Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

Macon County Commissioners made recreation in the county a priority this year by committing to upgrades to both the Robert C. Carpenter Community Building in Franklin and the Highlands Civic Center. Both buildings play an integral part in their respective communities and serve all county residents.

In a recent joint meeting with town and county leaders, Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor thanked Macon County for working alongside Highlands in its recreation program by providing Highlands an additional $350,000 in recreation funds this budget year to help renovate the civic center in Highlands. The county’s $350,000 contribution was part of a $428,000 commitment from Highlands for the continuing renovation of the civic center.

“Over half of the people using the Highlands Recreation Department do not live in the town,” said Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor. “It is a fair and very equitable arrangement between the town and county.”

While the county provided $350,000 to aid in renovating the Highlands civic center, Macon County spent $800,000 to fully renovate the Robert C. Carpenter building located in Franklin.

“Commissioners wanted to invest in the community building because it has been a longstanding central meeting for all county residents,” said Macon County Manager Derek Roland. “Even though it is located inside of Franklin, residents from all over the county utilize that facility for everything from Little League baseball, youth basketball, to the senior games and even our Veterans Memorial Park.”

The county’s continuing commitment to community buildings in both Franklin and Highlands was just one aspect of the overall Parks and Recreation budget approved by commissioners. Annually, Macon County spends about $1,259,000 in recreation. Those funds are split between recreation in Highlands, recreation in Franklin, and recreation in outlying portions of the county such as Scaly Mountain or Cartoogechaye.

The county’s overall recreation budget was split between the Macon County Parks and Recreation Department and the Highlands Recreation Department. For at least the last 10 years, Macon County has committed funding to the town of Highlands in a partnership to provide recreation to Highlands residents. When the agreement first forged, Macon County allocated $350,000 annual to Highlands. As needs have grown, as has the overall county recreation budget, so has the amount distributed to Highlands.

In addition to the county’s portion, the town of Highlands provided $325,645 for the general operating budget for the town’s park and recreation department.

“The county gives the town $550k annually so both county and town residents can use the Highlands Recreation Department facilities,” said Taylor. “If this arrangement was not in place, the county would have to provide recreation programs for everyone here on the plateau.”

The town of Highlands levies a specific tax just to fund recreation in Highlands. Highlands raised town property taxes by 2 cents per $100 three years ago, and those funds can only be spent for recreation capital repairs and upgrades.

Of the county’s $709,000 budget this year that was spent for recreation (not including Highlands), County Manager Derek Roland said 70 percent of those funds are specifically for recreation that falls within the city limits.

Because the town of Franklin does not have a recreation department, Macon County is responsible for all recreation both inside of the Franklin city limits and the county at large. Things such as the Macon County Pool, the Little Tennessee Greenway and Wesley Playground are all located within the Franklin city limits, but are not supported by town funds, but rather solely funded through the county.