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The Henderson County Board of Commissioners, self-styled fiscal conservatives, raised the property tax rate by 5 cents per $100 valuation and charted a course for more than $100 million worth of capital projects in the coming years. The work includes the new Innovative High School on the BRCC campus, Hendersonville High School construction, a new emergency management headquarters, Edneyville Elementary School construction and the law enforcement training center. Early in 2016 commissioners expressed support for a quarter-cent local option sales tax that they said would reduce the need to rely on the property tax. But when commissioners Bill Lapsley and Grady Hawkins failed to win a commitment from the full board to tie a property tax rollback to voter approval of the sales tax, the referendum became an orphan with no support. No one mounted a campaign in in favor of the tax. Voters defeated it by 34 percentage points. Mills River taxpayers saw an even bigger tax increase. A year-long dispute with the Board of Commissioners over the cost of police coverage by the sheriff’s office ended when the Mills River Town Council acquiesced to a new contract. The town looked at providing garbage service, at a cost of $712,000 to $950,000, but a survey found that three out of five town residents favored police coverage instead. To pay for the service, which rises to $775,000 in the third year of the agreement, the Town Council raised property taxes by 6.76 cents per $100 valuation. In December the council received a report from Sheriff McDonald that deputies had investigated 6,338 crime reports through Dec. 1, compared to 4,273 for all of 2015 and 3,586 in 2014.
It was clear a year ago that a major construction plan for Hendersonville High School would be a big topic in 2016. The Board of Commissioners signaled early in the year that it considered the high school a high priority. The project suddenly got fast-tracked during commissioners’ budget drafting in the spring and soon it turned into the hottest political story of the year. The controversy lasted all year and shows no sign of letting up in the new year. Led by Carey O’Cain, a retired construction project estimator and manager, and current president Bill Orr, the HHS Alumni Association pushed for a combination renovation-new construction plan that O’Cain said would preserve the historic Stillwell building for classroom use, cost less and provide more parking. Despite their efforts, commissioners voted for the new “state of the art” high school on the old Boyd car dealership property and twice more ratified the decision. After a five-hour meeting on Aug. 17 commissioners voted to stick with their original plan. After a Sept. 12 meeting, the School Board sent a letter to the Board of Commissioners making a new Edneyville Elementary School the top priority and reiterating support for the renovation option for HHS. After a joint meeting with School Board on Nov. 16, commissioners again endorsed the new construction option. On Dec. 5, commissioners demanded that the newly elected School Board conduct an up-or-down vote on HHS. A no vote, commissioners said, would mean that the county would shelve the project. On Dec. 12, the School Board voted 4-2 to endorse all-new construction. The issue goes next to the Hendersonville Planning Board and City Council.