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Swain Board of Commissioners Discuss Three Main Issues

The Swain County Board of Commissioners convened for a workshop on Tuesday, October 3, delving into several key subjects. The agenda encompassed discussions on potential enhancements to the event park, a comprehensive presentation on broadband accessibility within the county, and a heated debate on whether to increase taxes to facilitate the hiring of additional paid firefighter positions.

The Swain County Broadband Committee, led by Julie Thorner and Leonard Winchester, presented an extensive array of government initiatives and projects aimed at bringing high-speed internet to the Swain County region. The underlying challenge is the rugged, mountainous terrain of Western North Carolina, which often results in unreliable WiFi connections. Many broadband providers are reluctant to expand their services into the most remote corners of the region, as they perceive inadequate returns for their investments in sparsely populated rural areas.

The primary goal of the Broadband Committee is to secure grants and incentives that would entice broadband providers to expand their services, thereby ensuring universal access to high-speed internet. Thorner noted that Zito Media, a recipient of an award for broadband development, is diligently working to enhance connectivity in the area. Similarly, Cherokee CableVision has obtained a grant to facilitate broadband installation in 548 locations.

However, concerns were raised about Charter/CCO, a company that received a grant but has not initiated any work within the county. If the allocated funds remain unused within a six-year timeframe, they will expire. Thorner expressed their commitment to ensuring that Charter/CCO fulfills its obligations.

In another significant matter, County Manager Kevin King discussed plans to augment the number of paid firefighters. This ongoing debate has been ongoing for several months. King and other proponents, including Commissioner Phil Carson, argued that increasing the number of paid firefighters would lead to more rapid and comprehensive response times. Paid firefighters would be on call around the clock, which could improve the area’s insurance ratings. Currently, the majority of firefighters in the region serve as volunteers.

King estimated that an additional $250,000 would be required in the next fiscal year to hire four full-time firefighters, pending approval from the commissioners. However, this proposal revealed differences of opinion among the commissioners.

The next County Commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 17, at 5:30 p.m.

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