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Junaluska merger plan sidelined until next year

Lake Junaluska homeowners have suspended their push to merge with the town of Waynesville until next year due to political roadblocks in the N.C General Assembly.

The vast majority of homeowners at Lake Junaluska support merging with Waynesville as the most economically viable and sustainable option for the community, according to both a mail survey and petition drive. But garnering the necessary approval from the state legislature has proven elusive.

After a failed effort last year, proponents of the merger tried again this year during the General Assembly’s so-called “short session.”

“We knew that trying in the short session was a long shot, but as long as there was a shot we were going to try to push it,” said Buddy Young, the Lake Junaluska public work’s director and a resident himself.

Lake Junaluska homeowners are now resigned to waiting until next year and trying again when a new legislature convenes.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, championed a bill that would bring Lake Junaluska into Waynesville’s town limits, and it passed the Senate with flying colors last year. But the bill must also pass the House, where it languished in committee, despite Davis’ best effort.

Part of the hurdle was simply more important issues on lawmakers’ plate.

“They are still fighting over the budget. We were not a priority,” Young said.

Given the “complex, statewide issues the legislature has been dealing with during this short session,” Davis said the decision to quit trying for now was reasonable.

Last year, a minority of Lake Junaluska homeowners opposed to joining the town of Waynesville created an air of controversy around the proposed merger and caused some state legislators, including Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, to view it with suspicion.

Whether that will dog the bill again next year remains to be seen.

The 775-home residential enclave with century-old roots as a summer retreat for wealthy Methodists rings the campus of the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center. Providing services like trash and security, not to mention repairs to its aging infrastructure, will force homeowners’ annual fees and water and sewer rates to go up if it doesn’t join Waynesville.

“It’s not that we can’t keep going, or that we would have to turn off the water and turn off the lights,” Young said. “The option was do you want to pay for the capital improvements or do you want to go to Waynesville?”

— By Becky Johnson, Staff Writer

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