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County OKs $3 million for immediate HCC needs

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Haywood Community College is finally on track to receive some much needed funding after county commissioners announced plans this week to allocate $3 million to the school.

Commissioner Mary Ann Enloe called the decision “long overdue.”

“That college is one of the best assets this county has. It’s past time to help them with their needs,” Enloe said.

The proposed funding is in line with the commissioner’s conclusion at their January budget planning session that the college was to be a top funding priority for the year. However, the commissioners were forced to seek a less-traditional route to obtain the funds so they could immediately assist HCC.

County leaders initially hoped to fund college needs with a local half-cent sales tax, if approved by the public in a countywide bond vote. Such a tax would first need approval from the state, however, and was blocked by then-Sen. Keith Presnell, R-Burnsville, in the last session of the General Assembly.

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Another bill for the sales tax option has been introduced by Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who defeated Presnell last fall. Rather than waiting for the bill’s outcome, commissioners decided to provide some funding now for more dire building repairs. The county gives the college $500,000 annually for building upkeep — but decided to front the college six years worth of these installments all at once by taking out a loan.)

“The county is moving forward to give us some funding up front so that we can begin addressing some of our most pressing needs,” Haywood Community College President Rose Johnson said.

“We will immediately begin renovating facilities so that we can provide more adequate classroom space and potentially (use the funds to commission) architectural drawings for the things that we need.”

Commissioners worried that the run-down condition of some of the buildings could exacerbate deterioration, causing repair costs to rise the longer the college was forced to wait.

A drop in a bucket

The $3 million allotted by the county will help HCC, but there is still a long way to go as Johnson and her colleagues “have projected renovations and construction needs of about $30 million or more.”

The college is currently in the process of completing a campus-wide master plan that will list what buildings need to be renovated first, which ones would be designated for demolition, and what new ones the school hopes to build, Johnson said.

The master plan will be unveiled at the board of trustees meeting in July.

As for now, Johnson said she is pleased that commissioners are using a “progressive method” to address the school’s immediate needs.

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