Jackson commissioner candidates: The issues
The hurt is coming. All the candidates agree, it won’t be pretty. In 2016, Jackson County will preform a property revaluation, in which the values of properties on the tax role — currently listed with values tethered to the high times of the housing boom — will be squared up with the values actually reflected in the current real estate market.
All the candidates agree that it’s going to be one of the toughest issues facing Jackson County in the coming years. Lower property values means lower tax revenues for the county.
Cody: “We will have to deal with it. I mean there’s no getting around it. Some people’s taxes will go up. My taxes will go up. We’re having to contend with unusual times. For the first time in our history the price of land dropped, and it dropped big time here in Jackson County.”
Debnam: “Values will probably go down. To stay revenue neutral, that means the millage rate will have to go up. It won’t be a big change in the dollar amount that people pay.”
Deitz: “I think that’s going to be real tough. And I think as a commissioner it’d be easier to run at another time. It’s gonna be real tough, we’ll have some tough decisions to make.”
McMahan: “How is that going to unfold? That’s a huge issue and no one knows the answer to that.”
Ward: “It is going to be tough because our property is over valued by 36 percent. I hope when given official figures that we won’t have to make a tax increase. That’s going to be our goal anyway.”
Cullowhee Development standards
The Cullowhee community is the fastest growing area of Jackson County, largely due to the growth of Western Carolina University. It currently has no development standards regulating its growth.
The Cullowhee Community Planning Advisory Committee is working to hammer out potential development standards and zoning regulations to govern the community’s future growth. After community input sessions these standards will head before the county planning board and, eventually, the commissioners.
Proponents of instituting development regulations in Cullowhee contend that standards are needed to assure responsible growth. Critics argue that such regulations will be unnecessarily restrictive to property owners. Commissioners will have the final say.
Cody: “Am I going to ram it down the people’s throat? No. But I think it’d be something that would be valuable to the community and the property owners.”
Debnam: “The only ones that show up are the ones that want to complain. I wish the ones who are for it would show up. I’ve got five pieces of property that would be affected. I really don’t want to go out on a limb because I reside there. I’m really trying to stay — if you noticed, I didn’t say anything in the meeting the other night, I’m just listening.”
Deitz: “Anytime these things start happening in a community, I think the whole community ought to be involved.”
Elders: “I think in the long run that’ll be good up there. It’ll be a great thing. I know they’ve got some bugs to work out, but I think we’re on the right track.”
McMahan: “I’m comfortable with working with the community to craft these guidelines to protect the character of the Cullowhee area. Philosophically speaking, I’m in favor of helping support the Cullowhee effort.”
Ward: “If that’s what the people of Cullowhee want, I’ll back’em. If that’s what they want. I don’t particularly like someone coming in and telling me how my community is going to be.”
State geologists had barely begun mapping Jackson County in an effort to pinpoint landslide-prone areas when the state funding ran out in 2011. Geologists, now working privately, have offered to come back and finish the job for around $80,000.
Debnam: “What we were getting was a sales pitch. You know, I’ve got soil tests from the 1940s that will tell you where the potential landslides are going to be.”
Deitz: “We’ve had too many problems with landslides to not do everything we can to make ourselves aware of places it’s really a problem.”
Elders: “It’s still being studied.”
McMahan: “I think it needs to be funded. I will work to get that funded. I think it was ridiculous that it was not funded. I know what happened at Peeks Creek in Macon County. The last thing we want is for that to happen. And the only way to prevent that is to be prepared.”
Ward: “That is not only for safety. [The mapping is done] for your protection. If we had the landslide mapping in place you might not want to buy it. With all the attention that Western North Carolina and Jackson County has received concerning landslides, steep slopes, it might help the real estate business to be able to say ‘this parcel is not in a landslide prone area.’”
One item that tops Jackson County’s wish list is an indoor pool. The people want it, but the price is daunting. And where to put it?
Cody: “A referendum or just pay for it? Do the citizens make the decision or do we make the decision, that’s the question. I guess Cullowhee would be the logical place, that’s centrally located in the county. That’s an issue that’s going to be there for a while.”
Deitz: “It’s easy just to say, ‘Yeah, I want us to have an indoor swimming pool.’ I think that’s something we’d have to think long and hard about.”