Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

Before switching the focus to the 2018-19 fiscal year, Macon County Manager Derek Roland highlighted what has been accomplished thus far by the county, without raising taxes last year.

Capital projects were a significant focus of last year’s budget and based on the Capital Improvement Plan completed by the county, will remain in the forefront of commissioners’ minds moving forward.

“In 2017 we have continued to enhance our recreational and community-oriented facilities,” said Roland. “The Robert C. Carpenter Building Renovation was completed in November 2017 with a total cost of that project being $796,000. This building, which has been a staple in our community for over four decades, can now continue serving our local communities and residents for many years to come.”

Currently, county maintenance staff is in the process of pouring a new slab at Tassee Shelter along the Little Tennessee Greenway and is in the beginning stages of repairing the water feature at the newly renovated Wesley’s Park.

The community building was the focus of renovation in the Franklin area, but both Nantahala and Highlands also experienced significant capital improvement projects.

“Commissioners earmarked $350,000 for the Town of Highlands to assist with the Civic Center Renovation Project,” said Roland. “That project is currently under way and approximately half completed.   County maintenance staff installed a new roof on the Nantahala Recreation Center and much needed interior and exterior repairs to the Nantahala Library.”

A large portion of the county’s annual budget is dedicated to the Macon County School System and that was no different last fiscal year. The school system’s capital outlay was increased by $100,000 to help accommodate the growing technological and capital needs. Looking toward the coming year, Roland said that the county is in the process of the latest school project, a renovation at South Macon Elementary School. The six classroom addition and cafeteria expansion is a $3 million project that will bring the county’s 10-year commitment to school infrastructure to nearly $60 million.

Public safety was also a focus last budget year and several projects continue to be active with half of the fiscal year complete.

“Detention Center Roof Replacement project is now under contract for $85,920 and will be completed in the coming months,” said Roland. “This much needed improvement was significantly under the budget amount of $150,000.”

The MCSO also received six new AWD patrol vehicles in November for $181,973.To date, three of the vehicles have been outfitted by emergency management and are now in operation.  The remaining three vehicles are expected to come on-line in the near future.

While touting the county’s accomplishments, Roland cautioned commissioners against the challenges ahead for the county and the budget constraints they are facing.

“As each of you are well aware, health insurance and changes to our health insurance plan have been at the forefront of our budget discussions each and every year,” said Roland. “It has truly been a roller coaster ride from making plan changes and switching providers in FY ’15 which led to the first increase in this funds net position in nearly a decade to end FY ’16, to a terrible claims year in FY ’17 which resulted in a $432,000 decrease to the net position leaving only $97,008 remaining. This led to yet another round of changes to the health insurance plan prior to FY ’18, as well as a $261,802 transfer from the general fund into the health insurance fund. As of Jan. 31, 2018, our revenues are outpacing our expenditures by $232,773 in the health insurance fund. While this looks good on the surface, this surplus does include a stop-loss reimbursement from the prior year of $267,915.”

Roland mentioned that changes at Mission Hospital and Angel Medical Center are having an adverse effect locally. “As more services move from Angel Medical Center to the Mission campus in Asheville and surrounding areas, the demand for county services particularly on departments such as EMS and health department continue to increase,” said Roland.