Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor
Tonight [Thursday] is the November meeting of the Highlands Town Board of Commissioners. It begins at 7 p.m. by way of Zoom. The Zoom information is on the town website for those who would like to join. I had hoped that the town would be back to in person meetings by now, but with the impending surge in COVID, we have opted for caution.
I was downtown this past weekend and was very pleased to see how many folks were wearing masks. At this point the best we all can do is to wear masks in public, socially distance and wash our hands frequently. I am very optimistic that a vaccine will be available before the next Highlands’ season. I will take the vaccine when it is appropriate for me to do so.
Tonight’s meeting has a full agenda. First up will be the presentation of the 2019-2020 town audit by Martin, Starnes and Associates. The audit has also been sent to the North Carolina Local Government Commission for a standard review.
Also on the agenda is a proposed ordinance amendment that I touched on in this column last week. I wrote about a bear resistant toter that had been overfilled to where the lid could not be closed, therefore rendering the container nonfunctional. The amendment to the ordinance will require toters to be completely closed and latched.
The board will also get an update from Kay McHan, the director of the Highlands Chamber of Commerce, concerning plans for a modified Christmas Parade. It will not be the same as in the past, just as the Highlands Town Lighting on the weekend after Thanksgiving will be modified.
There are two closed session items on the agenda. First, Kevin O’Donnell, our electric utility consultant will brief the board on a proposed Duke Energy settlement that involves a number of small municipal electric utilities who purchase electricity wholesale from Duke.
The board will also go into closed session to discuss the selection of a company that will lease the dark fiber on the Highlands Smart Cities Fiber Network. Two companies are under consideration, BalsamWest and Hotwire. Representatives of these companies were interviewed by the board two weeks ago. Since then we have been in a due diligence phase to review both companies financial status and to check references. Under nondisclosure agreements our town attorney and designated staff have examined each company’s financials. They will report to the board. Our town manager has contacted references and other communities that have used these companies’ services and will report. I anticipate the board selecting a company on Thursday night, or very shortly thereafter. The next phase would be for the town to develop a formal contact with that company to operate the network which would also involve them building the underground section of the network as soon as possible.
It is time for the town to move forward with the Smart Cities Fiber Network Project without undue delay.