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Green Initiative a great fit for Haywood County

The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s Green Initiative is one of those projects that is good on many different levels, not the least of which is the admirable goal of reducing the impact the business community has on the environment.

The Green Initiative, which is being headed by Haywood Community College President Dr. Rose Johnson, is aimed at establishing a methodology by which businesses can earn a “green designation” from the chamber of commerce. A chamber committee has been working for months to set up the criteria, and the categories include recycling, water and energy.

Those businesses that earn this designation will benefit in many ways. Aside from doing what is right, it is likely that many potential customers will appreciate their efforts and choose to do business with them. As this program is formalized, more businesses will likely follow suit and try to earn the designation. That’s a direct benefit that makes the investment to attain the green designation worthwhile from a business perspective.

The fact that the chamber of commerce has put in the time and effort to set up the Green Initiative speaks well of the organization. In too many cases those in the business community pit profit and sustainability efforts against one another. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the opposite is true. Companies that save energy and cut waste make more money, and though it’s impossible to have zero impact, it is a worthwhile effort.

This initiative is one component of a critical mass of sustainability efforts currently being implemented in Haywood County. These include:

• The county Economic Development Commission is formalizing a list of tax incentives for green energy companies to entice them to open shop in the county. The catalyst for that effort was the request for a tax break by a huge solar farm being built near Canton, a project that will be among the largest of its kind in the Southeast once completed.

• Haywood Community College and Dr. Rose Johnson are taking steps to make that institution a center for environmental learning. Staff members are working to implement course offerings that infuse the college’s forestry, wildlife, construction, nursery and other programs with cutting edge sustainability courses and practices. In addition, the college is working to make itself a leader in all these resource-saving areas.

• And Stephen King, the county’s solid waste director, has been a part of the Green Initiative and is a champion of recycling efforts. He has brought great ideas that have helped the county recycling program and is also working to tap the methane at the county’s landfill and harness it for energy use.

There will be intangible benefits for Haywood County for being at the forefront of the green movement. Some areas in the Northeast and out West may be further along, but Haywood County and others in this region are staking a claim as a leader in the Southeast. That is good for quality of life and for businesses.

The chamber’s Green Initiative taps into a truth that’s very important for those of us living in this region. The forests, streams and air are what make this place special, what give the mountains their special, almost spiritual appeal.

“Natural resources are part of the beauty of where we live. That’s why people come here,” said Laura Leatherwood, director of Community and Economic Development at HCC and a participant in the Green Initiative. “We want people to live it personally but we need our business community to live it as well in their practices as they do business throughout the day.”

Tourist industry lines up to tap TDA coffers

Requests for Haywood Tourism Development Authority money this year ran the gamut from the predictable to events making their debut this season.

The TDA generates a pot of money from a 4 percent tax levied each time someone pays for a hotel room in the county. Three percent of that money goes into a general fund to be divvied up among the entire county, while the other 1 percent is divvied up by zip code. Each of the county’s five geographic regions — Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde — receives an amount of money proportional to the room tax they collect.

Maggie Valley, with its many hotels and motels, generates the most room tax of any zip code, and thus has the most money to give. Its zip code fielded nearly $200,000 in requests. As has been the case in the past, the biggest number of applications targeted festivals, including Run to the Valley Street Rod Show, Maggie Valley Fall Days, Mountain Music Jamboree, a Harley rally, Vettes in the Valley, and a classic auto and truck show. The TDA finance committee recommended funding for each of the events.

Big winners when it came to the TDA’s recommendations were a festival director position, for which $20,000 was recommended. This position is funded by the town of Maggie Valley and the TDA, and there is already a person hired. The Maggie Valley Lodging Association’s request for advertising to motorcycles also made out well, with a TDA recommended amount of $11,600. The money will go to fund a Speed channel advertising package.

The TDA extended conservative funding recommendations to Ghost Town in the Sky, the Maggie Valley theme park that recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Some of the requests were denied funding, such as the park’s Gospel Sundays series and its request for an Industry Partnership with the TDA. The TDA did agree to provide some money for a Ghost Town Media Day, though to the tune of $1,500 rather than the $4,000 Ghost Town requested. Ghost Town’s request for co-op advertising was also granted, though only half of the $10,630 requested was recommended.

Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver didn’t show up for a public hearing on TDA funding requests, though he was scheduled to speak. Shiver’s absence didn’t appear to help the park’s case. The TDA is already reluctant to extend money to the theme park due to concerns over whether it will be able to open this season.

“On my cheat sheet here, I’ve got a big fat zero” next to Ghost Town, remarked TDA Finance Committee member Ron Reid as the committee went down a list of funding requests.



The TDA fielded a diverse list of requests for Waynesville’s 1 percent money. Among them: $3,000 for a traveling Vietnam Wall, $3,000 to light the Public Art sculpture in downtown Waynesville, $3,000 for an Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration and $3,000 for a Wine and Winter Festival in downtown Waynesville.

The recommendation to award $11,605 to the Downtown Waynesville Association for co-op advertising sparked a debate over where advertising dollars being spent — in this case, some ads are placed in local publications like The Smoky Mountain News, The Mountaineer and the Asheville Citizen-Times. TDA members questioned how effective those venues are for reaching a regional audience.

“Co-op advertising is a great idea, but we’re advertising in all the wrong places,” said Reid.


More of the pie

A variety of events tapped into the TDA’s 3 percent pot of money. The finance committee put its stamp on funding amounts requested for a Haywood County Agricultural brochure, Smoky Mountain 9-ball and Wheelchair Tournament, the Fines Creek Bluegrass Jam, and Maggie Valley’s Miss Maggie program.

Not every request was met with complete approval. A play in honor of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s 75th anniversary was awarded less than the requested amount after TDA members determined that some of the money was going to fund entertainment.

“I didn’t think that we paid for storytellers and dancers. I thought we paid for advertising and brochures,” said TDA Finance Committee member Marion Hamel. “I think it’s a great thing to do, but I don’t think we should be paying for the entertainment.”

The TDA also modified a request for money to help advertise a golf package deal featuring the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort and Spa and the Maggie Valley Country Club. Members agreed to award the requested $150 on the condition that the Lake Junaluska Golf Course be invited to become a part of the deal.

The TDA board will vote on the funding recommendations April 22.

Haywood Chamber of Commerce helps businesses achieve green goals

When most business owners cast their eyes about the office — noting the reams of white paper spilling off the printer, the blinking lights on computers not shut down at the end of the day, the drafty crack under the front door — they know intuitively their workplace falls short in the green arena.

But figuring out what to tackle first and biting off manageable goals is usually so daunting, they do nothing. The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce hopes to change that with the launch of its Green Initiative. The program will help businesses “go green” with an easy-to-follow plan.

“We know that green-collar jobs and green businesses are the way of the future,” said Laura Leatherwood, director of Community & Economic Development at HCC. “We don’t want to be behind the eight ball. We want to be in the forefront. We want people who move here and set up businesses here to realize we support a green lifestyle.”

The momentum of a green community will hopefully feed on itself.

“As Haywood County becomes more recognized for its sustainability efforts, it will be able to recruit other business with similar goals of practicing sustainability,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, president of Haywood Community College and champion of sustainability efforts in the county.

The chamber’s Green Initiative is part of a growing critical mass of sustainability efforts taking off in Haywood County. From Haywood Community College to Haywood County government, sustainability practices are being implemented on several fronts.

Thanks to the efforts, Haywood County is positioning itself at the forefront of the green movement.

“If we are marketing our community as a green friendly community, people are going to go, ‘Wow what a place to live. They are already ahead of the curve when it comes to initiating green,’” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood Chamber.

While eco-havens like Oregon and Vermont are far ahead of Haywood County, the efforts underway here already make it a leader as far as the South goes, and on track to be a national leader in the future.

“I believe we are laying the appropriate groundwork and are getting important players involved. All of those things combined over a period of a few years are going to make a very dramatic impact,” Johnson said.

Leatherwood said Haywood County is a natural place for sustainability to make a stand and to be on the leading edge of the movement.

“Natural resources are part of the beauty of where we live. That’s why people come here,” Leatherwood said. “We want people to live it personally but we need our business community to live it as well in their practices as they do business throughout the day.”


Simple steps, big difference

The program has been more than a year in the making.

“It seemed all of a sudden that word green was everywhere,” Hipps said. “It was something coming on the forefront fairly strong and a fairly quick pace. We wanted to educate our businesses on this is what you can do to be green and how you can save money.”

The chamber formed a committee to figure out how businesses could jump on board the green movement. That committee in turn formed subcommittees to draft various parts of the plan: water, energy and recycling. A fourth subcommittee is in charge of education, which will provide support and outreach for businesses implementing the plan.

“We designed the green initiative so it is flexible enough to pertain to the smallest organization to the largest,” Johnson said.

Businesses can tailor or personalize the plan to better fit their particular organization, Johnson said.

“There are some simple things that even one-man or two-man businesses can do,” Leatherwood said. “We want every business to be able to participate. If everybody does one small thing can you imagine the collective impact we would have?”

Beyond doing the morally right thing, businesses that decide to go green stand to gain. For starters, they can market themselves as such. Those that complete the program will get “green business” designation by the Haywood County chamber. With an increasingly green-savvy public willing to go the extra mile to support — or extra dollars — to support businesses with an eco-bent, the self promotion as a green-designated business is a big benefit.

From an overhead standpoint, business will save on energy costs and office supplies if employees use less paper, for example.

“We wanted to educate our businesses on this is what you can do to be green — and how you can save money,” Hipps said.

The plan encourages businesses to conduct an energy audit, essentially an assessment of how much energy they use and where they could save it. With an upfront investment, an energy audit can help a business save money on energy costs over the long run, said Buddy Tignor, the director of Haywood Community College’s natural resource department.

And, “The more we all reduce carbon emissions the more likely we are going to be able to at least slow down or mediate the global warming that is taking place,” Tignor said.

Stephen King, the county’s solid waste director and a champion for recycling, helped create the Green Initiative component that targets a business’s trash, resource consumption and recycling.

King said it is hard to break out of old habits, but very simple steps can often make change easier. For example, when King looked for ways to improve recycling participation in the county tax office, he targeted the placement of trashcans. Before, trashcans were placed in a central location, but a lone recycling bin was at the very back of the office tucked in an out of the way place.

“Nobody had to make an effort for trash but for recycling, you had to make an effort. You just have to flip that,” King said.

King moved the recycling can up front, and all the trashcans down the hall and around the corner and low-and-behold, recycling increased.

King, who has been a ringleader in the sustainability movement in county offices, is thrilled to see the business community jumping on board.

“It shows community camaraderie around what they believe in and trying to make it work,” said King. “More people understand what’s going on now than in the past.”

Other chambers of commerce are already looking to follow suit, Hipps said, and no doubt more will be clamoring to copy Haywood as word gets out.

“I imagine there will be a lot of others who will follow in our footsteps,” Leatherwood said.

At some point, the Haywood Chamber would be willing to share its Green Initiative templates with other communities, but until it has taken root and garnered attention for Haywood, they will protect the program, Hipps said.

Funding for festivals and visitor centers hinges on tourism board decisions

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority will weigh the merits of grant applications from tourism groups over the coming week.

Every year, tourism initiatives, from festivals to visitor center operations, compete for funding from the tourism authority. Haywood County hopes to bring in a little more than $1 million in tourism revenue over the 2009-2010 fiscal year, thanks to a 4 percent tax tacked on to overnight lodging accomodations. The tax carries a stipulation that it must be spent on tourism promotion. How to allocate the money is up to a 12-member tourism board appointed by the county.

Most of the money is used by the tourism authority to market Haywood County as a visitor destination through brochures, magazine ads, billboards, the Internet and various marketing campaigns.

But two pots of money are set aside specifically to fund special tourism projects and festivals by nonprofits and groups throughout the county. Competition for the funds has been contentious in past years — so contenious in fact that it led the county to raise the tax on overnight lodding from 3 percent of 4 percent to provide a bigger pot of money to go around.

That extra 1 percent — roughly $250,000 for the coming fiscal year — is divied up among geographic areas in the county. Each district gets money proportional to the amount of lodging tax collected from that district.

Committees from each of the five districts — Maggie, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde — make recommendations to the Haywood tourism authority on which projects to fund from their respective district. The tourism authority has the final say, however.

On top of the money allocated for each district, the tourism authority sets aside another $100,000 to fund visitor centers and tourism initiatives seeking money from the general tourism budget rather than the special pot allocated for one of the geographic areas.

Noisy and determined opponents get their way with nuisance ordinance

Take note — members of the public with an agenda to push could learn a thing or two from the mass of Haywood County residents who came out repeatedly to protest the county’s proposed nuisance ordinance.

Commissioners voted unanimously at their Monday (April 6) meeting to indefinitely discontinue discussion of the nuisance ordinance in light of mass public opposition.

The nuisance ordinance seeks to crack down on junk on peoples’ property, and prohibits everything from outdoor storage of scrap metal to junked motor vehicles to non-maintained swimming pools. Though the ordinance aims to maintain public health, many county residents attacked it for infringing on their personal property rights.

The Monday meeting marked the third consecutive commissioners’ meeting that was overwhelmed by as many as 200 residents coming out to protest the nuisance ordinance — many of whom had never attended a governmental meeting in their life. The crowd was so large some were diverted into an overflow room to watch via closed-circuit television.

Residents missed work and other commitments in order to take part in the public outcry. Some offered apologies as they nervously stumbled over their public comments, explaining that public speaking was something they had little experience with.

The opposition even went so far as to form its own official group, called ‘We the People,” which attracted a crowd of 100 to its first meeting. Their organization was impressive.

Eventually, residents opposing the ordinance got exactly what they wanted — commissioners killed the nuisance ordinance. It was a display of democracy in its truest form. Even commissioners seemed impressed.

“It is apparent by the number of people in this room that the process works,” said Commissioner Mark Swanger.

“I hope everyone has learned a lot about county government,” remarked Commissioner Skeeter Curtis.

The learning process was evident. People who had never plowed through a county ordinance read the nuisance ordinance front to back several times. Members of the opposition questioned how they could get access to information like minutes, and asked commissioners when and how meetings were scheduled.

The learning curve wasn’t all good. If anything, many members of the public learned most of all that they should pay more attention to what their government is doing.

“It really woke us up — it’s made us realize we can’t trust this government,” said Randy Burris on Monday. “It’s made us realize how quickly our freedoms can be took away from us, and it’s up to us to stand and defined it.”

If opponents of the ordinance stay true to their word, commissioners will have a new breed of watchdog looking out for county interests.

“You have awoken a giant that I hope will stay with the decision that they have made to be attentive to their government for a change, and to watch what’s going on with this county,” said Rusty McLean on Monday.

Of course, it is not the first time mass crowds have turned out in protest at commissioner meetings with a sustained presence, only to have the audience thin out when the issue at hand was concluded. In the past 10 years, commissioners saw repeated standing-room-only crowds on two other occasions. One surrounded construction of the justice center, with debates centering on the price tag and location. Another heated and extended controversy broke out over a proposed maximum security state prison in the county. After both died down, the audience at commissioner meetings returned to nothing more than county staff and reporters.

Haywood proposes incentives for green business

Economic development officials have adopted a policy that will give business incentives to clean, renewable energy projects that locate in Haywood County.

County officials hope the policy will convince green businesses to locate in the region, as well as provide a justification for giving incentives to businesses that don’t create many jobs.

Incentives will be given to solar, wind and hydropower energy projects that generate more than 50 kilowatts of energy. Projects that make use of landfills, brown-field sites, rooftops and other locations with minimal economic value will qualify for an 80 percent break on property taxes over a five-year period. Projects not located on those sites can receive a maximum of 60 percent in incentives.

Officials hope the incentives will make the county more attractive to prospective green businesses.

“Everyone wants to go where they feel welcome,” pointed out County Commissioner and Economic Development Commission board member Mark Swanger.

“If we can put this up on our Web site, we may attract other businesses of that same ilk or nature,” agreed Waynesville Mayor and EDC Board Member Gavin Brown.

The policy comes weeks after scrutiny over the decision by county commissioners to grant business incentives to FLS Solar Energy, a company that plans to build a solar energy farm on an old paper mill landfill in Canton.

The county granted FLS a five-year, 80 percent break on its business property taxes, saving the company $32,000. However, the entire project would only create about 12 jobs, and those would come during construction.

“(The current policy) leaves it open for anyone coming in and saying, you did it for XYZ, will you do it for me?” said Swanger.

The new policy addresses that issue.

“(The policy) is being developed in recognition that while developments of clean, renewable energy sources ... (may) not provide as many permanent jobs as traditional economic development projects ... development of clean, renewable energy projects also provide many intrinsic benefits to the community that traditional economic development projects do not and require little public infrastructure or services,” it states.

For the few jobs that are created by these projects, the policy requires companies advertise and recruit in Haywood County.

County commissioners must approve the policy before it can be formally adopted.

Canton has new town manager: Lengthy search ends back where it started — with interim manager Matthews

After a search that has dragged on for more than a year, the Canton Board of Alderman has finally selected a town manager.

It’s not exactly a big change. Al Matthews has served in an interim position since long-time manager Bill Stamey retired in December 2007. Before that, Matthews had served as Canton’s assistant town manager since 2000.

The board voted 3-1 on March 23 to appoint Matthews as town manager. Alderman Eric Dills dissented, expressing concern that Matthews doesn’t live inside the town limits. At that meeting, the board changed the town ordinance to permit town managers to reside outside town limits.

Dills has since made it clear that though he disagreed with the rest of the board members, he’ll respect and support Matthews.

Matthews said the fact that he lives in the Jonathan Creek area of Haywood County rather than in Canton would not affect his job performance.

“I feel it’s more of a position of dedication rather than location,” Matthews said. “I’m on call 24/7 and I doubt there are too many times that I can’t be reached anywhere I am.”


More hiring

With the board’s support, Matthews says he’s ready to get down to business — or rather, continue the business he’s worked on as interim town manager.

Matthews enters his new role during a tough economic time that’s not going to allow him much flexibility when it comes to embarking on new town projects.

“We’re not going to have any extra money to play with, so we’re going to have to be extremely mindful of the budget this year,” he said.

That said, Matthews isn’t short on plans or ideas. His first step will be hiring an assistant town manager who will be in charge of economic development, working actively to recruit new businesses and helping existing ones.

Matthews says the process of hiring an assistant manager will almost certainly take a shorter amount of time than the manager search did. Matthews already has a stack of applications from the town manager search that he plans to utilize.



A top priority of Matthews has been, and will continue to be, the appearance of the town. Matthews says that’s an item important to town residents.

“A little over a year ago, we had a public forum on what the people wanted to see, and the recurring thing was the appearance of Canton,” Matthews said. “Not only downtown, but in the residential areas as well. We need to make sure citizens do a good job in keeping up their own properties.”

Town staff have already made some moves toward improving the town’s look by hauling out five dump truck loads of mulch to create flowerbeds and grassy medians.

“That’s something we can do at a reasonable price, that improves curb appeal, and makes a good first impression on our visitors,” Matthews said.

Matthews knows, though, that many other things that can improve the town’s appearance will be costly.

“We have a lot of sidewalks in desperate need of repair, and things that cost a lot of money to work toward. It won’t happen overnight,” he said.

In the long run, Matthews thinks the improved appearance of the town will help economic development, particularly in the downtown area.

“Economic development is at the forefront of this board, and appearance is one of the most important things,” he said. “We’re working on it, and want to actively work with the community to clean up the whole area and make it more appealing. Then hopefully our downtown area will continue to grow and flourish, and older buildings will be renovated and occupied.”

Matthews said the town is also looking into ways to use the many vacant parcels of land flooded by the 2004 hurricanes. The lots are located in the flood zone and for the most part can’t be rebuilt on, so the town board has had to get creative. One recent idea in the works calls for turning a lot across from the town hall that once housed Plus Laundry into an area for downtown activities and events. Another idea: converting vacant lots in residential neighborhoods into community garden spaces, which the Canton aldermen plan to discuss at their upcoming meeting.

Canton Mayor Pat Smathers says Matthews’ ideas, coupled with his experience working for the town under the former manager, make him a good fit at a time when Canton is working to redefine itself.

“He knows the old, but he’s got new ideas and a new way of doing things,” Smathers said. “I think at this time in our town, Al Matthews is the best fit. I think he’s going to be the transition figure we need.”

Haywood tourism board debates ‘Smokies’ slogan

Haywood County is having a bit of an identity crisis.

The Tourism Development Authority touts the county as a place “Where the Sun Rises on the Smokies.” The slogan, created in 2005 by the Tombras Group marketing agency, appears on everything from billboards to print ads to visitor guides. But since it was created, the TDA has welcomed a slate of new members and a new executive director, all of whome have their own opinions about the logo.

At a recent TDA retreat, the slogan’s effectiveness — and whether it’s a good representation of Haywood County — was called into question.

Betty Huskins, a senior vice president at regional economic development group AdvantageWest, facilitated the March 25 retreat. Huskins asked the TDA board to throw out several phrases that represent what attracts visitors to the area. Board members came up with several, including “feeling grounded,” “getting back to basics,” “family values,” and “breath of fresh air.” The current slogan and its focus on the Great Smoky Mountains was conspicuously absent from the suggestions.

“What do they feel? I don’t think it’s ‘gateway to the Smokies,’” Huskins commented.

Board chair Alice Aumen questioned what the slogan tells visitors about the area, if anything.

“Does “Where the Sun Rises on the Smokies,” say anything?” she asked.

The use of the term “Smokies” to refer to far western North Carolina has long posed a dilemma for tourism groups trying to promote the area. Though the region is technically in the Smoky Mountains, many feel that it’s not thought of as such.

“We’re sitting here touting ourselves as the Smoky Mountains, but as far as the consumer is concerned, Tennessee owns the Smokies,” said Lynn Collins, TDA executive director. “Could we identify ourselves better?”

After the retreat, Collins added that “research has proven that in the consumers’ minds, Tennessee pretty much owns the Smokies, and maybe we could position ourselves better.”

Board member Ken Stahl, who was on the TDA when the slogan was adopted, said he likes it more than some of the others the TDA has used in the past. Stahl said the phrase evokes an image of beauty, which is a major reason visitors are attracted to the region.

“If you’ve ever experienced a sunrise here and watched that, particularly when there’s mist on the valleys and the mountains, it’s a gorgeous, beautiful sight,” Stahl said.

TDA members also questioned whether the current slogan targets the area’s largest visitor demographic, which Huskins said is generally a higher-educated, older individual with money to spend.

“We need to start thinking about who our brand is, and marketing to that individual,” said Board Member Ron Reid.

Stahl, however, thinks the logo already targets the county’s major demographic of visitors.

“Our profile is people who are 55 and older that come here with discretionary spending,” Stahl said. “They come here for the scenic beauty, and you can’t highlight it any more than ‘Where the Sun Rises on the Smokies.’”

The TDA has no immediate plans to change its logo, but members did express interest in collecting feedback as to what the county’s brand should be. Collins, who has experience in previous jobs developing brands, said the TDA could start by conducting an online survey of people who have visited the county and asking them to describe in several words what they think of the area.

“You tally feedback and find a pattern out of it, a common theme,” Collins said. “It usually stands out, and you tweak it a little bit and take it and run with it. I’m hoping that can happen (here) as a result of doing some surveys and things.”

Collins said the method of relying on visitor feedback would be in contrast to the way things have been done in the past, when the TDA board paid a marketing organization to come up with a logo and campaign.

“In years past, that brand has been determined from the top down,” she said. “(At the retreat), we talked about going from the bottom up.”


TDA considers downtown location

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is in talks with the Haywood Chamber of Commerce about the possibility of moving both organizations into a roomy, historic building on the corner of Walnut and Main streets in Waynesville.

The building, which has sat on the market for more than a year, would be a prominent location for both organizations. TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins said her group has already gotten quotes on the rental price per square foot and has toured the house to determine which part of the building the TDA would occupy.

Collins said the TDA is waiting for the owner of the house to get back to the group with drawings, square footage and prices.

“Then we can look at our budget and see if we can afford it,” Collins said.

The TDA will also look at costs it will save by combining some of its business equipment with the Chamber.

Collins cautioned that discussions about the move are still “very, very preliminary.”

Civil suit following toddler’s death blames DSS for failing to intervene

A lawsuit filed against the Haywood County Department of Social Services charging the agency could have prevented the death of a 22-month-old baby but failed to take her out of harm’s way continues to make its way through the courts.

The child, Adrianna Lynn Earley, died in November 2006 of “acute oxycodon toxicity” after she got into her mother’s pills in Waynesville, court documents state. The mother, Heather Lacey, admitted that she had prescriptions for Oxycontin and Percocet. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2008.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Moore prosecuted the case and told The Smoky Mountain News last week that Lacey and the child were spending the night at a couple’s house in Waynesville. When Lacey and the child went to bed the pills were in Lacey’s purse. Lacey woke up to find the child dead and the pill bottle open, Moore said.

Moore said leaving the pills so the child could get to them was reckless and careless. District Attorney Mike Bonfoey compared it to “leaving a loaded gun in reach of a child.”

Now that the criminal proceedings are complete, the baby’s father, Joey Earley, has filed the civil lawsuit representing the child’s estate. The lawsuit charges that DSS could have prevented the death of the child but failed to heed warnings about Heather Lacey being a danger to the baby.

“They (DSS) had a report before them that this lady was dangerous to the child, and they didn’t take action to protect the child,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Randy Seago of Sylva.

Superior Court Judge Laura Bridges in Jackson County has ordered the Haywood County Department of Social Services to turn over Lacey’s medical records after they were requested by Seago. Seago said the medical records deal with drugs Lacey was allegedly on when DSS was investigating her.

Haywood County and DSS hired Attorney Christopher Geis of Winston Salem to represent them in the suit. DSS’ position in the case is that it did the best it could for the child and could not have prevented the death, Geis said.

There is no trial date set, but Seago thinks the case could be heard this summer.

It took a court order from Superior Court Judge Bridges presiding in Jackson County to release the medical records because such documents are confidential.

Geis said Heather Lacey is now in the custody of the Women’s Prison in Raleigh but is scheduled to get out this month after a 13- to 16-month sentence.

Specific damages being sought in the case are unknown because in North Carolina civil suits heard in Superior Court only specify “over $10,000.”

Agencies, departments reeling from county budget cuts

Non-profit agencies and county departments in Haywood County are still reeling from massive budget cuts announced by commissioners last week.

The county commissioners cut funding to all non-profits for the rest of the fiscal year, and called for county departments to scale back their budgets by 7 percent.

The cuts will affect everything from arts to recreation to schools. Leaders continued to call emergency meetings this week to grapple with the grim financial picture.

Some non-profit agencies were hit harder than others, like the Haywood County Arts Council. The group receives $15,000 per year from the county, an amount that will be cut by $11,250 in 2009.

“That’s a lot of money — it’s hard to make up that amount,” said Arts Council Director Kay Waldrop, who called an emergency meeting Monday (March 16) to discuss the cuts with her board of directors.

Waldrop said across-the-board cuts to the arts at federal, state and local levels are making it hard to cope.

“It’s the snowball effect,” Waldrop said. “Just one thing you can try to overcome pretty easily, but when your grants are cut, government funding is cut, donations are down and ticket sales are down — when all of those are cut, it’s a double whammy.”

Waldrop said her organization will battle to keep itself afloat.

“We’re fighting to keep the arts alive in our community,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Waynesville Recreation Center is doing its fair share of fighting. The Center receives $70,000 per year in county support, but won’t get any more for the rest of the year.

The county supplement has allowed county residents to pay the same amount as town residents for a recreation center membership despite not paying the taxes that town residents do to support the center.

Now, the recreation center must find some way to make up for the shortfall — and raising rates for county residents is one option on the table.

“We don’t have differential rates right now for the town and county, primarily because Haywood County was giving us money to supplement the difference,” said Rhett Langston, director of recreation for the Town of Waynesville. “We’ve got to come up with the money to supplement the difference some other way. We want to be very, very careful and be as fair as possible.”

Langston said the cut won’t affect programs or classes, but that the recreation center, “will definitely feel it.”

Other non-profits to feel the cut most include the Haywood County Agricultural Activities Center, the low-cost Good Samaritan Clinic, and Haywood Mountain Home.


Feeling the pinch

County departments are also reeling from the round of cuts. Some have struggled to trim their already slim budgets. A week after a county mandate to departments to cut 7 percent of their budget, across-the-board cuts only totaled 3.7 percent, Haywood County Manager David Cotton told commissioners at their Monday (March 16) meeting.

The county has tossed around various ideas to save money, including making employees take mandatory leave or cutting work weeks to 36 hours. The most drastic step will be unavoidable, Cotton said.

“We’re looking at layoffs. That’s where we’re going,” Cotton told commissioners.

Cotton said the county will take a look at the departments that have seen a slowdown in a need for their services as places to cut positions.

Robert Busko, director of the Haywood County Public Library system, said his employees have already volunteered unpaid time off and are bracing for more.

“I’m taking a week off without pay, and most supervisory staff are taking five days without pay,” Busko said. “Whenever you have to have employees take time off without pay, that’s one of the last resorts.”

The budget cuts mean the library system is holding off on developing its collection at a time when library use has increased with people seeking low-cost entertainment. The library constantly reviews it collection, ordering new materials on subjects that may be lacking and replacing out-of-date materials.

“We got a few materials ordered before we had to make the cut, but we’re ordering bestsellers only right now,” Busko said.


“A tremendous hit”

Meanwhile, the school system is figuring out how to cope with budget cuts. The school system has already slashed its budget by 3 percent to comply with a state mandate, and is bracing for additional state cuts that could total up to 9 percent — in addition to the county reductions.

“This last (county) one was totally unexpected,” said Mike Sorrells, chair of the school finance committee and member of the school board. “We are taking a tremendous hit.”

School superintendent Anne Garrett called the cuts, “serious — very serious.”

So far, the school system has been able to avoid layoffs. But various projects will have to be put on hold. One of them is a five-year project to get all student records put on microfilm, since some of the paper copies are old and deteriorating. Other cuts will mostly be supplies and materials to various programs, including vocational, special needs, the Gateway Program for at-risk students, and staff development for substitute teachers, who will not be attending conferences in the near future as a result of the cuts.

School officials expressed concern about the impact the latest cuts have had on the system’s general fund balance, or money not targeted for a specific purpose, which has been slashed in half.

The 2004 floods highlighted the importance of having a fund balance. When the school system was hit with unexpected costs, it had reserves to pull from to pay for upfront repairs before federal and state reimbursements came in.

“If we have some kind of crisis where a major piece of equipment goes down and we don’t have money in the fund balance,” that’s not a desirable situation, said Larry Smith, Chief Financial Officer for Haywood County Schools.

The county’s fund balance has dipped as well, and mandatory budget cuts are a necessary way to get the fund balance back to acceptable levels, said commissioners. Plus, cuts have been felt in private industry for some time, so it was only a matter of time before local governments were forced to follow suit.

“The private sector has been having to cut back for several months, and now the county has to cut back,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

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