The Transylvania Times -

Hemlocks And Fire Funding Dominate Hearing - Brevard NC


Requests to reconsider funding a project to help save hemlock trees and to fund staffing at the Cedar Mountain Fire Rescue were made Monday during the public hearing for the proposed 2016/17 county budget.

Four of the five people who spoke during the public hearing asked county commissioners to reconsider funding the $15,000 toward the hemlock project.

The money was not included in County Manager Jaime Laughter’s proposed budget.

The Transylvania Natural Resources Council (TNRC) had initially requested the funding.

Hemlocks — the Eastern and Carolina variety in particular — have been devastated by the hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA), a Japanese insect.

On Monday, TNRC Chairman Lee McMinn told commissioners the money would be used to prevent the extinction of hemlocks on private lands that define the upper reaches of the French Broad River.

As previously reported, the TNRC said the money would be used to create maps showing the location of problem areas and a “prioritized list of actions to be taken.”

Actions could include predator beetle releases, chemical injections and more funding for crossbreeding varieties that are resistant to the HWA. The Sassy Beetle, or sasajiscymnus tsugae, is an imported Asian insect that feeds exclusively on HWA.

McMinn told commissioners the $15,000 would be about half the money needed during the 20016/17 fiscal year, which begins July 1, and would be used to leverage additional funding from grants and from interested outside groups. McMinn said 12 groups have already expressed an interest in joining the effort.

McMinn said 649 private land owners have been identified who are located beside major tributaries that define the French Broad River watershed. If the project goes ahead, permission from the land owners would be sought to access their property and assess any damage to the hemlocks. Property owners would also be shown how to treat the hemlocks.

A cost-sharing scheme with property owners is envisioned. N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler has also shown an interest in the project, McMinn said. A few years ago, Troxler’s office helped start the Hemlock Restoration Initiative, which is based in Asheville.

Margot Wallston, with the Initiative, and residents Susan Sunflower and Peter Mockridge also spoke during the public hearing in support of the funding.


The only other person to speak Monday during the public hearing was Jimmy Jones, with Cedar Mountain Fire Rescue.

He talked about his concerns with the proposed funding for all of the county’s fire departments, particularly Cedar Mountain. He noted that as of Monday evening, Cedar Mountain Fire Rescue had responded, so far, to 103 calls this year from DuPont State Recreational Forest.

On June 4, Cedar Mountain Fire Rescue responded to a fatality at High Falls. After roughly three hours and 40 minutes at the scene, the department was called out to Caesars Head State Park, which Cedar Mountain Fire Rescue is mandated to serve, for another roughly four hours on a call for lost hikers.

Volunteers, Jones suggested, shouldn’t be expected to have to commit this much time. He asked commissioners to provide funding for part-time staffing on the weekends. Many of the county’s fire departments have talked about the need for more staff funding.

Commissioners have previously indicated that they would like to wait until the emergency services study currently underway is completed in the fall before making any decisions.

“We can’t wait until next fiscal year on some of this stuff,” Jones said Monday.

After the public hearing, Commission Chairman Mike Hawkins noted that the county would continue taking feedback on the proposed 2016/17 budget up until it’s scheduled to be approved at the commissioners’ June 27 meeting. As it stands, the roughly $48.4 million budget for the 2016/17 fiscal year is a 1.1 percent increase in spending over the current fiscal year.

The proposed budget calls for setting the property tax rate at $.5110 per $100 of value. The current tax rate is $.4499 per $100.

The tax increase, according to the county, includes setting a proposed revenue neutral rate and a 2-cent increase. The proposed budget is available at the administration building, the library and online at http://www.transylvania

In other action:

•Trisha Hogan, clerk to the commissioners, led Monday’s meeting because of the absence of Laughter, who had a baby boy, Samuel, on June 9. Laughter is working in a part-time capacity for now and is expected to return to the commissioner meetings on Aug. 22.

•Commissioners approved a budget amendment that took $109,614 from the general fund balance assigned for economic development to support expansion at Excelsior Packaging. This was part of the incentive agreement between the county and New Excelsior, Inc., signed in October of 2014.

This amendment increased the general fund budget by $109,614, bringing it to a total of $48,842,551.

•Commissioners heard a presentation on the medical countermeasures exercise held in February at the county’s recreation center behind Pisgah Forest Elementary School. The exercise was coordinated by the county’s Public Health Department and involved 26 different agencies and 116 participants. Planning for the exercise began last summer. The exercise was to simulate giving the entire county population medication during an emergency.

•John Blythe was appointed to the Agriculture Advisory Board. Anne Bullard and Karen Cole were reappointed to the Library Board of Trustees.

•The library has been awarded $48,626 in federal grant funds to be used for strategic long-range planning.


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