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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Four stories to watch in ’17

As soon as they ring in the New Year, Hendersonville and Henderson County leaders will confront plenty of leftover issues and new challenges. Here are four things to watch in 2017:

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  • The yearlong contentious debate over Hendersonville High School was the No. 1 story in the Lightning’s feature last week on the Top 10 news stories of the year. Unfortunately, for those who don’t like soap operas with slow-moving repetitive story lines, this saga is not over yet. The Hendersonville City Council still must take up a zoning request and site plan review. The City Council could influence things like parking and traffic flow through a conditional-use permit. Whether the county and city agree to go that route is up in the air. But one thing’s for sure. Hanging in the balance is the spirit of cooperation that City Council members, county commissioners and administrators have worked hard to develop over the past three years.
  • Everyone will be watching when the Board of Commissioners convenes its famously detailed budget-drafting retreat early in the year. Barring some unforeseen new expense, a property tax rollback will be on the table. Commissioners voted 3-2 to raise the property tax rate by 5 cents last June. Commissioners Bill Lapsley and Grady Hawkins accurately predicted that county administrators would once again sandbag on their expense and revenue forecasts. When the audited result came in, the county had gained $2.8 million, mostly through aggressive expense control. It was the fifth time in the past six years that the county had managed to start a new fiscal year with a substantial cash buffer from the year before. Lapsley and Hawkins voted no on the budget then failed twice, on 2-3 votes, to tie a successful local option sales tax vote to a guaranteed property tax rollback. There’s a good chance the third time. The fund balance of $28 million is double the commissioners’ own policy to set aside 12 percent of the general fund in the rainy day account.
  • We should find out in 2017 if there’s any blue sky in the Grey Hosiery Mill’s future. The request for proposals is in the mail. We should know by April whether a developer has accepted the city’s invitation to build a full-service hotel with convention facilities and a restaurant. If there are no takers the council may have reached an appointment with the bulldozer and selling of a cleared two-acre piece of ground. Maybe proceeds could fund the long-delayed Berkeley Park improvements.
  • Although municipal elections tend to be snoozers here, this year’s contests in the city of Hendersonville’s could get interesting. Mayor Barbara Volk would be seeking a third term if she decides to run again. If she retires, Jeff Miller, the leading vote-getter in 2013, is a logical possibility for the top spot. And don’t rule out Councilman Ron Stephens, who could make a third run for mayor. Also up for election is Jerry Smith, the HHS civics teacher. See the top of this column: the council’s vote on HHS could become the biggest campaign issue of the city election.