Greenway

Greenway extension eyed for 2022.

By Beth Lawrence

 

The year is new, but many of the county commissioners’ goals for 2022 remain the same: continuing work on ongoing projects and completing or readjusting others.

As always commissioners Boyce Deitz, Mark Jones, Chair Brian McMahan and Gayle Woody want to continue to expand the Greenway, protect natural resources and create more public parks.

“I very much want to see us make some big progress on the greenway,” Deitz said. “That’s very popular, and it’s a good thing for our people, getting outside and away from this COVID and stuff and being able to exercise. We’d like to run that thing all the way to Cullowhee.”

The first section of the greenway running along the Tuckaseigee River opened in 2014.

The county is in the process of purchasing property to expand the greenway and local parks.

“Creating user friendly river parks in Dillsboro and Cullowhee on the Tuckaseigee where the county currently owns land,” Woody said. “Development along the river is increasing, and protecting access and the natural beauty of this treasure in Jackson County is crucial.”

More parks would “enhance” areas of the county without park access that are not near Cullowhee and other parks and recreation areas, Jones said.

He points to a new park being developed for the Qualla community. Planning for the park is set to begin soon.

Woody wants to continue working to help the county’s homeless but assuage the worries of residents who believe having a shelter here will only attract homeless people.

“Planning a homeless shelter that meets emergency needs of individuals, children and families without making our community a ‘magnet’ for chronic homelessness, this is a challenge all communities are facing,” she said. “So, we want to learn from others’ efforts as we plan. Planning is essential before final decisions are made.”

She also wants to continue pushing for broadband expansion to the areas where state sponsored expansion falls short. In October Charter Communications announced it had won the rights to expand broadband and cable services to large portions of Jackson County under the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Deitz wants to continue advocating for litter clean up and asks residents to not only be more responsible with their refuse, but to pitch in and clean up when they see trash scattered in public areas. Deitz and his wife, Sandra, pick up trash along their road regularly.

Deitz has another more profound hope for the county and the country, unity, and if not unity at least acceptance.

“I don’t know where it starts, but we’ve got a lot of division in this whole country with people that seem like they can’t look at any other side but their side,” Deitz said. “I’d like to just be as civil as we can be about things. Just because they’re not civil somewhere else don’t mean we can’t be civil. That’s so important. It’s a lot easier to pull the rope one direction than to try to pull it from both ends.”

Deitz is proud of the way the board has worked together despite political differences.

Jones wants to ease traffic problems occurring in District 4 in part by adding a roundabout to the intersection of N.C. 107 and U.S. 64 in Cashiers. He does not think the project will happen this year, but he is optimistic that it will happen.

“There are days when you pull out of Ingles in Cashiers and you sit in a line of traffic from Ingles all the way to the intersection,” he said. “If you’re familiar with Cashiers that’s a couple of miles.”

Jones wants to see extra classrooms added to Fairview Elementary and either construct a new cafeteria or renovate the current one and add classrooms and an auditorium to Blue Ridge School. He believes the ¼ cent sales tax passed in 2016 would cover the cost of the projects.

McMahan is happy to continue working toward objectives the county is already striving to meet.

During budget talks, McMahan wants to ensure that county employees receive better pay.

“The first quarter of 2022 will also see adjustments to the county’s employee compensation plan to adequately address market conditions and make positions competitive with neighboring jurisdictions who just recently made the same adjustments,” he said.

Jones is also eager to see that employees are better compensated.

“We have fast food businesses that are starting employees out at more than some of our county employees are making,” he said. “We have some great folks out there, and we want to give them what they deserve in the way of pay.”

McMahan also looks forward to discussions over how best to use American Recovery Plan Act money now that the county has received updated guidance on how counties are allowed to expend the funds.

McMahan wants to continue “strong” partnerships with the county’s municipalities and the school system on topics such as affordable housing, human services issues, school safety, teacher bonuses and technology needs.

McMahan also hopes to continue working with public health to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With the increase in county-wide vaccination rates, hopefully 2022 will see activities return to a more normal schedule,” he said.

Commissioner Tom Stribling did not return calls requesting comment.