Canton leaders hope to unlock potential for commercial development around interstateWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
Canton aldermen are embarking on an ambitious quest to identify long-term goals and strategies that will shape the town in years to come.
“You’ve got to have a plan, and this is the plan for the future of Canton,” said Alderman Ed Underwood.
Each alderman came up with their own list of priorities for the town. They brought those lists to the table at a meeting on Tuesday (Jan.12).
At the outset, it seems all five town leaders meet eye-to-eye on most of their priorities. The top priority appears to be upgrading the sewer line to accommodate commercial development around the I-40 interchange at exit 31 and along Champion Drive. For now, the heavily used sewer line is hitting maximum capacity.
According to a 2008 estimate, the extensive sewer expansion project would cost about $1.2 million. The town has attempted landing grants but has yet to secure any.
Town leaders plan on meeting every Tuesday to discuss the nitty-gritty of each item now that they have a master list in tow. Other common threads between their lists include:
• Repairing the town swimming pool.
• Annexing West Canton and other areas if feasible.
• Eliminating potholes and pave streets/sidewalks.
• Economic development/promote downtown.
• Seeking grants where possible.
Mayor Pat Smathers already published his 17-point vision in a local newspaper prior to last year’s election, encouraging voters to choose candidates who would cooperate with him to implement his goals.
The unilateral move drew criticism from some candidates, who insisted that residents and other aldermen also have input in a long-term vision.
Shortly after the election, Smathers succumbed, asking aldermen to come up with their own wishlists.
A few of the aldermen came up with original ideas not found on any other list.
Flynn said he wanted the town to begin back tax collections and start tearing down condemned houses littered across town.
Currently, the Town of Canton partners with Haywood County to collect taxes. According to Flynn, those who have paid their county taxes, but fail to pay the town, fall off the radar.
Flynn suggests breaking off the county partnership to start collecting its own taxes.
“I know there are some that are perfectly capable of paying but don’t,” said Flynn. “Tax collections would take very little resources.”
Flynn also wants to develop a plan of attack for dealing with condemned houses, which downgrade the neighborhood’s property values.
“It’s just unsightly,” said Flynn. “It’s open to vermins [sic] and rats.”
Underwood came up with the idea of using prison crews for projects then discovered that the state program that loans inmates to municipalities has fallen by the wayside due to the statewide budget crunch.