I can count the number of Macon County Board of Commissioners meetings I have missed since 2011 on one hand. When I started the board was comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats. That soon changed to four Republicans and one Democrat before the all-Republican board it is today. During that time I have witnessed 7 different board compositions between 12 different commissioners and I have witnessed three different Board Chairs. I have sat through two county managers, two finance directors, two county attorneys, and two HR/Board Clerks.
While some may accuse me of being arrogant, the truth remains that I am fairly confident that there are very few people in Macon County who know more about the happenings of our county government over the last decade than me. I don’t say that to brag or because it is something I am proud of, I say that because it is just the truth. So when Commissioner John Shearl made the claim that the county’s budget had increased by $25 million over the last 8 budget cycles, I instantly knew he was wrong. I didn’t even have to do the math, I knew right away that there was no conceivable way the budget could have increased by $25 million in 8 budget cycles, because I had sat through hours and hours and hours of budgets over the years, year after year, and increases were always minor,– so that math just didn’t add up. In fact, the largest budget increase I can remember since moving to Macon County in 2011 was actually that next year, during the 2012-13 Fiscal Year when the budget increased by $3.7 million – however, that was prior to Roland becoming County Manager.
Then he made the claim that not only had the county budget increased by an astronomical amount, he claimed that Macon County had nothing to show for it but higher paid employees and a bigger government and that our county was worse off than it was 8 years ago. Again, before Commissioner Shearl could even finish his accusations, I knew it was wrong. Over a decade of government meetings flashed in my mind and I started to recount investment after investment the county had made. I remembered capital projects and funding increases for economic development. I remembered the Valentine’s Day I spent at an unnecessarily long commissioner meeting while the board began budget negotiations rather than out on a date. I began to recount every award I watched the county celebrate – state recognition for the most efficient finance department – best operating health department – and so many more. I remembered every ribbon cutting and grand opening celebration held for new schools, new recreation complexes, and new healthcare facilities. I remembered all of the budgetary requests I listened to and all the meetings I sat through with various departments when projects were proposed and things were requested, however, Roland and Commissioners denied those requests to keeping spending low.
And while it has been my job over the last 12+ years to know about these things so I fully appreciate the fact that it would be extremely difficult for the general public to remember all of these things, I can’t help but also realize that even if you are completely removed from the day to day operations of the county government, I was reminded that each year the manager’s budget message provides a quick recap of budget accomplishments – easily accessible and easy to understand to keep all those things neatly stored in one place.
So while I sat there flashing through the last 12+ years confused how anyone could make such egregious claims, I became angry. Because in my mind, there are only two reasons why someone could/would make such inaccurate statements.
The person is genuinely uninformed about county government and genuinely doesn’t know any better and legitimately isn’t aware of all of the mountains of facts that would prove what he was saying is wrong.
The person is fully aware that what he is saying isn’t accurate, but he says it anyway because it fits the narrative he wants.
Either way, while it is ok for the average person to fit into either of those categories – I cannot even begin to fathom how an elected official could so boldly make such claims and accusations – and they be so so wrong. Which leads me to believe that either Commissioner Shearl ran for a position to represent the county without a basic understanding of the position he was elected to or Commissioner Shearl is willing to make whatever claims he needs to in order to fit his narrative – regardless of their accuracy.
I know that everything I just wrote is editorialized and opinionated, something that will be plastered on the pages of social media accounts attempting to discredit me – because when people can’t control you, they try to control the way others perceive you, while then praising such voices like Tucker Carlson or Candace Owens for doing the same thing, with the difference being they agree with those opinions. Regardless, the next section I am going to write will provide factual, undisputed, undeniable evidence and references to dispute the false statements Commissioner Shearl made regarding the growth in the county’s budget over the last 8 budget cycles and the false statements that the county has nothing to show for it.
Macon County’s Annual Budget
Macon County Manager Derek Roland provided the Macon County Board of Commissioners which included Chairman Kevin Corbin, Vice Chair Jim Tate, Commissioner Ronnie Beale, Commissioner Paul Higdon, and Commissioner Gary Shields on May 21, 2015. Roland’s proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year was $46,646,357 with a revenue neutral tax rate of .349. Roland’s proposal also included no increases to any of the fire district taxes and only proposed revenue neutral rates.
This was the second budget Roland presented in his role as County Manager and was nine budget cycles ago. Roland’s second budget included an increase of $925,235 over the prior year’s budget, with the majority of the increase being attributed to revisions to the county’s health insurance plan as recommended by the Health Insurance Committee. Shortly after assuming the role as Manager, Roland discovered that since 2009, the county contributions to the health insurance fund had steadily decreased with a total decline of 70%, which would have meant the last year the county could afford to remain on its current plan for health insurance for employees was that year. The budget increased corrected the issue and began replenishing the county’s Health Insurance Fund. This fiscal year, Roland’s proposed budget was $64,566,978, which is $17,920,621 more than the budget he proposed as county manager on May 21, 2015.
**Why am I referring to Roland’s SECOND budget and not his first? Commissioner Shearl said he reviewed the last 8 budget cycles and that is where he came up with the $25 million figure. Assuming Shearl was reviewing the previous budget cycles while in the process of the current fiscal year budget cycle, the 2015-16 budget, Roland’s second budget, would have been the 8 budget cycles Shearl would have been reviewing as the current fiscal year’s budget had not been completed. However for overall comparison, now that the current fiscal year budget is completed, which would actually be 9 budget cycles, even giving Shearl the benefit of the doubt and an entire extra year of comparisons, his claims of a $25 million increase with nothing to show for it is still not accurate.**
The funding in Roland’s budget included salary and benefits for 440 employees and according to the county’s financial audits, from 2007-2015, an 8 year span prior to Roland becoming County Manager, the county added 88 employees. During that same time period, the county’s population grew by 697 residents.
The funding in the budget Roland proposed this year included salary and benefits for 446 employees and an increase of six employees during the 8 year budget cycle Roland has served as Manager. During that same time period, the county’s population grew by 2,853.
As of June 2015, the county’s financial audit showed that Macon County has a total Direct Debt amount of $33,986,857. The June 2022 audit reported the county’s Total Direct Debt as being $27,534,657, showing a decrease in Direct Debt of $6,452,200.
This year, Roland’s proposed budget was $64,566,978, with a tax rate of .27 for a revenue neutral tax rate, meaning that the ad valorem tax rate Roland proposed this fiscal year was actually .079 less than the second budget he proposed. However, the tax rate was decreased from the .40 it was the year prior due to the property revaluation. Assuming that without a property revaluation the tax rate would have remained the same, that would mean that the county’s tax rate would have seen a .051 increase since Roland’s second budget. Another perspective, the 2015 tax rate would have had someone owning a $100,000 home paying $349 in ad valorem taxes. That same person, prior to the revaluation, would be paying $400 in taxes for an increase of $51. $51 increase over an 8 year period would average out to a $6.38 annual ad valorem tax increase.
Ad valorem taxes are not the only taxes that Macon County Commissioners can levy. There are a total of 11 fire districts in Macon County, each of which have their own tax rate. While Macon County approves any fire tax rate changes, they do so at the request of the departments of each respective community. The funding for each fire department is included as part of the public safety portion of the county budget.
2015 fire tax rate by district:
Clarks Chapel: .0668
West Macon: .0681
Scaly Mountain: .0486
Mountain Valley: .127
Like the county’s ad valorem tax rate, the county’s fire tax rates were decreased in the current fiscal year budget following the property revaluation, with many of the 2023 fire tax rates actually being lower than the 2015 budget year. The information below factors in the property revaluation and includes the rates for the 2022 budget year.
2022 (pre-property revaluation) fire tax rate by district:
Franklin: .0700 (.0344 increase)
Clarks Chapel: .0802 (.0134 increase)
Otto: .100 (.036 increase)
Cullasaja: .0720 (.0183)
West Macon: .0724 (.0043 increase)
Scaly Mountain: .0586 (.01 increase)
Burningtown/Iotla: .1156 (.0289 increase)
Cowee: .1142 (.0039 increase)
Nantahala: .0706 (.0598 increase)
Highlands: .0300 (.2892 increase) $30
Mountain Valley: .1261 (.0009 DECREASE)
Over the last 8 budget cycles, the town of Highlands fire district has seen the largest increase to the fire tax. A $100,000 home in 2015 would have paid $10.80 for the fire tax and that same home would pay $30 this year, for an increase of $19.20 a year, which averages to $2.40 a year over the 8 year budget cycle. If you combine the 2015 fire tax rate for Highlands (.0108) with the 2015 ad valorem tax rate (.349), a Highlands resident would have a total tax rate of.359, or $359 a year for a $100,000 home. The 2022 comparison would be a total tax rate of .43 or $430 a year, a $71 increase over 8 years. Therefore, over the last 8 budget cycles, a Macon County resident living in the Highlands fire district, which has the largest tax rate increase in the county, has seen an average annual increase in taxes of $8.88 per year for every $100,000 in home value.
Not including the Macon Valley fire district, which reports a fire tax decrease since the 2015 budget cycle, the Cowee Fire District reports the smallest increase in fire tax in the county with a .0039 increase. A $100,000 home in Cowee in 2015 would have paid $110.30 a year for the fire tax and that same home in 2022 wold pay $114.20 for an increase of $3.90 over an eight year period or .49 cents per year. If you combine the 2015 fire tax rate for Cowee (.1103) with the 2015 ad valorem tax rate (.349), a Cowee resident would have a total tax rate of .4593, or $459.30 a year for a $100,000 home. The 2022 comparison would be a total tax rate of .514 or $514 per year, a $54.7 increase over 8 years. Therefore, over the last 8 budget cycles, a Macon County resident living in the Cowee fire district, which has the smallest tax rate increase in the county, has seen an average annual increase in taxes of $6.84 per year for every $100,000 in home value.
From the 2015 budget year to the 2022 (pre-property revaluation) the largest combined ad valorem and fire tax rate increase a Macon County resident would have seen was 19.78 percent. The smallest combined ad valorem and fire tax rate increase a Macon County resident would have seen was 3.54 percent.
Another issue that cannot be overlooked when reviewing the budget is where the increase in funding has come from. When government leaders are talking about the budget, they always mention keeping taxes low, which would refer to ad valorem or fire tax, the taxes the county can control. However, the last budget cycles show that while the budget has increased, the majority of the revenue used for that increase comes from an increase in sales tax.
In the 2015-16 budget, Macon County projected a sales tax revenue of 6,742,416, 14 percent of the revenues in the budget. Tax collections were projected at $27,086263, or 58% of the revenues in the budget. This year, Roland’s budget proposal included $14,133,859 in projected sales tax revenues for 22% of the budget and $34,906,836 or 54% projected for tax collections such as fire tax and ad valorem taxes. Over the last 8 budget cycles, the county’s sales tax revenues have increased so much so that they now account for an 8% increase in revenue shares for the budget all while ad valorem taxes account for 4% less of the revenues generated each year.
How has Macon County spent the $17 million (38.45%) increase in the budget from 2015-2023?
Commissioner Shearl’s comments regarding the last 8 budget cycles suggested that while county spending has increased, citizens haven’t gained anything to show for the extra taxes they are paying. Fortunately, public documents keep a very detailed account of the county’s expenditures.
The 2015-16 budget breakdown was as follows:
General Government: $6,825,920, 15%
Public Safety: $11,590,320, 20%
Transportation: $1,409,526, 3%
Economic & Physical Development: $464,584, 1%
Human Services: $12,384,356, 27%
Recreation/Cultural: $2,245,609, 5%
Education: $8,573,256, 18%
Transfer to Debt Service Fund: $2,082,803, 4%
Non Departmental, $1,069,983, 2%.
The 2023-24 budget breakdown was as follows:
General Government: $9,709,530, 15%
Public Safety: $18,470,133, 29%
Transportation: $1,797,783, 3%
Economic & Physical Development: $625,036, 1%
Human Services: $14,397,455, 22%
Recreation/Cultural: $3,099,041, 5%
Education: $12,256,686, 19%
Transfer to Debt Service Fund: $2,077,634, 3%
Non Departmental, $2,133,680, 3%.
What Macon County has to show for the increase to the county’s general function expenditure category:
General Function: $2,883,610 increase
Service provision departments include; Board of Elections, Register of Deeds, Tax Assessment, Tax Supervision, and Mapping. Internal service departments such as Administration, Legal, Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, Garage and Buildings and Grounds play a support role to the service provision departments in the General Government function.
Installation of the SAN Data Storage System. The SAN Data Storage System houses all of Macon County’s production data. The old system, which had reached end of life status stored data at 1:1 ratio. The new system which compresses and de-duplicates data is currently storing data at a 5:1 ratio.
Phone System Installation: The replacement of the county’s phone system which was twenty years old, was completed in June of 2017. This technologically advanced phone system was acquired on a five year, all-inclusive, lease agreement at approximately $93,000 annually.
Revaluations: Additional funding and staff to complete the legally mandated property revaluations in the 2015, 2018-19, and 2022-23 budget years.
Tax Department Software Upgrades: Bi-Tek Tax Software: Implementation of new, state of the art tax software was completed in June of 2021. The software, which was approved for purchase and installation in the FY 21’ Budget includes new platforms for tax collections, tax assessment and land records as well as Computer Assisted Mass Appraisals (CAMA).
Planning Board completes Community Needs Assessment: From March 2019 through February 2020, the Macon County Planning Board traveled to 12 communities throughout the county conducting the Community Needs Assessment. The input sessions revealed the top three needs among Macon County Communities to be (1) Broadband availability (2) Maintenance and improvements to NCDOT Roadways (3) Improved access to Healthcare.
Space Needs Analysis completed: Moseley Architects completed the Space Needs Analysis in February of 2020. The project was authorized during the FY 19’ Budget and was completed at a cost of $167,570. The Space Needs Analysis will be an extremely useful tool in the county’s future capital planning efforts.
Convenience Center Upgrades- $300,000 was budgeted in FY 18-19’ in the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund for convenience center improvements. $170,000 went towards the purchase of recycling containers and compactors for two of our eleven local centers. The remaining $130,000 was used for site improvements at the Junaluska and Carson centers.
Landfill Expansion: The $9.8M landfill expansion project was completed on schedule and under budget in April of 2017. This expansion project will generate approximately 60 years of solid waste disposal capacity for Macon County.
Public Safety: $6,879,813 increase
The Public Safety Function includes Sheriff, Courthouse Security, Forest Service, Jail, Inspections/Planning, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Management and Animal Control.
Upgrades to Emergency Medical Equipment: EMS has upgraded several pieces of medical equipment in addition to providing the associated training to each fire department.
In-Car and Body Camera System installation: The Macon County Sheriff’s Office patrol unit is now equipped with vehicle and body camera systems.
Courthouse Security Improvements: The following security improvements were made to the Macon County Courthouse during FY20’ Sally Port, Alarm system, security camera, data storage.
Emergency Communications System Upgrade: Transition of the existing Macon County Emergency Communications system to the North Carolina VIPER (Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders) system was completed. This $1,000,000 project, phased over three fiscal years resulted in a more reliable, economical and user friendly method of communication for our emergency services personnel.
Courthouse Security Improvements: Following recommendations of the Courthouse Security Committee to the Board of Commissioners in FY 2018-2019’, $82,502 was appropriated for the purchase of security equipment to be installed at the second and third floor entrances of the Macon County Courthouse.
Detention Center Roof Repair: The roof replacement at the Detention Center was completed in FY 17-18.’
Patrol Vehicles: The FY 17-18’ budget contained funding for six new patrol vehicles at a cost of $181,973. These new vehicles dramatically reduced the overall mileage of the Sheriff’s fleet which has resulted in a more effective and efficient service leading into FY 18-19’.
SROS in all schools: In 2015, commissioners voted to place an SRO at Cartoogechaye Elementary school and committed to staffing all schools with a full-time SRO.
Safe Kids Macon County-: In FY 15-16’ the Macon County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Safe Kids NC to be the lead agency of Safe Kids Macon County in an effort to reduce and ultimately eliminate children from being killed or injured from accidental and preventable causes. Of the 42 Safe Kids Coalitions in North Carolina, Safe Kids Macon County is the farthest west and only the second hosted by a law enforcement agency.
Creation of Fire Task Force: From 2015-2016 total calls for service to Macon County Fire Departments increased by 17% while the number of volunteers increased by less than 1%. Of the 5,554 calls for service in 2016, 951 were fire related which requires the response of multiple fire personnel beyond the 1-2 people required for a medical call. The Macon County Fire Task Force was created to serve as a resource to all volunteer fire departments in Macon County in an effort to assist them with the rapidly increasing demand for service.
Establish Community Paramedic Program: Call volume in Macon County Emergency Services decreased from 2016-2017 (6,816-6,621) by 2.9%. Factors contributing to this reduction include increased hours of service for the Mission Hospital transport ambulance along with the expansion of the Community Medic Program. The Community Paramedic Program covers five days per week has been recognized for its excellence at both the national and state level through receipt of the Ewald Busse Award in 2018.
Transportation: $388,257 increase
The Transportation function includes Macon County Transit in addition to the Macon County Airport.
Transit Facility Expansion: On April 17, 2023, Macon County entered into a $715,000 construction contract with Owle Construction for the expansion of the Transit Facility located at 39 Pannell Lane in Franklin.
Transit propane savings: In 2018 all transit vehicles were up-fitted with bi-fuel propane kits. Since its inception in 2017, this project has resulted in $51,514 or a 21% savings through the purchase of propane over gasoline.
Economic & Physical Development: $160,452 increase
The Economic and Physical Development budget function contains; Economic Development, Cowee School, Soil Conservation and Cooperative Extension
Contribution to Nikwasi Initiative: In February of 2019, $12,500 was appropriated from economic development reserves towards continuing the mission and administrative costs for the Nikwasi Initiative.
TekTone Sound and Signal Expansion: Macon County appropriated $30,000 from fund balance in FY 16-17’ to assist TekTone Sound and Signal with the purchase of the former SKF facility. This $30,000 served as a cash match on the OneNC Fund grant of $90,000.
Building Reuse Grant: In July of 2016 the Macon County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to provide a cash match of 5%, $9,375 on a North Carolina Department of Commerce Grant totaling $187,500. The grant funds were used by Tektone Sound and Signal Mfg., for a building renovation project, which will create at least 15 new jobs in Macon County. The renovation was completed in April of 2017.
Community Club Renovations: In November of 2016 the Macon County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to appropriate $85,105 from fund balance to pay for renovation projects at the Otto and Cullasaja Community Centers.
Broadband Expansion: Grant agreement with BalsamWest. On April 13, 2021, the Board of Commissioners approved a grant agreement for $580,000 between Macon County and BalsamWest under which BalsamWest will construct a 5.7-mile fiber-optic backbone from Franklin City Limits to the Otto Community Center/Otto Fire and Rescue Facility, Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire Department and Scaly Mountain Community Center. Upon completion of Phase 1, direct fiber access will be available to approximately 209 residences, 38 commercial businesses and 8 government and religious institutions. Phase 2 of the project will be a collaboration between Haywood EMC and BalsamWest to extend the 5.7-mile fiber-optic backbone through Scaly Mountain to connect with existing BalsamWest fiber in the City of Highlands. Following completion of Phase 2, broadband internet will be available to approximately 2,600-5,000 Maconians through fiber/wireless delivery.
Revisions to Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Ordinance
On October 13, 2020, the Board of Commissioners approved revisions to the Telecommunications Facilities Ordinance, which will expand wireless broadband capabilities within Macon County.
LBJ Job Corps Broadband Connection
On March 9, 2021, the Board of Commissioners granted Skyrunner Internet permission to locate wireless internet equipment at the Macon County Courthouse to provide Lyndon B. Johnson Job Corps with up to 1 Gbps of wireless internet service. Prior to this arrangement, internet service at the Lyndon B. Johnson Job Corps Center was extremely poor, and cell phone service was not available.
Frontier Communications of the Carolinas received a Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology “GREAT” grant award from the NC Department of Information Technology in August of 2022. The $4.4M grant will provide high‐speed internet access to approximately 2700 locations across Macon County. Macon County pledged $50,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding towards this project. At the time of this budget message, contract documents between the state, county and Frontier Communications of the Carolinas are being finalized. The GREAT grant project must be completed by June 25’.
Human Services: $2,013,099 increase
The Health and Human Services Function includes the following departments: Health Department, Department of Social Services Veterans, Smoky Mountain Mental Health, Juvenile Partnership Grant, Senior Services, and Housing.
Community Care Clinic financial assistance: Funding was appropriated to assist the Community Care Clinic with operating costs. The request came in September of 2019, following decreased operational funding from the state.
School Based Health Center : A Community Health Grant in the Amount of $150,000 was awarded to the Macon County Health Department from the North Carolina Office of Rural Health in FY 18-19’ to fund a school based health center. The health center provides preventative health care, nutrition and behavioral health services to our school aged children. The grant was a collaborative effort between Macon County, Macon County Schools, Western Carolina University, Appalachian services, and Macon County Public Health.
Employee Health Clinic: While insurance costs continue to rise and have had a dramatic impact on the Macon County Budget, the Employee Health Clinic has continued to do an excellent job in preventing these costs from reaching even higher levels. From July 2017- April 2018 the Employee Health Clinic had 519 clinical visits and 196 chronic disease management visits. Based on the cost savings figures provided to Macon County from Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Employee Health Clinic prevented an additional $681,189 in claims experience from being incurred by Macon County during FY 17-18’.
Survived a Pandemic.
Recreation/Cultural: $853,432 increase
The Culture/Recreation budget function accounts for; Recreation, Highlands Recreation, and Library.
Zachary Park Expansion: In December of 2020, following a unanimous decision by the Board of Commissioners, Macon County purchased a 1.5 acre parcel of property located at 11099 Buck Creek Road in Highlands NC for $79,000. The property, which adjoins 8.81 acres of county owned property on Buck Creek Road known as the Zachary Park Recreation Complex, will allow for future expansion of recreation opportunities in and around the Highlands area.
Town of Franklin Skate Park: On April 14, 2023, construction began on a $262,250 Skate Park Facility located upon the Town of Franklin owned “Whitmire Property”. The project would not have been possible without contributions from the Town of Franklin, Macon County and fundraising efforts of Sk828 (local non‐profit). On March 14, 2023, the Macon County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $60,576 appropriation from fund balance which was the remaining balance needed for completion of the project. This marked the second contribution to the skate park project from Macon County as $35,000 was committed in FY 22’.
Recreation Park Master Plan: On April 11, 2023, the Macon County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $37,980 proposal from McGill and Associates for the re‐development of the existing Macon County Recreation Park Facility located at 1288 Georgia Road in Franklin NC. Funding for the design proposal was included in the FY 23’ Recreation Parks Budget.
Nantahala Community Club and Library: Bids were received on April 10, 2023 for renovations to the future location of the Nantahala Library and Community Center located at 36 White Oak Lane, Topton NC, 28784. At $198,435, the project cost is well within the $260,000 planning budget set aside for construction. The County has received $300,000 in state grant funding to complete this project.
Greenway Extension: On September 13, 2022, the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Town of Franklin concerning the acquisition of property and extension of the Little Tennessee River Greenway. Following approval of the MOU, the Town of Franklin purchased a 13.9‐acre parcel of property along the Cartoogechaye Creek at the Siler Road terminus of the Greenway. Upon completion, project will connect the northern and southern portions of the Greenway at Town Bridge, through construction of a 10 ft. wide paved walkway. Macon County, acting as the lead agency will work with the NCDOT in completing the project.
Highlands Performing Arts Center financial assistance: The board voted in August of 2019 to provide the Highlands Performing Arts Center with $60,000 in funding to go towards the construction of a new performing arts center in the Highlands Community.
Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center: The Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center continues to make progress towards becoming self-sustaining. The center had 9,000 visitors in 2017 up from 7,000 in the prior year which led to an increase in revenue. In addition the center received a $47,500 grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. We feel confident the partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will play a vital role in the sustainability of the Center.
Renovations to Recreation Facilities: Complete renovation of the Robert C. Carpenter Building was completed in FY 17-18’ at a cost of $796,000. In addition, $350,000 was included in the FY 17-18’ Budget to go towards a complete renovation of the Highlands Civic Center. Other notable enhancements to recreation included; improvements to shelters on the Greenway, replacement of the water feature at Wesley’s Park, and improvements to the Nantahala Recreation Park.
Parker Meadows loan payoff: The Parker Meadows Recreation Complex was completed in FY 14-15 and totaled $3.3 million. In November of 2016, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to appropriate $1.35M from fund balance to pay off the loan that was secured to fund the Parker Meadows Recreational Complex. This decision came following substantial increases in sales tax revenues particularly during those months travel ball tournaments were hosted at Parker Meadows. The annual principal and interest payment on this loan was approximately $215,000 over a ten year term.
Wesley’s Park Renovations: In October of 2016 the Macon County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to appropriate $113,355 from fund balance to pay for much needed improvements at Wesley’s Park. Renovations included resurfacing of the playground floor covering and repair/replacement of equipment. The renovations were completed in April of 2017.
Kelsey Hutchinson Founders Park: Macon County Board of Commissioners approved a $50,000 request from Friends of Founders Park, Inc. to go towards the completion of the Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park in Highlands.
Education: $3,683,430 increase
The Education category includes Macon County Schools as well as Southwestern Community College.
Macon Middle School Locker Room Project: On April 13, 2021, the Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with the advertising process for a new 7,480 SF Locker Room Facility at Macon Middle School. The facility will include both boy’s and girl’s locker rooms, toilet and shower facilities in addition to a 2,686 SF Multi-Purpose room. Estimated cost of construction is approximately $1.4M.
Bond Issuance for Macon Middle School Renovations and Refinancings: On March 25, 2021, Macon County sold $19,320,000 in bonds. The sale included $9,500,000 for MMS renovations and $9,820,000 in loan refinancing. Macon County received a True Interest Cost (TIC) Rate on the renovations of 1.9% for a term of 20 years and a 1.07% TIC Rate on the refinancing for a term of 14 years. It is estimated Macon County will receive a total debt service savings of over $700,000 during the term on the refinancings.
On February 9, 2021, the Board of Commissioners voted to award the Macon Middle School Renovation project to New Atlantic Contracting Inc. for $8,178,000. Construction will begin on June 1, 2021 and will be completed in November 2022.
Southwestern Community College expands Public Safety Program: On March 9, 2021, the Board of Commissioners approved lease agreements between Macon County and Southwestern Community College for the 5.38 acres/15,812 SF brick building formerly known as the National Guard Armory Complex. The aforementioned property, which was gifted to Macon County on November 13, 2019 from the State of North Carolina, had an appraised value of $2,972,300. The 40-year lease agreements will enable SCC to expand their current Public Safety Training Complex (6.13 acres/13,760 SF building) located adjacent to the armory facility.
SCC Fire Safety Training Complex: The Macon County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the $2.71M Fire Rescue Training Facility which will be located at the Siler Road Campus. The project was funded using $1.4M from the NC Connect Bond and a $1,312,605 appropriation from Macon County.
Franklin High School Project: The Franklin High School Project continued moving forward in FY 23’. On February 9th the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to amend the architectural agreement with LS3P to include design development of the FHS Main Campus ($714,242) and construction documents and bid procurement for the Athletic Complex ($336,000). FY 23’ allocations for the FHS project totaled $1,526,403, as $476,161 was approved in August for schematic design of the FHS Main Campus. To date, Macon County has allocated $2,131,403 on architect fees at the Franklin High School Project.
Franklin High School Athletics financial assistance- The board voted to appropriate $12,000 from contingency in November of 2019, $7,000 for completion of the FHS softball batting cages, and $5,000 towards current expenses in the FHS wrestling program.
South Macon School Project: The $3,000,000, 6-classroom addition and cafeteria renovation to South Macon Elementary School was completed in August of 2019. This project finished on time and under budget.
Increased funding to the Macon County School System –The FY 20’ Budget represented a $1,665,000 or 20% increase in annual school funding over FY 18’. Funding was generated through an increase to the ad-valorem tax rate in FY 20’.
$1,250,000 originally added to the school system’s operating budget in FY 19’ through an appropriation of county fund balance:
$250,000-annual capital outlay
$415,000 in new expenses for FY 20’
o $100,000 increase in CTE
o $75,000 for STEM Coordinator previously grant funded
o $75,000 to replace lost funding to MEC following change in tier designation
o $60,000 in teacher supplement increases
o $105,000 for two additional STEM teachers
Enhancing School Security: $250,000 was added to the Macon County School System’s recommended annual capital outlay appropriation of $600,000 in FY 18-19’. This addition to the schools capital outlay was earmarked for security related improvements at our local schools.
Increased funding for School System Technology and Operations: $300,000 was added to the Macon County School System’s recommended operating budget in FY 18-19’ for technology related equipment purchases. The funding for technology was appropriated from the county’s consolidated capital projects fund. $500,000 was appropriated to assist the Macon County School System with operating expenses.
Increase to Schools Capital Outlay: Capital outlay to the Macon County School System increased to $600,000 in the FY 17-18’ operating budget. $300,000 of this amount was earmarked for Capital Improvements and $300,000 was earmarked for technology. Annual Capital Outlay to the Macon County School System has increased by $500,000 since FY 13-14’.
FHS Vocational Building Heating Project: $17,650 was appropriated from the county’s contingency fund in FY 17-18’ to replace the heating system in the FHS vocational building. This new gas system will be a more efficient and cost effective heating option in the future.
Increase to Schools Capital Outlay: Capital outlay to the Macon County School System increased to $500,000 in FY 16-17’ operating budget. $200,000 of this amount was earmarked for the Highlands Gym Roof Replacement Project. An additional $31,828 was needed to complete this project and was provided to the school system by the Macon County Board of Commissioners from contingency funds. The roof replacement project was completed in FY 16-17’.
Increased funding for teacher supplements:The Macon County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to appropriate $23,415 from fund balance to cover an increase in teacher supplements which was brought about by state mandated pay increases in FY 16-17’.
Golden Leaf STEM Learning Initiative: The Golden Leaf STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Learning Initiative represents a partnership between Macon County, Macon County School System, Southwestern Community College and private businesses in Macon County. The Macon County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to appropriate $24,277 in matching funds from contingency funds in FY 16-17’ as a match for the Golden Leaf Grant.
SRO at Highlands School: $50,000 was approved to go towards the funding of an SRO (School Resource Officer) at the Highlands School. These funds will be used by the Town of Highlands to staff this position in their Police Department.
Increase to Schools Capital Outlay: An additional $100,000 was placed in the School System’s Capital Outlay to assist with renovation needs. This additional funding brought the capital outlay for the Macon County School System to $300,000 in FY 15-16’.
QZAB renovations to Highlands School and Union Academy completed: $2,985,878 in renovations to Highlands School and Union Academy were completed in FY 15-16’ using Qualified Zone Academy Bonds. The approval of this renovation project brings the total capital project funding for Macon County Schools to approximately $50,000,000 since 2008.
Non-Departmental: $1,063,697 increase
Comprehensive Plan update completed: A draft of the updated Comprehensive Plan was presented to the Board of Commissioners on January 8, 2019. The Macon County Planning Board worked diligently for three years on this project, which is critical to maximizing funding for future transportation projects in Macon County.
County Leadership Forum on Opioid abuse – County and Municipal leaders came together on November 28, 2017 to discuss the Opioid epidemic and the tremendous impact it is having across our nation, state and county. The forum, which was hosted by the Macon County Department of Public Health, stemmed from the NCACC “meeting in a box” initiative and provided all those in attendance with statistics regarding opioid abuse, the current status of education, treatment and prevention efforts and how we as Macon County can work collaboratively to address this problem in the future. This meeting lead to the Opioid Settlement funds.
Capital Improvement Plan: $30,000 was budgeted in FY 17-18’ to complete the Macon County Capital Improvement Plan. This plan was representative of a collaborative effort between Davenport and Company, Macon County Administration, Macon County Department Heads and Outside Agencies.
Macon County Clean-Up Day: April 29, 2017 marked the first annual “Macon County Clean-Up Day”. Numerous community clubs, individuals and civic organizations participated in this event which was aimed at cleaning up litter along Macon County roadsides. The event was a tremendous success as an estimated 3,100 lbs. of litter was removed. Those participating were offered a free BBQ lunch at Cowee School upon completion. Approximately 100 individuals attended the Cowee School event.
Relocation of Division of Workforce Solutions: Following a reduction in the state budget, the Division of Workforce Solutions Office had to vacate their Harrison Avenue location at which time the county voted to provide 1,800 SF of space in the former SCC Annex building.
This by NO MEANS is an all-inclusive list of things the county has to show for the last 8 budget cycles, however, all of this information is easily and readily available to any member of the public through annually published budget documents.
But is Macon County any better off today compared to 2015?
Virtually every measurable indicator and metric would suggest… yes.
The following information is based on the most accurate data available from each source, which may not perfectly align with the 2015 to current year comparison, however, it is the most up-to-date statistics available to the general public.
Macon County’s population increased 9 out of the 12 years between year 2010 and year 2022. Its largest annual population increase was 3.8% between 2019 and 2020. For comparison, the US population grew 7.7% and North Carolina’s population grew 11.7% during that period.
Macon County residents are bringing home more money today than in 2015: The Median household income in 2015 was $41,395. By 2020, that number increase by more than $10,000 to $51,973.
The number of individuals identified as living below the Federal Poverty line has decreased: In 2015, the percentage of individuals below 200% Federal Poverty Line in Macon County was 42.4%. In 2020, the percentage of individuals below 200% FPL in Macon County was 37.2%.
Fewer people living in poverty: Estimate of All Ages in Poverty in 2015: 5,719. By 2020, the estimate had decreased to 4,600.
The unemployment rate for Macon County has improved: In April 2015, the unemployment rate in Macon County was 6.1%. In April 2023, the unemployment rate in Macon County was 3%.
Fewer Macon County residents are going hungry: In 2015, the Food Hardship Index in Macon County was 0.34. In 2020, the Food Hardship Index in Macon County was 0.32.
Fewer Macon County residents are struggling to find shelter: In 2014, the percentage of people with severe housing problems in Macon County was 17.8%. In 2019, the percentage of people with severe housing problems in Macon County was 11.8%.
More Macon County residents are insured: In 2015, the uninsured rate in Macon County was 19.1%. In 2020, the uninsured rate in Macon County was 13.4%. Between 2011 and 2019, the average annual change in the infant mortality rate in Macon County was -0.16%.
Macon County families are earning more: The Median Household Income in 2015 was $41,395. By 2020 that figure had increased to $51,973, $10,000 in just 5 years.
Fewer Macon County residents receive government assistance for food: Snap Recipients in Macon County for 2015 were reported at 5,607. By 2020 that number decreased to 4,468.
Funding for Public Safety has resulted in an increase in arrests: In 2015, the incarceration rate in Macon County was 124 per 100,000 population. In 2020, the incarceration rate in Macon County was 169 per 100,000 population.
Fewer teens are having babies: Between 2011 and 2019, the average annual change in the teen birth rate in Macon County was -0.12.
Macon County residents are living longer: Life expectancy in 2015: 78, Life expectancy in 2020:78.4.
More Macon County residents can afford to build homes: New Private Housing Structure Authorized by Building Permits in 2015: just 85. By 2022, 182 private housing structures were authorized.
More people can afford to pursue education after high school: People 25 years and over who have completed an associate degree or higher in 2015: 32.7%, By 2021, that increased to 33.1% For a
Bachelor’s Degree or higher the 2015 number was 22.5% of Macon County residents while in 2020 it increased to 24%.
More Macon County residents are working: Civilian Labor Force includes all persons in the civilian non-institutional population ages 16 and older classified as either employed or unemployed.
Employed persons are all persons who, during the reference week (the week including the 12th day of the month), (a) did any work as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of their family, or (b) were not working but who had jobs from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute, job training, or other family or personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs. Each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job. In Feb 2015, there were a reported 14,671 residents considered part of the Civil Labor Force. By Feb 2020, that number increased to 15,863.
Macon County is doing more business as its Gross Domestic Product has increased: GDP by county is a measure of the market value of final goods and services produced within a county area in a particular period. The County’s GDP in 2015 was 118,179, increasing to 143,250 by 2021.
There are more private establishments today than in 2015: An establishment is an economic unit, such as a factory, mine, store, or office that produces goods or services. It generally is at a single location and is engaged predominantly in one type of economic activity. Where a single location encompasses two or more distinct activities, these are treated as separate establishments, if separate payroll records are available, and the various activities are classified under different industry codes. The County’s number of businesses in 2015 was 1,098, increasing to 1,388 by 2023.
Macon County residents have better credit scores: The estimate of the percentage of the population with a credit score below 660 in 2015 was 25.8. By 2023, that stat had increased to 18.6 percent.
More Macon County residents can afford to own their homes. The homeownership rate in 2015 was 70.5 percent, and by 2021 that had increased to 73.8 percent.
At the same time that homeownership rates in Macon County increased, the percentage of residents considered to be burdened households decreased. Burdened Households are those households who pay 30 percent or more of their household income on housing (such as rent or mortgage expenses). In 2015, the county reported 31.3 percent of residents as qualifying as a burdened household. By 2021 that figure had improved to 25.3 percent.
While metrics report improvements for Macon County residents, that does not mean there are not citizens who are still struggling. It does not mean our county has everything it needs. It does not mean that taxpayers need/want more of their money to stay in their pockets. But it does prove that as a whole, Macon County has seen improvements over the last 8 years.