Biden’s American Rescue Plan means millions for NC local governments

While most Americans are looking forward to receiving the $1,400 payments included in President Joe Biden’s $1.88 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) passed by Congress on March 6, counties and towns across the country are also eagerly awaiting a stimulus package of their own.

Pandemic exposes fragile childcare system

On average, it costs parents $9,480 a year for infant childcare in North Carolina, which is $2,126 more than they’ll pay for in-state tuition to a four-year N.C. university. 

Consortium formed to address affordable housing in WNC

Seven counties in Western North Carolina have the opportunity to band together and receive money for affordable housing through the Southwestern Commission. As of June 15, several counties have signed on to make up the Southwestern NC HOME Consortium. 

Tribe added to council of governments

For the first time in the Southwestern Commission’s 53-year history, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a seat at the table. 

Regional commission completes broadband study

With the results of a regional broadband survey now available, leaders have expansive data on the underserved areas in their counties and can seek out public-private partnership opportunities in an effort to expand high-speed internet service. 

Director of regional planning commission resigns

fr sherbyAfter being at the helm of Region A’s Southwestern Commission, Executive Director Ryan Sherby tendered his resignation on March 1 to the board of directors.

SWC initiatives give unified voice to the region

fr swcLess money and stiffer competition for grants means that Western North Carolina needs to have a solid plan in place to show the need in the region and stay competitive.

Southwestern Commission: Collectively leading the region for 50 years

fr swcommissionOne day they were operating out of the community center building in Sylva and the next they were moving into a singlewide trailer in Bryson City. Some years federal grant money rolled in hand over fist, and other years they fought tooth and nail for highly competitive grants for their communities. They’ve seen years of unchecked growth and years of economic stagnation.

WNC vitality index provides data-driven look at region

A one-of-a-kind database that encompasses virtually every aspect of life in Western North Carolina, from ecology to economics, is now available to decision makers, business leaders and the public. 

The Mountain Resources Commission, a group formed in 2009 to study environmental and economic issues facing WNC, recently unveiled the vitality index. 

Public absent in meetings where road projects decided

The way road projects get selected and prioritized in the state’s six westernmost counties might shift slightly following meetings this week and last by local government officials and transportation experts.

The method of weighing the projects will be tweaked to heighten safety issues. Crash data compiled by the state Highway Patrol will be factored into the equation. Elected officials serving on the Transportation Advisory Committee said, however, they want to see what that actually does to the alignment of projects before endorsing the approach.

How exactly the state Department of Transportation moves forward on road building and road improving has raised pointed questions recently about political and personal gain versus public good and needs. Controversy in the past couple months erupted over two projects in particular: Needmore Road in Swain and Macon counties and N.C. 107 in Jackson County.

The transportation department has proposed paving and widening a 3.3-mile section of Needmore, a gravel one-lane road beside the Little Tennessee River. Needmore cuts through the protected Needmore Game Lands, and opponents say the environmental risks posed are simply too great (see accompanying article on page 9).

In Sylva, the transportation department this month held a public information session on how traffic on N.C. 107 between Sylva and Cullowhee could be reduced. Concepts included widening and building a whole new connector road. At least 200 people turned out for the session, and Smart Roads, a local activist group, promised to monitor and publicize the process going forward.

For all the outcries, no one from the public was present at either of two meetings where a bit of the rubber meets the road when it comes to transportation projects in the far west: Jackson, Macon, Swain, Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties. One meeting was for county and town planners and other government officials, a second was held Monday night for county commissioners and town council members.

Southwestern Development Commission, a regional planning group headquartered in Sylva, organized the get-togethers.

 

Who does the planning?

In the state’s six westernmost counties, road planning is headed up by the Southwestern Development Commission, headquartered in Sylva, which serves as the lead-planning agency for the rural transportation planning organization (RPO).

Southwestern Commission provides staff and GIS (geographic information system) support. The RPO consists of a technical coordinating committee (government officials) and a transportation advisory committee (elected officials). The government officials, as in real life, exist simply to make staff-level recommendations to the elected officials, who make the policies.

 

Here are the stated goals of the RPO:

• To provide a forum for public participation in the rural transportation planning process and serve as a local link for residents of the region to communicate with the transportation department.

• To develop, prioritize and promote proposed transportation projects that the RPO believes should be included in the State Transportation Improvement Program.

• To assist the transportation department in publicizing its programs and service and providing additional transportation-related information to local governments and other interested organizations and persons.

• To conduct transportation-related studies and surveys for local governments and other interested entities and organizations.

• To promote transportation as a regional issue requiring regional solutions.

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