At what price?

A small group of people in the Swannanoa Valley are proposing to form an incorporated township. But after listening to their reasoning, I’ve heard nothing to justify this.

I have a personal reason for opposing incorporation. I came to the Swannanoa Valley in 1958 to work at Kearfott in Black Mountain. In 1959, I bought 16 acres in Buckeye Cove, which is within the proposed incorporation area. Later I added six more acres. And in 1972, I bought another 274 acres. This 296-acre tract joins Billy Graham Cove to the west and Fairview Ridge to the south. All of my land has been used for forestry and cattle farming. It is presently under Buncombe County’s Farmland Preservation district, present-use valuation and forestry management.

Never at any time have I considered selling any portion of this land for development. My objective has been to maintain a sustainable forest and woodland environment, plus a small amount of farmland, and to protect this small portion of our Earth from destruction. Unlike others who inherit property, I bought mine—and paid for it with hard-earned money. This land represents 49 years of my life. It’s not a real-estate investment: It’s my home.

So far I’ve been able to pay my county taxes, keep my family fed and pay our medical bills. But if my home becomes part of Swannanoa’s proposed township, I will have to support a city government that I can’t afford and whose proposed services I don’t need.

The pro-incorporation group proposes to pay a town manager $70,000 per year. Not in all my working life, except the last year I worked, have I ever earned one-half that amount. There would also be salaries for a mayor, vice mayor, city police, city council, city-paid firemen, a city attorney and various others.

I also object to the proposed incorporation on general grounds. Most of my neighbors oppose the idea for basically the same reasons as I do. Some, however, say they’re for it. When I ask them why, they say it’s the lesser of two evils: They’ve been told that Asheville plans to annex this area. This is false. I have heard the mayor of Asheville state during a City Council meeting that Asheville has no plans to annex Swannanoa. Indeed, they cannot, because this area doesn’t meet the required criteria. Yet many people have been misled.

Incorporation proponents say it would enable Swannanoa to receive about $1.5 million in revenue sharing and other moneys. I asked how much of this money I could use to pay doctor bills and buy groceries and gasoline. The answer I got was, “None!” That’s right—and neither could anyone else. All the money would go to the “city” officials to provide services that no one wants or needs.

Another argument for incorporation is that the people of Swannanoa, through a City Council, could make their own laws and rules and therefore be in control of our community. But there’s a difference between the way we vote and the way we figure taxes. In voting, it’s “one person, one vote.” But when it comes to taxes, it’s “one acre, one tax”—and therefore, “many acres, many taxes.”

Someone owning my acreage would be forced to submit to the whims and carry the financial burdens of people who’ve done little or nothing to protect the Earth that gives us life.

My land gives us oxygen from the timber, and clear water for the folks who live downstream. When I have timber cut, it provides jobs for a lot of people. It provides a pleasant place for people to walk and a habitat for wildlife. I allow a controlled amount of hunting by those who are respectful of my property and the wildlife that lives on it. It provides a view from the Blue Ridge Parkway of unspoiled forest. My forest provides flood control by soaking up excessive rainfall and giving it back at a slow rate. But if my land is incorporated into the city of Swannanoa, all of these things will be lost, because I won’t be able to keep my land.

There are many ways that a man can be condemned. A young man of 20 can be executed, thereby destroying the next 50 years of his potential life. An old man can have 50 years’ worth of accomplishment ripped out from under him. Regardless of how it comes about, you cannot compensate for life with money.

Just over 15 percent of the people of Swannanoa signed a petition supporting incorporation. But that could mean that just under 85 percent do not!

My hope is that the “just under 85 percent” will get involved, make their wishes known and defend themselves against something they don’t want, don’t need and can’t afford.

I have given and am still giving many things to the community. Now I’m asking for help—from those who look down from the Blue Ridge Parkway and those who look up Buckeye Cove at night and see a quiet, peaceful forest rather than streetlights and clay banks. From those who want clean water in our streams, those who want to “save our slopes” and those who enjoy walking and/or hunting on my property.

I urge all these people to speak out against this inappropriate and unnecessary proposal. Contact our state legislators and make your feelings known. This is not just about me and my home and property: Many other landowners have the same concerns. Anyone who owns a home should be concerned. And if you rent, your rent will go up because your landlord will have to pay higher taxes.

So, friends, wake up and speak up! Otherwise you will let a few people who are looking for notoriety and financial gain rule and control our “just under 85 percent.”

[Longtime Swannanoa resident Arnold Ferguson grew up in Haywood County’s Rabbit Skin community. Now retired, the Air Force veteran, former charter pilot and flight instructor works to maintain the sustainable forest, small cattle operation and garden on his Swannanoa property.]


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5 thoughts on “At what price?

  1. ksc0180

    Thank you Mr. Ferguson for your article. While I am not a member of your community, I feel your concern. Also, thank you for the continued preservation of our diminishing land and natural resources. I admire the perseverance in your youth to acquire your piece of heaven on earth. I’m sure it is beautiful. And, I applaud you for speaking out against the often pushy and inconsiderate modern bureaucracy. I hope the other 85% follow your lead and you get the outcome you desire. Good luck!

  2. Audrey Godshall

    I thank you, Mr. Ferguson, for writing this thoughtful and well stated article. My husband and I are relative newcomers to Swannanoa (7 years) and we do not want Swannanoa to be incorporated! All I see from incorporation is more taxes I would be forced to pay for services I do not want or need.

  3. travelah

    Audrey, I have no dog in this hunt but because I am naturally nosy, will you mind paying higher taxes when Asheville swallows you up?

  4. Lew

    Mr. Ferguson does indeed wax poetic in his article. What he fails to mention is that neither Asheville nor the Buncombe County commissioners have Swannanoa’s best interests at heart. Where does the $1.5 million in taxes that is currently collected go? Back to the county for the commissioners to spend as they choose. From the looks of it, not a lot gets spent in Swannanoa. We still have damage and debris left over from flooding several years ago. If the residents of Swannanoa had access to those funds our “town” would be a much more attractive place to live. The former downtown Swannanoa is a ghost town. We have empty buildings and businesses abounding. Who is fighting to bring business and jobs back to Swannanoa? Not the county commissioners.

    Developers are coming in and buying up huge tracts of land for private communities and celebrity golf courses. This is not the Swannanoa I want to live in, although since my family has been in this valley for many generations, I’m not planning to leave. Instead, I am choosing to be pro-active and support the incorporation movement. But, not because Asheville is planning to annex Swannanoa. This is not currently part of Asheville’s plans (although I have a hard time believing that Asheville won’t try to somehow get their money on the tax revenue the Cliffs will bring).

    I am choosing to embrace change as a concerned citizen rather than let it happen to me. There are many positives that incorporation can bring for the good of the entire town as a community.

    Mr. Ferguson can choose to sit on his 296 acres, patting himself on the back for all the good that his land does for the Swannanoa residents. I am choosing to fight to take back the $1.5 million in taxes we already pay and reinvest them in Swannanoa’s future, the future of all 13,000 citizens. Yes, as an incorporated town that does mean that taxes will increase a small amount.

    I am willing to buckle down and pay a little more to help ensure that Swannanoa has a voice of its own for generations to come. We must think and plan for ourselves, not the developers, not the commissioners…the citizens of the town of Swannanoa.

  5. DBR1

    I live on one of the most remote parcels of land from the business district of the proposed town of Swannanoa. East Asheville is more accessible to me, and therefore I rarely travel through Swannanoa. I am on a private road not maintained by the state nor the county. I have a private well and septic system, and I paid to have electricity brought to my property. I carefully manage my property as timber land and receive a county property tax break via the present use valuation program for that reason. I have no intention of breaking up or developing this piece of property. I have the protection of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department and the Swannanoa Fire Department. My taxes already pay for both of those, and it is my opinion that I can count on them. What is the benefit to me of such a proposed new city structure? None that I can see. The City of Asheville couldn’t possibly annex this area. It does not meet their criteria, and they could provide no benefit. It is over 300′ elevation, and parcels average 10 acres or more. It would be completely economically unfeasible.
    One of the other commenters mentioned the need to clean up from flood damage in Swannanoa. Whose property is it on? Why aren’t they cleaning it up? Why aren’t their concerned neighbors offering to clean it up? I just finished cleaning up from the tail end of 3 hurricanes a few years back. I worked like a dog for over a week and paid others nearly $2000. to help. The proposed city (or township) of Swannanoa wouldn’t help with that, either. Sounds to me like the problem here is how money is spent in the county. How does the creation of another government entity solve THAT problem? It doesn’t for me. I’m all for “community”, but my community is Buncombe County.
    I am disappointed in our county commissioners for letting “The Cliffs at High Carolina” slide through under the wire before the new steep slope rules went into effect. I am particularly disappointed in Nathan Ramsey on that one. But unfortunately, that is water under the bridge. Possibly a better approach would be to tax the heck out of the folks who build/buy these multi-million dollar 2nd (3rd, 4th, etc.) homes and use them for just a few weeks or months per year, and use the money to reduce the tax burden of those of us who live here full time. THEY are squandering energy and natural resources, and THEY should feel the pain in their wallets. I intend to write my state legislators. Now.

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