op frJust a few more dollars, that’s all. When you get your car fixed or a new dishwasher installed, now you’ll have to pay the 7 percent sales tax on the labor provided by the mechanic or the repairman. As you pay, give a nod to the state legislature’s decision to tax a few more services as part of its ongoing reform that moves North Carolina further toward a reliance on consumption taxes versus income taxes.

A new ranking released this week by WalletHub pegs North Carolina as the 50th worst place in the country for public school teachers. We managed to beat out West Virginia but have been passed by economic powerhouses like Mississippi and Washington, D.C. (there were 51 spots, including D.C.) The ranking is based on median starting salary, pupil-to-teacher ratio and per pupil spending. Our 50th spot was — you guessed it — up one spot from last year.

op frThis is one tradition that could just die and I don’t think many will care. I’m talking about the recently announced plan by Haywood County Schools to do away with the time-honored ritual of naming a valedictorian and salutatorian.

Haywood joins many school systems across the nation in going this route. Some want to argue that this is more evidence that we are dumbing down our schools and finding ways to tell all students that they are all fantastic and that everyone will succeed.

op dirtycoffeeI had never heard of “The Red Pill Theory” or the “manosphere” until I saw references to them in the story that broke over the weekend concerning the co-owners of Waking Life Espresso, a coffee shop in West Asheville. By Monday, the story was in the Asheville Citizen-Times and on WLOS.

jacksonBy Craig Pendergrast • Guest Columnist

I am writing to applaud the Jackson County commissioners for recently completing a difficult re-write of the county’s cell tower code. Along with other interested property owners, I was an active participant in that process, having gained much experience and information about the way cell tower companies and their contractors operate.

op frWith the right leadership, it can happen. If the national and regional economy continues chugging along for another few years without a stumble, it can happen.

I’m talking about a rejuvenation of the small east Haywood County town of Canton, where elected leaders are saying they want business growth and new residents. That’s the town dominated by the giant paper mill that sits unabashedly in the town center, the mill that still occasionally emits a smell that envelops the town, the mill that still discolors the Pigeon River.

op fr2“So, you’re a band parent, huh? Boy, is your life about to change.”

My wife and I heard that a lot a few months ago after our daughter, a rising freshman at Tuscola High School, made the Color Guard. I had only the vaguest notion of what the Color Guard was, and no recollection at all of whether there was such a thing when I pounded the bass drum in the marching band for Alleghany High back in the 1970s. I was a freshman myself once upon a time, adapting as fast and as well as I could to this intense new world around me. Now it is my daughter’s turn.

op beckmanBy John Beckman • Guest Columnist

Forty-two years ago a very interesting man moved into the broken, haunted brick mansion two doors up from my parents’ house. 

Dave had just retired from 33 years in the U.S. Army as a machinist, welder, mechanic, builder, inventor and general problem-solver in charge of keeping America’s troops and machinery moving. He had set his new sights on restoring the old place singlehandedly as a retirement project. His personal passions and areas of expertise included photography, systems design, the arts, public service, governance and sharing his skills and knowledge with many.

op frRecently released figures on the impact of tourism in Western North Carolina are encouraging. More visitors are spending more money, and that means new jobs and increased sales tax revenue. 

But there’s even more relevant news for those of us who believe that tourism should be viewed as a long-term, viable industry for the region. A study conducted in Buncombe County found that successful tourism marketing leads to direct increases in more traditional manufacturing jobs. Those jobs are increasingly difficult to attract in this era of cheap overseas labor.

op frSome of them arrive four or five days early, packed up and just sitting there on the Haywood County Fairgrounds like gigantic metal suitcases that won’t quite close all the way. The rest come later. The Scrambler, the Flying Bumblebees, the Pirate Boat, the rickety little coaster that somebody has to snap together like Legos. The booths that house impossible games, rows of cheaply sewn stuffed animals, the biggest the size of couch cushions. Overinflated basketballs and rims the size of pie tins that are never quite level. Five thousand plastic toys made in China, none of them bigger than a candy bar. Three throws, five bucks, everyone’s a winner.

op frI was watching my son’s soccer game last night and the old Al Stewart tune, “Time Passages,” kept running through my head:

Well I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on, are the things that don’t last
Well it’s just now and then, my line gets cast into these
Time passages.

And so it started last night. It continues this week, and will keep coming around until August 2016. It’s what I’ve been calling the “year of lasts.”

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