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Winter Storm Warning

The National Weather Service has issued a WINTER STORM WARNING for Southwestern North Carolina, North East Georgia and Upstate South Carolina. The first of the storm is expected to arrive late Tuesday afternoon then turn to snow by nightfall. Eight inches of snow or more are now predicted for Sylva and the surrounding higher elevations will likely see more than eight inches of snow overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday. The National Weather Officials are expecting widespread power outages to occur due to broken utility poles, downed power lines, and falling timber crashing down on utility services. Stay tuned to 540 a-m WRGC Radio for the latest in the development of this storm. On line at wrgc.com you can check on the latest closings and delays should you not be able to hear the over the air broadcast. WRGC Radio has been saturating the airwaves for the past few weeks with information urging families and individuals to prepare for all emergencies. Individuals are warned to make preparations now. First of all know how to contact all family members even in case the cell phone service goes out (which is likely). Make certain there are extra batteries for your radio and flashlights, fill your bathtub with water, and have alternative sources for heating your dwelling. WRGC has installed an emergency generator and special transmitter to provide critical emergency information to Jackson and surrounding counties and can operate for up to 20 hours should the utility service be interrupted. The station can be heard at 540 on the a-m radio bandwidth which is normally the first option on most radios. Should a state of emergency be declared the station will operate at 5000 watts as long as needed. Should there be a power failure the station will operate on emergency power at 1000 watts. Local citizens are encouraged to call WRGC Radio at 586-9742 or 586-2221 with closing and delay information and to report road conditions and closings.

Sheriff Ashe Announces Retirement

Sheriff Jimmy Ashe

Sheriff Jimmy Ashe

Below is the retirement announcement released by Sheriff Jimmy Ashe’s office.

 

After much prayerful thought and reflection, I am today announcing my decision to retire as your Sheriff in December of 2014.  Serving three terms as Sheriff, and many years more as a member of the Department, has been the most rewarding experience in my life.  Serving with and leading the men and women of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office has been a privilege and an honor and the citizens of the County can be proud of the law enforcement professionals who answer the call of duty everyday.

During a career that has spanned nearly thirty-five years, I have witnessed great changes in the County.  While we have grown in population, we have also maintained the remnants of days gone by, with neighbor knowing neighbor and citizens supporting the greater good.

I am proud of what we have accomplished at the Sheriff’s Office.  We have worked diligently to enhance our crime fighting skills with new equipment, robust training, and meaningful relationships with our colleagues at other agencies; local, State and Federal.  I would like to think that we have created the foundation for sustainable relationships with our law enforcement partners.

As I reflect on my many years with the Sheriff’s Office, as a Deputy, Supervisor, Commanding Officer, Chief Deputy and elected Sheriff, I cannot help but recall the many changes we have seen in both the Sheriff’s Office and the communities we serve.  Once a sleepy hamlet imbedded in the mountains of Western North Carolina, we have emerged as a hub of social activity, cultural diversity, educational greatness, and the destination of many, be they tourists or those who have decided to become our neighbors.

Many have served the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office during my tenure, and I would like to thank them for their commitment to our community and the strengthening of our values.  Together we have worked to assimilate our department into the mainstream lives of our citizens; being there when needed and providing for a sense of safety and well-being.

This has not been an easy decision.  I have been humbled by the breadth of your support and the measure of your resolve to help me make Jackson County all that it can be.  But there does come a time when the reins of leadership must be passed to others and I have determined that this is the time.

To my friends, supporters, and all citizens of Jackson County, please accept my most sincere thank you for your trust, confidence, and faith.  I shall always cherish my service with the County I love and its magnificent people. (Press Release from the office of Sheriff Jimmy Ashe)

 

Hearing on Hillside Development Ordinance Scheduled

The Jackson County Planning Board has completed its review of the Mountain and Hillside Development Ordinance (steep slope ordinance). At the Board’s meeting January 9, the proposed revisions to the ordinance were approved and a public hearing was scheduled to receive public comments on the proposed revisions. A copy of the ordinance with proposed revisions and a summary of the revisions are available from Gerald Greene who’s office is in the Jackson County Administration Center. The public hearing is scheduled for Thursday February 13, at 6:00 PM in the Commissioners’ Board Room on the second floor of the Jackson County Administration Building. Please plan to attend the hearing to provide your comments regarding the proposed revisions. You also may provide your comments in writing, via email or mail, prior to the hearing.

WCU Hires Rusty Marts As Director Of Employee Relations

CULLOWHEE – Albert “Rusty” Marts, director of employee relations and
affirmative action officer at the University of North Carolina Asheville,
has been named director of employee relations, training and development at
Western Carolina University.

Marts will begin his new role effective Feb. 1. Kathy Wong, WCU director of
human resources, announced the appointment Tuesday, Jan. 21.

“Rusty brings a wealth of experience to Western Carolina. His background
includes work in the areas of vocational counseling, employee relations and
employee assistance programs, as well as experience with professional
development and training programs. His combination of experience and
education will greatly enhance our employee services goals,” Wong said.

“His focus on services aimed directly at supporting our staff and faculty
will be invaluable, and it aligns well with our commitment to ‘invest in our
people’ as outlined in the university’s strategic plan,” she said.
A new position at WCU, the director of employee relations, training and
development was identified by Chancellor David O. Belcher in his Opening
Assembly address to start the fall semester as among the top priorities for
the 2013-14 academic year toward the goal of improving the work-life
environment for faculty and staff.

“This individual will assist managers on campus by providing training and
information to promote a better understanding of the university’s goals and
policies, and the policies, laws and regulations applicable to the
workplace,” Belcher said in August. “Broadly and generally, this person will
work toward the prevention and resolution of conflict and other issues
between employees and managers. This position represents a real need on our
campus.”

Marts has been director of employee relations and affirmative action officer
at UNCA since January 2008. He previously worked as an employee assistance
regional consultant and account manager for the Employee Assistance Network;
owner/operator of two private counseling services providers; a counselor and
area supervisor for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for the state
of New Mexico; and programs manager and unit director for Mental Health
Resources Inc.

“I am very much looking forward to joining the Western Carolina University
community,” said Marts, a resident of Cullowhee who passes WCU every day on
his way to his current position in Asheville. “I will now have a much better
opportunity to become involved in the culture of campus life. WCU is a
dynamic, growing institution, and I look forward to being a part of this
vibrant institution.”

Marts said he is eager to serve as WCU’s first director of employee
relations, training and development, which he said is an important position
for the institution.

“The employee relations component provides a safe, confidential environment
for management and non-management employees to discuss issues ranging from
the work site to the more personal,” he said. “The training and development
component demonstrates the university’s commitment to the professional
development and advancement of the work force. Truly, investing in training
and development is an investment in the excellence of the work force.”

Marts holds a doctorate in Christian counseling from Bethany Theological
Seminary, a master’s degree in psychology and personnel services from
Eastern New Mexico University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and
Christian service from Manhattan Christian College.

“Play On” Moving Forward

The new chairperson of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority, Robert Jumper reported to the Jackson County Commissioners on Tuesday that a trio of marketing firms including Pineapple Public Relations and Marketing firm has been retained to help the TBA move forward with the next phase of the tourism marketing plan for Jackson County. Jumper explained how some local citizens did not favorably view the “Play On” marketing theme adopted by the County.  Jumper stated that the terminology had tested well in the market research centered on the desired tourist population. One of the firms selected is Pineapple Marketing and Public Relations firm has plenty of tourism centered marketing experience in western North Carolina and north Georgia. While increasing the number of tourists coming to Jackson County is important Jumper further emphasized the importance of having the infrastructure in place to accommodate those coming to spend their vacations in the area. The infrastructure must not only include places to stay, but access to the rivers and lakes, and the means to enjoy all the resources including trails, hiking and the natural resources. Jumper was in agreement with comments made by Business and Industry Director Richard Price that all the messages coming out of Jackson County in recruiting tourism traffic need to be coordinated and consistent.

Western Carolina University Celebrates their 125th Birthday With A Bold Vision

Western Carolina University Chancellor David Belcher and Melissa Wargo unveiled their long term and short term Comprehensive Master Plan Tuesday in a special presentation to the Jackson County Commissioners. Wargo explained how the process to develop a plan to serve as a blueprint for future campus access and building construction was developed. Nor only is the campus poised for growth, the area around the campus is on the verge of significant development as well with several residential and commercial on the drawing boards. Wargo and Belcher stressed the critical need for a significant upgrade to the mid campus area adjacent to the Natural Sciences Building, McKee, and Killian. The plan calls for the construction of a facility which would replace the Niggli Theater property and attach to the Natural Sciences Building which is now forty years old and in need of an upgrade. The road through that property would be closed in order to create a better pedestrian friendly center of campus. While Western Carolina University swelled to over ten thousand students this year Chancellor Belcher pointed out that the University’s future growth would be contingent upon the availability of additional classroom space especially in the sciences. The WCU  Millennium Campus is a large acreage tract of real estate about two thirds of that property is not suitable for development. The plans show how several smaller structures to accommodate the new Health Sciences building could fill out that campus. Also the need to connect the two campuses with pedestrian and shuttle service are in the plans. Two other significant projects were shown one if the eventual change of the main entrance to adjoin the Little Savannah Road intersection which would also connect in with a new road to connect the current road around Belk Building and the Bardo Center with the oldest part of the campus near the chancellors dwelling. The property now known as the camp building would be converted into a 1200 car parking deck. The University has a busy day planned for Thursday with the kickoff of the observance of the 125th anniversary celebration. Activities will take place at the University Center. Also the first 500 fans at the WCU and Davidson basketball game on Thursday will receive a WCU white T shirt to celebrate the anniversary celebration.

Four Forty One Corridor Development Creeping Forward

The Director of the Jackson County Planning Department  Gerald Greene and Jackson County’s new Business and Industry Development  Director, Richard Price gave positive reports on Tuesday about the growth possibilities along what is identified as the 441 Corridor between Dillsboro and Cherokee. Green reported that several plans are emerging which show the property in the vicinity of the Old Mill being the focal point for development in the near future. Several design images were shown which show how the new shopping areas could have more of a town approach rather than a traditional shopping center characterized by a huge asphalt slab surrounded by big box stores. According to Green, one elusive fact is the potential buying power of those passing through the corridor. The second detail is designing a shopping facility which will have the power to attract the motoring public. While several property owners in that area are making long range plans for development. Green added that some other near by property owners have expressed a desire to sell property for future development along the 441 Corridor. Richard Price added that the Whittier property which was once occupied by Drexel is getting more attention from those looking for development opportunities. He also pointed out that his meetings with Swain County and Eastern Band officials have expressed an interest is forming a collaborative entity to move forward with an Agricultural venue. The Commissioners suggested that it might be time to involve the Tuckaseigee Water And Sewer Authority in the planning since the potential for a substantial use of their service could easily be envisioned.

Jackson County Property Evaluation Process On Schedule With No Rate Increase Projected.

The Jackson County Commissioners heard reports from a number of county agencies Tuesday during the annual Planning Retreat which was held at the NC-CAT facility at Western Carolina University. Bobby McMahan and Kevin Ford with the Jackson County Tax Department reported that the property re-evaluation field review of the real estate in Jackson County is about fifty percent complete with all the current data now entered. Also the data for all property sales in Jackson County in 2013 are now entered into the system. With the property reevaluation process underway and the report by Jackson County Finance Officer Darlene Foxx that the county fund balance at the end of the fiscal year was at 35% with just under a million dollars more than the prior year, and Jackson County having the lowest tax rate in the state it was projected by the commissioners that no tax rate increase is anticipated for this year. The Commissioners also felt it was not necessary to move forward with a Fire Tax until an additional review can take place.

Sylva Parade Canceled

The weather system moving through the mountains stalled long enough to create headaches for those in Sylva who had their fingers crossed in hopes the rain would clear out in time to keep on schedule with the Sylva Christmas Parade. The weather did not cooperate and the parade was canceled at 11:30.  WRGC Radio was notified by Police Chief Davis Woodard and the message was also published on the Sylva Downtown Merchants Association website concerning the cancellation. Word has been received at 2:00 concerning the Dillsboro Fireworks display.

WestCare Health System Signs Memorandum of Understanding with Duke Lifepoint Healthcare

Today the WestCare Health System Board of Trustees announced it has signed a memorandum of understanding to be acquired by Duke LifePoint Healthcare. The memorandum is a non-binding agreement that outlines the terms upon which WestCare and Duke LifePoint may move forward to finalize the proposed acquisition.  It also establishes a due diligence and negotiation process, which is projected to take 60-90 days, after which, the parties intend to enter into a definitive agreement. The agreement would then be subject to review by the Attorney General of North Carolina before being finalized.

At the announcement, Steve Heatherly, WestCare Health System President and CEO said, “We evaluated partnerships with several organizations and ultimately chose Duke LifePoint because it aligned with our strategic priorities, including positioning WestCare to reach its full potential in serving its communities.” Also, potential buyer, LifePoint Chairman and Chief Executive Officer William Carpenter said, “We are excited at the prospect of partnering with the dedicated board, management team, clinical staff and employees at WestCare to strengthen their hospitals for the future. We seek to be a collaborative partner with Harris Regional and Swain County and look forward to exploring this proposed partnership further in the weeks to come.”

The WestCare Board of Trustees had said that becoming a part of Duke LifePoint offers many benefits to WestCare’s communities. The organization would become a local taxpayer, providing an important source of new tax revenue to support the local economy. Additionally, proceeds from the acquisition would retire WestCare’s financial obligations and fund a locally-governed charitable foundation to support crucial community needs. Also, as part of Duke LifePoint, WestCare would have access to wide range of clinical, safety, quality and operations experts. It would also have the ability to collaborate and share ideas and practices with staff at nearly 60 peer community hospitals in 20 states through the LifePoint system.

After the 60-90 day due diligence period, should the two organizations enter into a definitive acquisition agreement, that would not be the final step in the process. The agreement would then be subject to review and approval by the Attorney General of North Carolina before being finalized.

Jackson County Transit Now In Their New Home

If you are looking for Jackson County Transit you will not find them in their former location on Skyland Drive in Sylva. Jackson County Transit has completed the move to their new home on Haywood Road just west of Dillsboro next to the Green Energy Park. The Transit Department has operated in the County Services Building that once was the home of Southern Lumber Company. The property was collateral for a loan used to open a full service building supply which was not able to survive with the arrival of the big box stores. Once the County took control of the  building  several departments relocated into the facility including Jackson County Transit and the Driver’s License Office. The property was also a county vehicle and equipment depot. The new home of Jackson County Transit in located next to the Green Energy Park and the Dillsboro Landfill in the former home of Western Builders. The property was purchased from Western Builders several years ago when the well on the property was found to be contaminated by leakage from the landfill. Once a water and sewer line was installed to the property and connected to the Tuckasegee Water and Sewer Authority the building and grounds were used to house portions of the Jackson County Maintenance Department. The former home of the Jackson County Transit Authority will be converted into the Jackson County Board of Elections. Part of the building will contain a classroom, and the county’s voting machines will be stored there. Some county offices now located in the Justice Center may be relocated to the County Services Center to create addition space for the court system.

Jackson County Librarian Retiring

The Jackson County Public Library will be celebrating a bitter sweet milestone with County Librarian Dottie Burnette on December 11th. Burnette will be retiring from her post at the end of the year. Brunette has served as Jackson County Librarian since May 2007, and before that was branch librarian at the Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library, as well as an assistant librarian at the Macon County Public Library and WCU’s Hunter Library. A native of Sylva, Brunette graduated from Western Carolina University and received her Master of Library Science degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As Jackson County Librarian, Brunette oversaw the library’s 2011 move from its previous location on Main Street, currently the Sylva Police Department, to its new home on the site of the Old Courthouse overlooking Main Street. The December 11th reception, held in her honor, will be from 2:00 to 4:00 pm in the Community Room of the Jackson County Library. It is open to the public and light refreshments will be served. For more information, call the Jackson County Public Library at 586-2016.

Sylva Business Group Introduces New Marketing Image

Dig Sylva Buy LocalA group of Sylva merchants have published a new marketing logo for Sylva and backed up with the marketing message of “Plant your $ where your roots are”. Local businesses have struggled for the past five years while the economy has languished in recession. However, numerous economic indicators are showing significant stock market gains, increases in building permits,  and increases in home prices.  Also, local retail sales are increasing, and Jackson County’s unemployment rate is dropping. With these improving conditions, local businesses are making a much stronger appeal to Jackson County residents to shop at their local retailers. Across the nation awareness has been rising of the value of supporting local businesses. One such movement called “Small Business Saturday”, is a grassroots effort to encourage buyers to visit their local retailers, instead of the big box stores, during the upcoming holiday shopping season. With their own take on the message, Sylva merchants are spreading the word to “Dig Sylva, Buy Local”.

The D-S-S Low Income Energy Assistance Program Starting In December

The Low Income Energy Assistance Program in Jackson County will start accepting applications on December 2, 2013. This program gives  the elderly and people with a disability a one time payment to their vendor/provider to help pay cost of heating their home. The program is open to all residents of Jackson County who meet the eligibility criteria, and applications will be taken at the Jackson County Department of Social Services building beginning on December 2, 2014 through January 31, 2014 or until the funds are exhausted. Applications may be made Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Everyone must complete an application to receive the assistance; there is no automatic eligibility to receive this assistance. Households using coal or wood will receive $200.00.

Chamber Of Commerce Publication Wins Major Award

SYLVA, N.C. – The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce recently won Best Relocation-Visitors Guide with Our Town magazine at the Annual Management Conference for CACCE, the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.  Chambers of Commerce in North and South Carolina competed in the two state area.   CACCE is the premier association for leadership and organization development of Chambers of Commerce in the Carolinas.  The awards were judged by Chamber peers across the state region. Jackson County Chamber’s Executive Director Julie Spiro (right) was presented the award by incoming CACCE President, Patrick Coughlin. Julie stated, “Our members make our magazine interesting, and help make Jackson County, our town, a wonderful place to live and work each day. I am happy for the attention this brings to our membership and Jackson County. It’s great to be recognized on the state level!” Our Town magazine is published annually by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and is offered free of charge to people relocating to the area, as well as visitors and area businesses. The magazine is also disbursed in select NC Welcome Centers. (Story by Julie Spiro)

Jackson County Transit Vehicles Now Converted To Natural Gas

Several months ago the Jackson County Commissioners voted to move forward with the conversion of the vehicles used by Jackson County Transit to propane and stop using gasoline for fuel. The Commissioners received a report this week the conversions had been completed. While it is too early to determine the savings of the conversion it is expected that the fuel costs will be about a dollar and a half cheaper than gasoline per gallon. Other counties having made similar conversions report the vehicles have a longer life expectancy, are less polluting, and have no drop off in power with the use of propane. The payback for the conversion is expected to be in between three and five years thus rendering a savings for the remaining life of the vehicle.

The Sale Of The Harris Regional Hospital Property Has A County Property Tax Angle

The Jackson County Tax Collector has been called upon to report on the tax potential which could arise from the sale of the property now owned by Medwest should that property be sold as has been reported by the WRGC Radio News Department. The Jackson County Tax Department reported the property evaluation for the hospital and affiliated property and buildings to be $74 million. Should this property be sold to Lifepoint which is a for profit organization as reported, the property would then become taxable rather than continue to qualify for tax exempt status. Since the property is situated inside the city limits there would be both a city tax and a county tax assessment. The county tax assessment is estimated to be $207.000. The city tax would likely be that much or more. Also as a for profit business Lifepoint would also no longer be exempted from paying taxes on purchases. If the sale closes in 2014 as expected the taxes assessment would become applicable in 2015.

Commissioners Considering A New 9-1-1 Facility And Emergency Operations Center

The Jackson County Commissioners were updated Monday by Architect Odell Thompson on the planned new 9-1-1 Facility and Emergency Operations Center to be constructed on Highway 441 South on the same property where the current 9-1-1- Dispatch Office and Emergency Management Offices are located. This is the property formerly occupied by Duke Power Maintenance Operations. The proposal is for the construction of a new facility to allow for the consolidation of all communications and emergency services in one location. The facility would be constructed to a standard sufficient to withstand most any terrestrial condition so communications and emergency services would not be disrupted during the most severe weather conditions. The the design process which is now underway will include additional drainage issues for the property and security enhancements. The finals are expected to be approved early in 2014 with a targeted date of May 2014  for construction to begin. It expected to take one year for the construction to be completed.

Smoky Mountain High Declared Ineligible for Playoffs

Tonight’s high school football playoff matchup between the Smoky Mountain Mustangs and the Forest Hill Yellow Jackets has been cancelled and will be recorded as a loss/forfeit for the Mustangs. The issue stems from a player who was found to be illegible on the Smoky Mountain squad. During a check of athletic records at the high school, it was discovered this morning that a Mustang football player had an out of date physical on file. As soon as school officials were made aware of the situation, they self-reported the circumstances to the North According North Carolina High School Athletic Association. According to NCHAA policy, any player without a current physical on record is automatically ineligible for competition, and any game that they participated in while ineligible must be forfeited by the offending team. After looking at the documentation, the NCHAA has determined that the player in question is indeed ineligible, and further ruled that SMHS must forfeit tonight’s game. After further investigation, it is likely that the NCHAA will make further changes to Smoky Mountain High’s record for the year. Dr. Mike Murray, Superintendent of Jackson County Schools said, “It will affect their season. There will be retro-active actions taken, but right now that is still under investigation.” Forrest Hills will now advance to round two of the High School football playoffs.

Brenda Anders Receives Duke Energy Citizenship And Service Award At Chamber of Commerce Event.

Brenda Anders who is the Executive Director of the Dogwood Crafters Cooperative in Dillsboro was the recipient of the Annual Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award presented Thursday night at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Holiday Reception. This award is a tribute to individuals or groups who make a difference in their communities or places of work by using their time, talents and compassion to positively impact the lives of others. Recipients of the award help foster a culture of citizenship and service that acts as a catalyst for others to become involved in civic and social activities. Brenda Anders was nominated by the Dillsboro Merchants Association, as well as Carolyn Wiggins, for her continued commitment,  passion, and enthusiasm for the township of Dillsboro. Anders has provided key leadership to the Dogwood Crafters Cooperative which has given hundreds of local and regional artisans the opportunity to market their craft products in a viable way with a Cooperative with a reputation for having sustained uncompromising quality workmanship for a long period of time. Brenda has also led the Dogwood Cooperative toward their long term goal of having their own property in a key Dillsboro location which is critical for the long term success of the organization and opportunities for future artisans from the region. The crystal award was presented by Lisa Leatherman who is the Manager of the Nantahala Division of Duke Energy.

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