Junaluska’s choices: the abridged version
Option 1: Join the town of Waynesville
• Financial savings — This is the cheapest option, thanks to economies of scale. Residents would fork over town property taxes, but it would buy them all the services and amenities they currently pay for through their homeowners’ fees, which would go away. Plus, the town would pick up the tab for $10 million in critical infrastructure repairs — the elephant in the room being antiquated water and sewer lines — that are needed in the coming decade.
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• Big brother to lean on — The headaches of street sweeping, snow plowing, trash pick-up, police protection, fixing potholes — and did we mention fixing those crumbling water and sewer lines? — will be someone else’s problem now.
• Match made in Heaven — As far as towns go, Waynesville’s a nice one. Given the typical demographics of Lake Junaluska residents — well-educated, upper-middle class and philosophically progressive — Waynesville is seen as a town that reflects their own ideals. A merger wouldn’t exactly be plowing new ground. Waynesville and Lake Junaluska have had a symbiotic relationship for the past century.
• Loss of identity — Junaluskans are steeped in pride for the place they call home. Their community spirit has a long lineage, dating back to the founding of the Methodist conference and retreat center a century ago. The Methodist ties and shared affinity for the Christian retreat at the community’s core still run deep. With a big brother to look after them, will Lake Junaluska residents slowly lose their sense of ownership and commitment? Will Junaluskans identity and allegiances, even if subconsciously, be muddied if they become Waynesvillians?
• Can you hear me now? — Lake Junaluska is home to 638 registered voters. Waynesville has 6,652 registered voters. Lake Junaluska’s voice in the political process could make it a small fish in a big pond.
• Get in line — Waynesville leaders have made clear that if the lake becomes part of the town, it will be treated the same as everyone else. Their needs won’t be put at the bottom — but nor will they be put at the top. To quote Town Manager Marcy Oneal: “They would simply all become town of Waynesville projects and be slotted in line accordingly.”
• No going back — If Lake Junaluska marries itself to Waynesville, there would be no annulments.
Option 2: Become its own brand-new town
• Self rule — Does 1776 ring a bell? Lake Junaluska residents would be their own elected leaders, ensuring every decision affecting the community is what it wants for itself. What to charge for property taxes, what zoning and planning rules to enact, or what streets get paved each year would be made at the local level.
• Sense of pride — Junaluskans could easily maintain their shared identity, common spirit and community engagement.
• Perks — Being a town would make it eligible for a cut of state sales tax revenue, state grants, state funding for street and sidewalk maintenance and others benefits being a real town afford.
• Big to-do list — A new town would need to elect a board, hire staff, find a building to serve as “town hall,” buy computers and phones, create a budget and start collecting taxes fast to provide the same high level of services Lake residents are accustom to.
• Shouldering risk alone — The onus of meeting the town’s needs falls on comparatively fewer backs. A small hiccup for a large town could be a deafening blow for a tiny one, such as the huge capital cost associated with water and sewer line repairs.
• Get your checkbook ready — This option is most expensive. There are no economies of scale when trying to deliver a full suite of town amenities to such a small number of residents. (There are roughly 800 homes.)
• Legislative deal killer — The General Assembly has arduous rules and requirements for new towns trying to incorporate.
Option 3: Stay the same
• If it ain’t broke — Lake Junaluska already walks like a town and talks like a town. In fact, residents enjoy more services than some bona fide towns do. Why add a layer of municipal bureaucracy?
• Been there, done that — Junaluskans are comfortable with their current structure as a sophisticated homeowners association. Fees paid by property owners fund public works and services. An elected community council serves as a sounding board for issues and concerns. The system has worked for decades.
• Come to momma — Founded a century ago as a Methodist summer retreat, Lake Junaluska is no longer a church enclave. But the burgeoning residential neighborhoods that circle Lake Junaluska today are still inextricably linked to the Methodist conference and retreat center at its core — physically, historically and spiritually. Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center manages residential operations, reinforcing the generational ties many homeowners have for the Methodist retreat.
• Money pit — Junaluska residents would see a steep hike in the existing fees they pay in order to fund the expensive infrastructure repairs the lake needs during the next decade — first and foremost replacing outdated water and sewer lines. The community has no fall back other than its own wallets.
• No representation — Lake Junaluska residents rely on the good will and graces of the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center to do right by the surrounding neighborhoods. An elected community council passes along the issues, concerns and priorities of the residential community to the Lake Junaluska public works administration to carry out, but at the end of the day, is only an advisory board. While the conference and retreat center has rarely, if ever, clashed with the residents’ wishes, there are no guarantees.