The merger of Lake Junaluska with the town of Waynesville has yet to get the blessing of state legislators in Raleigh, and time is now running out.
The town of Waynesville has a large checklist to tackle in the coming months before Lake Junaluska is officially added to the town limits.
A state bill that would bring Lake Junaluska into Waynesville’s town limits has cleared the N.C. Senate and is now headed for passage in the N.C. House of Representatives.
The Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center and the 760-home residential community surrounding it would then be absorbed into Waynesville’s town limits by late summer.
Lake Junaluska homeowners and community leaders spoke out strongly last week in favor of merging with Waynesville, setting the stage for a bill to work its way through the N.C. General Assembly this summer declaring Lake Junaluska part of the town of Waynesville.
A Lake Junaluska task force voiced overwhelming support last week for merging the 765-home community with the town of Waynesville before a packed audience of homeowners.
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The 14-member task force has spent 10 months weighing the future course of the community with century-old roots as a summer Methodist retreat. Financial solvency was the deciding factor for those in favor of being absorbed into Waynesville’s town limits. The community does not have the critical mass nor economies of scale to go it alone, especially given the costly repairs it would face during the next decade to fix its crumbling infrastructure, task force members said.
Adding Lake Junaluska to its town limits won’t be a windfall for Waynesville despite $775,000 in property taxes it stands to gain each year. Likewise, Junaluska wouldn’t be a financial drain on the town, according to the results of a highly anticipated engineering and feasibility study outlining the pros and cons of a merger.
Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown has honed his dating and engagement analogies as town leaders weigh whether to tie the knot with Lake Junaluska.
They started innocently enough 10 months ago.
Several boards and bodies will formally vote in coming weeks on whether Lake Junaluska should become part of Waynesville, form its own town or continue as a sophisticated homeowner’s association. Here’s a look at who will be weighing in and when.
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February 22: Public hearing by Waynesville leaders. 11 a.m. at new town hall.
February 26: Waynesville Board of Alderman votes. 7 p.m. at town hall. Alternate date first week of each month.
February 28: Property owner survey results announced. 7 p.m. at Harrell Center at Lake Junaluska.
February 28: Lake Junaluska task force votes. 7 p.m. at the Harrell Center at Lake Junaluska.
March 5: Lake Junaluska Community Council votes. 4 p.m. at Junaluska Welcome Center
March 8: Lake Junaluska Board of Directors votes. No time specified.
March 13: General Assembly deadline for bill to be introduced. Vote by state lawmakers by late summer.
Property owners: A survey was mailed to all 811 Lake Junaluska property owners last week, with a robust response rate so far. There are 765 homes at Lake Junaluska. About half are lived in year-round by their owners. Surveys also went to owners of lots and a handful of commercial entities on the grounds.
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Lake Junaluska Future Task Force: A 13-member, appointed task force that has studied the ins and outs of the options with the intensity and thoroughness of NASA space shuttle inspectors. Consists primarily of Lake Junaluska residents, with two Lake Junaluska officials and one Waynesville official.
Lake Junaluska Community Council: A seven-person body elected by Lake Junaluska homeowners to address neighborhood issues and represent residential interests. The council parleys with the Conference and Retreat Center, which manages public works and carries out residential services paid for through homeowners fees.
Lake Junaluska Assembly Board of Directors: A 32-member body that oversees big picture operations for the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center. Its members consist mostly of Methodist Church leaders and appointments, with just a handful of local residents or community leaders. It is considered the “official” decision-making body for the Lake Junaluska community and holds the definitive “vote.”
Waynesville Board of Aldermen: The five-member elected town board must decide if it wants Lake Junaluska. One public hearing was held already to gauge the views of the town’s current populace, but town residents did not show up.
N.C. General Assembly: If Lake Junaluska leaders decide to become part of Waynesville, and if Waynesville agrees, state lawmakers would have to consecrate the deal. Language for a bill is already in the drafting stages, so it would be ready to roll if it’s ultimately needed. A bill’s chances of passing in Raleigh hinge on how strong and loud the call is from all the other players here.
• Financial savings — This is the cheapest option, thanks to economies of scale. Residents would fork over town property taxes, but it would buy them all the services and amenities they currently pay for through their homeowners’ fees, which would go away. Plus, the town would pick up the tab for $10 million in critical infrastructure repairs — the elephant in the room being antiquated water and sewer lines — that are needed in the coming decade.
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• Big brother to lean on — The headaches of street sweeping, snow plowing, trash pick-up, police protection, fixing potholes — and did we mention fixing those crumbling water and sewer lines? — will be someone else’s problem now.
• Match made in Heaven — As far as towns go, Waynesville’s a nice one. Given the typical demographics of Lake Junaluska residents — well-educated, upper-middle class and philosophically progressive — Waynesville is seen as a town that reflects their own ideals. A merger wouldn’t exactly be plowing new ground. Waynesville and Lake Junaluska have had a symbiotic relationship for the past century.
• Loss of identity — Junaluskans are steeped in pride for the place they call home. Their community spirit has a long lineage, dating back to the founding of the Methodist conference and retreat center a century ago. The Methodist ties and shared affinity for the Christian retreat at the community’s core still run deep. With a big brother to look after them, will Lake Junaluska residents slowly lose their sense of ownership and commitment? Will Junaluskans identity and allegiances, even if subconsciously, be muddied if they become Waynesvillians?
• Can you hear me now? — Lake Junaluska is home to 638 registered voters. Waynesville has 6,652 registered voters. Lake Junaluska’s voice in the political process could make it a small fish in a big pond.
• Get in line — Waynesville leaders have made clear that if the lake becomes part of the town, it will be treated the same as everyone else. Their needs won’t be put at the bottom — but nor will they be put at the top. To quote Town Manager Marcy Oneal: “They would simply all become town of Waynesville projects and be slotted in line accordingly.”
• No going back — If Lake Junaluska marries itself to Waynesville, there would be no annulments.
• Self rule — Does 1776 ring a bell? Lake Junaluska residents would be their own elected leaders, ensuring every decision affecting the community is what it wants for itself. What to charge for property taxes, what zoning and planning rules to enact, or what streets get paved each year would be made at the local level.
• Sense of pride — Junaluskans could easily maintain their shared identity, common spirit and community engagement.
• Perks — Being a town would make it eligible for a cut of state sales tax revenue, state grants, state funding for street and sidewalk maintenance and others benefits being a real town afford.
• Big to-do list — A new town would need to elect a board, hire staff, find a building to serve as “town hall,” buy computers and phones, create a budget and start collecting taxes fast to provide the same high level of services Lake residents are accustom to.
• Shouldering risk alone — The onus of meeting the town’s needs falls on comparatively fewer backs. A small hiccup for a large town could be a deafening blow for a tiny one, such as the huge capital cost associated with water and sewer line repairs.
• Get your checkbook ready — This option is most expensive. There are no economies of scale when trying to deliver a full suite of town amenities to such a small number of residents. (There are roughly 800 homes.)
• Legislative deal killer — The General Assembly has arduous rules and requirements for new towns trying to incorporate.
• If it ain’t broke — Lake Junaluska already walks like a town and talks like a town. In fact, residents enjoy more services than some bona fide towns do. Why add a layer of municipal bureaucracy?
• Been there, done that — Junaluskans are comfortable with their current structure as a sophisticated homeowners association. Fees paid by property owners fund public works and services. An elected community council serves as a sounding board for issues and concerns. The system has worked for decades.
• Come to momma — Founded a century ago as a Methodist summer retreat, Lake Junaluska is no longer a church enclave. But the burgeoning residential neighborhoods that circle Lake Junaluska today are still inextricably linked to the Methodist conference and retreat center at its core — physically, historically and spiritually. Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center manages residential operations, reinforcing the generational ties many homeowners have for the Methodist retreat.
• Money pit — Junaluska residents would see a steep hike in the existing fees they pay in order to fund the expensive infrastructure repairs the lake needs during the next decade — first and foremost replacing outdated water and sewer lines. The community has no fall back other than its own wallets.
• No representation — Lake Junaluska residents rely on the good will and graces of the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center to do right by the surrounding neighborhoods. An elected community council passes along the issues, concerns and priorities of the residential community to the Lake Junaluska public works administration to carry out, but at the end of the day, is only an advisory board. While the conference and retreat center has rarely, if ever, clashed with the residents’ wishes, there are no guarantees.