Abraham Mahshie – Contributing Writer
“We don’t run a homeless shelter. I run a life recovery program,” Lowell Monteith told the Macon County Board of Commissioners Tuesday when summoned by Commissioner Jim Tate to address the situation of homelessness in the county.
Dressed in baggy jeans, work boots and a gray hooded sweatshirt, Monteith patiently sat for more than two hours before given his turn to discuss the dire situation of the addicts at his group home, which currently houses 30 Maconians in transition, including 17 children.
“We’re trying to help them eliminate the bad habits that got them there,” he explained, describing a problem of drug addiction, not homelessness, in the county. Monteith acknowledged that his relationship with the commissioners was rough when he started his program five years ago, but in the last two years, he said he has brought his building up to code and wants to work with the representatives to address the problem.
“It’s a huge issue in the county that just gets swept over,” he said, noting that more than 500 people have passed through his home in five years, including recovering alcoholics and addicts. “People are living in drug houses because of drug addiction where they pool their resources and drugs.”
Getting addicts out of drug houses is the first step, he told commissioners, and his house was at capacity.
Tate agreed the problem needed attention. Commissioner Karl Gillespie called on the planning board to look at community centers that might be used.
“I think the planning board would relish the opportunity to do some real planning that can make an impact,” Commissioner Ronnie Beale said. Nantahala community, where Monteith’s group home is located, will be the first directed to look at community space availability.
Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland followed up Tuesday night on a presentation on courthouse security made the Thursday prior at the commissioners’ budget kickoff meeting, calling on the board to authorize $383,432 for new security equipment and six officers at the county courthouse.
“Twenty thousand people utilize our courthouse each year,” the sheriff told the commissioners in assessing the recommendations of two years of committee meetings spearheaded by Judge William Coward.
X-ray equipment dating back to 2001 has “issues,” and multiple entryways into and out of the courthouse are security concerns. The sheriff’s proposal would involve $133,000 in new capital expenditures for door alarms, surveillance equipment and x-ray machines, and $337,000 per year for six officers to be present at the courthouse protecting employees and the public.
A request for proposals for the security equipment is expected to be announced within a week.
Of broken posts and trash islands
When a local contractor’s truck backed into a post at the community recycling center last year, it was the beginning of the end for the leaky building, which has become unstable.
Director of Solid Waste Chris Stahl told commissioners: “These columns have taken numerous hits.”
The board gave the nod for Stahl’s department to accept a $42,466 insurance settlement check toward replacing the out of date building.
The Department of Solid Waste also plans renovations at county-wide recycling centers to include a single-tier system, instead of ramps and handrails, custom-designed containers, and dual-chamber compactors to make it easier and faster for residents to deposit their trash and recyclables in a central “island,” with new vehicle exits to accommodate more vehicles. Residents would still have to separate their recyclables.
Beale noted that Jackson County has a single stream system where residents throw all their recyclables in the same place: “It’s just so easy. Why can’t we do that?”
He added that once Jackson County discovered that Maconians were using its facility, it instituted a $500 fine.
Stahl said switching the county over to a single stream system would mean paying $5-10 per ton to have a company sort the county’s recyclables, rather than earning upwards of $250,000 per year by selling recyclables as a commodity.
“We have a substantial program built,” he said, acknowledging that some estimates show that 20 percent more people will recycle with a single stream system. He added that estimates also indicate that 25-30 percent of the recyclables collected in a single stream system are contaminated and unusable.
When the new containers and compactors are incorporated, Stahl said, residents will no longer have to file down long, dark corridors to separate their recyclables.
In what became an extended session on solid waste management, the commissioners also expressed their frustration that some part-time recycling center employees have been earning $7.50 per hour for a decade or more, with virtually no raise.
“Those people are the face of Macon County,” said Commissioner Paul Higdon, who called on Stahl to return at the March meeting with a plan for wage increases.
K-9 handlers get back pay
Commissioners emerged from closed session Tuesday to acknowledge three Macon County Sheriff’s Office deputies who deserved backpay for the care of their canine, a move that followed a Fair Labor Standards Act claim settled by the county with another MCSO K-9 handler last year.
“These individuals did not come to the county asking for their settlement,” said county attorney Chester Jones before board members praised the deputies for their work and apologized for the oversight.
Following last year’s resolution, Sheriff Holland approached the board asking for a similar pay adjustment for deputies Clay Bryson, David Blanton and Steve Stewart.
The board approved a total payment of $108,490 in salary adjustments for the three K-9 handlers’ work to care for their animals outside of regular hours.
Greenway connection moves forward, Dog Park to be relocated
Commissioners okayed moving forward with a widely popular proposal to connect the Little Tennessee Greenway under the new town bridge, a joint project with the Town of Franklin. The county expects to contribute approximately $5,000 if the pathway is graveled or up to $17,000 if paved. The county will first explore the possibility of the North Carolina Department of Transportation paying for the paving.
The dog park located at Wesley’s Park must be relocated due to its proximity to nearby wetlands, recreation director Seth Adams told commissioners. A new and larger dog park location was proposed on 1.7 acres of county land at the bottom of Frog Town Hill.
Draft plans would expand the large dog area three-fold while the small dog area would more than double. The new park would require installing public bathrooms, water fountains, benches and a gravel parking lot, and would “clean up an eye sore in the middle of town,” Adams assessed.
“Precious memories,” Beale exuded when he heard the proposed location at Franklin’s former drive-in movie theater.
All Photos by Abraham Mahshie
Lowell Monteith addresses Macon County Commissioners about his at-capacity halfway house for drug addicts and alcoholics in the Nantahala community, which also houses some 17 children. “We’re trying to help them eliminate the bad habits that got them there,” he said.