Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor
Like every community, Highlands is under great pressure and stress. We are facing uncertain weeks and months a head. All of us need to stay calm as possible and support one another.
Toward the end of the week I too was being “calmness challenged.” The incoming information, rumors, problems and uncertainty were very frustrating. I have always wanted to provide citizens with accurate and up to date information. But, in a state of emergency that goal is a challenge when information and requirements from federal, state and county officials are changing as the crisis evolves.
Let me cover some things that are in effect in Highlands in this state of emergency.
All restaurants and bars are closed to dining inside dining. Some restaurants are providing takeout service. The town has relaxed the temporary sign ordinance, so look for the large take out signs for restaurants providing this service. I want to encourage residents to use the takeout option and support local restaurants. Be sure to tip generously. Our service workers need our support in this critical time.
The governor’s emergency proclamation has also shutdown nonessential service businesses where there is direct contact with customers. These businesses include hair salons, massage parlors, and tattoo shops.
On Tuesday afternoon I convened an emergency meeting of the town board. After an hour long discussion the board voted to extend the existing emergency declaration to include the closing of all hotels and rental facilities until further notice. Included in this order are all upcoming rentals, including VRBO and AirB&B venues. Health officials have witnessed some short term rental agents advertising to come quarantine in Highlands area during the pandemic. Those plans have to be stopped and not allowed. The Highlands Plateau not free from the coronavirus, and we certainly do not want promotions for people to come quarantine here. If you observe anyone promoting this kind of plan, please call and report it to the Macon County public health hotline at (828) 349-2517 or call me at (828) 506-3138.
The board and I do not want to encourage people to come and stay in Highlands during the COVID 19 emergency. While it is not practical to close off the town, or the county for that matter, along with other municipalities and counties we are taking measures to deter visitors and tourists. The traveling and unnecessary movement of people is a primary way the coronavirus is spread and transmitted.
The town is committed to providing essential services throughout this pandemic. We are doing all we can to keep workers healthy and on the job. Residents can help in the critical area of garbage collection. Please, put all garbage, especially medical refuge such as tissues, in a secure trash bag and place all trash bags in a garbage container, preferably a bear resistant toter. Minimizing direct contact with trash bags is a way of protecting sanitation workers. The practice of putting loose bags of trash in a front yard for pickup is a current ordinance violation. Under this emergency the practice is strictly prohibited. The bear resistant toter for residential pickup goes into effect August 1.
Finally, I know many business and residents are under financial stress and worried about paying utility bills. We are following the governor and utility commission’s guidelines in addressing billing in this state of emergency. Be assured, we will not cut anyone’s power and water off during this emergency. Town staff and the board are working on a plan to help businesses manage their accounts during this crisis. Options being considered are delayed payments, rate adjustments, debt forgiveness and generous payback arrangements. The town is committed to help businesses and residents recover from this disaster.
Highlands will recover, and your elected leaders committed to supporting and building a community that is stronger than ever. May God help and protect us all.