Dan Finnerty – Contributing Writer
The Town of Franklin Town Council, Town of Highlands Board of Commissioners, and
Macon County Board of County Commissioners met Thursday, September 22, for the first time in nearly three years. In the past, the joint session was normally held tri-annually, but as with so many other events, the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily ceased gatherings, with the last one held in the autumn of 2019. This latest meeting, held in the Franklin Town Hall Board Room, included Franklin Mayor Jack Horton, Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor, and Macon County Commissioners Chair Jim Tate, along with other council and commission members. Each team gave a brief overview of accomplishments, ongoing projects, and anticipated challenges going forward.
Mayor Horton spoke on housing issues, efforts ongoing to bolster the Franklin police force, and numerous sewer and sidewalk improvement projects. Horton professed that housing is “an issue for all age groups right now and is potentially hindering additional employment.” He also stated that the town can “bring people in but has to have infrastructure to take care of them.”
Mayor Taylor spoke on a new performing arts center opening within the next month in Highlands. The town also has a new fire department building that will eventually include barracks and 24/7 staffing. He also mentioned paving and sidewalk projects being considered and emphasized collaboration with Macon County being critical to mutual success. Taylor offered that “people outside of Highlands can take advantage of development in part due to partnership with the county.” He also reiterated Mayor Horton’s assertion that available and affordable housing is an increasingly critical need throughout Macon County.
Macon County Commission Chairman Jim Tate spoke about the ongoing project to build a new Franklin high school building. LS3P, a multidisciplinary architectural and planning firm is currently scheduled to present a schematic design in mid-October. He also mentioned a quarter-cent tax initiative will be on the ballot in November to help pay for the ongoing broadband expansion project in the county. Tate iterated that commissioners have “high hopes the effort will result in vastly expanded broadband accessibility.” Similarly, Frontier Internet Service was recently awarded funding that is projected to result in up to 18,000 customers having additional broadband access.
Other items of discussion included road construction/improvement needs and recreational focus that can have beneficial effects on both youth activities as well as overall broader mental health and welfare. Disabled persons’ accessibility at existing and future parks or recreational areas was also submitted as a topic that needs greater emphasis and attention going forward. Franklin Town Council member Stacy Guffey revealed that grants currently exist that offer five-to-one matching for building of disabled children-accessible playgrounds. He, like Mayor Horton, offered that Macon County needs to “take care of the people we have in Franklin, in addition to all those we are working to bring in.” Both Franklin and Highlands council members pointed out that building a skate park is a wise investment. In Highlands’ case, a park is already built and quite heavily utilized by local youth. For Franklin, roughly $167,000 has been raised so far for a proposed new skate park. Construction is expected to begin in late spring or early summer.