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Mills River extends park ranger coverage through winter

MILLS RIVER — The Mills River Town Council agreed Thursday night to extend ranger coverage of the Town Park through the winter so they could keep restrooms open on weekends.

Rangers were scheduled to work through Nov. 4 and resume work in April. But without a ranger, the restrooms would be closed and no town personnel would be available to check shelters for damage and return rental deposits if they're OK.
The rangers open and lock the restrooms, patrol the park and check on the picnic shelters when they're on duty. Town officials said they would recommend against renting shelters if the restrooms were closed.
Laughter said the town has enough in the budget to extend the rangers' duty through the winter on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The rangers have been positive for public relations as well, Town Manager Jaime Laughter said.
"Just today a lady said the gentlemen you have working in the evenings and on weekends make me feel so safe," she said.
Use of the town park has remained steady, and the dog park especially draws regular users in all conditions.
"Even if it's cold I think we'll have people using the dog park because we see people in the dog park even if it's raining," Laughter said.
In other action, board members:
• Approved rules for the tennis courts, which are expected to be ready for play within the next few weeks. Everything is done except the top layer of the court and erecting the net and fencing. The rules say that the tennis courts are for tennis only. Bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards and pets are barred. The town asked that players limit play to one hour if people are waiting.
• Decided that they would negotiate directly with Etowah-Horse Shoe Fire Chief Roger Freeman on the tax status of 12 parcels valued at $2.4 million that are in the town of Mills River but served by the Etowah fire department. A 2-cent difference in the fire tax rate between Mills River and Etowah-Horse Shoe created the problem that has been flagged by the town's auditor and brought up by the Etowah-Horse Shoe fire chief. The Mills River rate is 7.5 cents per $100 valuation; the Etowah-Horse Shoe rate is 9.5 cents. Under the law, the town of Mills River cannot charge those 12 taxpayers the higher Etowah-Horse Shoe rate. The town collected the Mills River fire tax for the 2011 tax year for the parcels, which are on Pole Bridge Road. The amount, $1,817.70, was placed in escrow because the town has no agreement on how to pay the other fire department. The Etowah-Horse Shoe rate would have generated $2,302, or $485 more. The Town Council agreed to invite Chief Freeman of the Etowah department to meet with the council at its next meeting. Another solution might be to de-annex the property, council members said, but only the state Legislature can do that.