetings, luncheons, weddings and parties, will be required to pay a fee. The price structure is outlined in the “Meeting Space Contract”.

If the meeting or event is scheduled after hours, a key will be issued to a registered library card holder.


Is there a public address system for use in the Community Room and other spaces?

In the Community Room there is a state of the art sound system installed, along with high tech audio visual and computer equipment. The lectern will have built-in computer outlets so that personal computers can be used from the lectern. A portable sound system will be available for individuals and groups to use in other parts of the complex.


What happens if I want to serve food at an event such as a party or reception?

The library complex has a catering area where food can be warmed or kept cold before it is served at events throughout the complex.


Will there be tables available for use during events held in the complex?

There will be tables in various sizes which can be configured in a number of different ways. Freestanding chairs will also be available for up to fifty. Tablecloths will not be available.


May I serve alcohol at my special event?

The Jackson County policy is not to allow alcohol to be served or consumed in any county-owned building.


How many new jobs will be created at the new library complex?

It is not possible to answer this question at this time. Jackson County, the primary provider of library funding, is in the process of reviewing budget requests. County officials are aware that there will be additional costs associated with operating a facility four times the size of the current library. The county decisions about funding are predicated, in part, on the county’s funding from the state. Additional information will be forthcoming.

Two new positions have been approved and the positions filled – an assistant county librarian and an information technology assistant.


Who will be responsible for maintaining the spaces within the complex?

Housekeeping and maintenance of the facility will be provided by Jackson County.  Individuals or groups who use the spaces within the facility must follow the guidelines for room usage.


What happens when we outgrow the 26,000 square foot library? Is there room to expand at the courthouse site?

The 2007 JCPL Service Priorities and Facilities Plan recommends building two branch libraries of 5,000 square feet each by 2015 to accommodate our growing population.


How can I help?

Community volunteers will be needed to help with various tasks throughout the library complex. Volunteers will be key to the successful operation of the new library. A volunteer coordinator will match volunteers with opportunities. Those interested in volunteering should contact Jeni Silver at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


May I donate collectible books and other items to the new library?

Individuals wishing to make donations of materials to the library need to discuss this opportunity with the county librarian. Books which are considered highly collectible may be appropriate to place in the library’s Genealogy Room. If the book donations cannot be used in the library, materials will be given to the Friends of the Library Used Book Store to be sold. All the profits from the bookstore benefit the library.


Is the Friends of the Library Used Book Store going to close and move to the new library complex?

The Friends of the Library Used Book Store will remain at its current location on Main Street in Sylva. The Friends of the Library will maintain a small office in the library complex.


I use the Internet at the library. When the library is closed, where can I go to access the Internet?

Patrons can go to other libraries within the Fontana Regional Library system. A list will be compiled and shared with the public listing alternative facilities offering public access to the Internet in our area. For people who have their own laptops that are WiFi enabled, there are a number of WiFi hot spots on Main Street in Sylva.


Who can get a library card and how?

Residents of Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties, residents of the surrounding counties and full-time students may apply for a Fontana Regional Library card. All that is required is a picture ID and something with a local mailing address. Part-time residents may obtain a temporary library card for a yearly price of $25. A child can get a card at birth.


Will there be a coffee shop?

There are numerous cafes and restaurants within walking distance. Vending machines will be available on-site as well.


Can food and drink be brought into the library?

Food and drink may be brought into the library and may be consumed anywhere except at the public access computers.


Will there be WiFi and accessible outlets to use to plug in my laptop?

The entire complex will be WiFi accessible. Many of the tables and lamps will have plug in outlets in their base. There will be outlets around the walls near the soft seating.


How can I find out more about the Jackson County Public Library Complex?

Visit the Fontana Regional Library’s website – fontanalib.org and the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library’s website – fojcml.org for the latest information on our library.

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