TDHA down payment assistance program still available

Ralph Perry, executive director of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, stopped by the Erwin Record Office to discuss a Down Payment Assistance Program available to some Unicoi County residents. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

One of the primary roles of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) is supporting financing opportunities for first time homebuyers of a low to moderate income status.

The THDA wants to remind interested homebuyers of an ongoing Hardest Hit Fund Down Payment Assistance Program that provides eligible borrowers purchasing homes within specific zip codes a $15,000 forgivable loan to put towards down payments and closing costs.

“This is the time people think about buying homes, and we thought this was a good time to remind people that this is still available,” said Ralph Perry, executive director of the THDA. “It should be available for much of this year, certainly during the homebuying season.”

Tennessee’s share of the Hardest Hit Fund was $80 million, and targets areas that are recovering more slowly from the last economic downturn.

Originally, when the Down payment Assistance Program began last year, 55 zip codes in Tennessee were approved for the program, but last October the THDA was permitted to include seven more.

“We are the only state that they let us target at the zip code level,” Perry said. “Last fall we got permission to add most of Unicoi County, the zip code that covers Erwin in particular.”

The local zip codes eligible for the program are 37660 in Sullivan County, and 37650 in Unicoi County. Forgiveness for the $15,000 loan begins in the sixth year of home ownership.

“If you stay in that home and with that mortgage for 10 years, you’ll never have to pay back a penny of that $15,000,” explained Perry. “Starting in the sixth year, we basically forgive 20 percent of it a year. This is not an incentive for someone to come in and buy a house, flip it and sell it next year.”

Perry mentioned the benefits of encouraging more homebuyers and stakeholders such as more civic engagement and money fueled back into the local economy.

Thus far, the THDA has been very pleased with how the program has been received, and Perry stated that the program has resulted in an enormous increase in mortgage production for the agency.

He said for 2017, mortgage production was 44 percent better than the previous year, and much of that improvement was attributed to their ability to offer the downpayment assistance.

“For example in Sullivan County, we did four times the amount of business in 2017,” Perry said.

In order to qualify for the Down Payment Assistance Program, a pre-purchase and post-purchase homebuyer education course must be completed. 

“We have found that people really appreciate the financial information,” Perry said. “It really helps prepare them for what they are going to go through in buying a home.”

Citing an academic study, Perry said homebuyers who participate in a homebuyer education program are 40 percent less likely to encounter financial difficulty such as delinquency or default.

“This is stuff most of us don’t learn in school,” he said. “It’s helpful information that really prepares you. We have it set up to where you can actually take most of it online and at your own pace. We have excellent counseling agents in the area, and once you go through the counseling it’s good for one year.”

Perry said he encourages any new homebuyer to participate in a homebuyers education program to help avoid any potential hiccups throughout the purchasing process.

Even if someone doesn’t qualify for the Down Payment Assistance Program, THDA still offers a Great Choice Home Loan with a competitive rate on a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage in addition to assisting with downpayment and closing costs. Those who qualify for a Great Choice Home Loan, can also apply for a Great Choice Plus second loan that provides up to five percent of the purchasing price.

“Even if you’re not in one of those zip codes, we can still help you with an amount equal to five percent of the purchasing price,” Perry informed. “So if someone is buying a $150,000 home, that’s $7,500 we can help you with on down payment and closing costs.”

For most families, Perry says it’s the closing costs and down payment that present the biggest financial obstacles. He said oftentimes homebuyers have good credit and they are bringing in enough income to cover their mortgage, but they underestimate the closing costs.

“They’re surprised to learn that there could be $3,000 to $5,000 in closing costs,” he said.

For Unicoi County, a family of two making up to $68,760, or a family of three or more making up to $80,220 qualify for the Great Choice Price Second Loan worth up to five percent of their purchase price.

“We run so many programs that help lower income folks that a lot of times that surprises a lot of people,” said Perry. “That can reach a lot of families. … It makes it that much easier for them to buy a home.”

For more information on the Down Payment Assistance Program, or any other programs provided by the THDA, please visit their website at

Motion to establish interlocal agreement for ambulance services fails to pass Erwin BMA

By Kendal Groner

Despite recent attempts to determine a solution to the county’s reported unsatisfactory ambulance services provided by MedicOne, the future of the county’s ambulance services still remain uncertain.

“We have been discussing this for some time,” said Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley. “We actually started discussion on this before I retired as city recorder in the late 1990s.”

During the Monday, March 12, Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, a motion failed that would have approved the Town of Erwin to create a new Ambulance Service Department, forming an interlocal agreement among the three municipalities.

After the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee met last week, they agreed to recommend to the Unicoi County Commission to provide $138,253 in funding for creation of a new ambulance service as proposed by the Town of Erwin.

The creation of the ambulance service had projected costs of $1,233,807. A total of $440,000 from a Community Development Block Grant, and $250,000 from the Hospital Foundation for the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital to Mountain States Health Alliance was available to fund the service.

Originally, revenues were projected at $885,120, with the Town of Erwin matching $115,000, and the municipalities splitting the rest of the costs. Based on population, Unicoi County would have been responsible for $138,253, the Town of Erwin would be responsible for $47,651, and the Town of Unicoi would be responsible for $27,779.

However, after collecting data on the number of ambulance calls over the last few years, Mayor Hensley projected revenues to run closer to $1,184,00, and added that the Hospital Foundation was willing to provide an additional $150,000 that could be paid back over a period of time.

“Over the past five years, it has averaged 3,700 calls a year,” Hensley said.

With 25 percent of ambulance calls being no pay calls, the other 75 percent of ambulance calls average $320 per call.

“The estimated income with the county’s contribution, with the foundation grant, we are going to come up with approximately $192,000 in excess of revenue over our anticipated expenditures,” Hensley said.

After looking at the number of ambulance calls that had to be answered by the Erwin Police Department or neighboring counties, along with the situations where family members had to transport individuals, Hensley said it was obvious that something needed to be done.

“I know we have talked about this being the county’s responsibility, but when I took an oath of office to serve as mayor, I vowed to do the best that I could for the welfare of our citizens at all times,” she said. “I think it is my responsibility to at least try to provide ambulance services to the county.”

However, Alderman Gary Edwards said he was unsatisfied with the proposed plans and felt the county should be contributing more.

“It’s not costing us anything,” Hensley replied. “Even our matching funds are paid for by the foundation.”

Alderman Gary Chandler also noted that he had spoken with several individuals that felt it was the county’s responsibility to address the inadequate ambulance services.

“A half a dozen times at least, I told them (Unicoi County) that if they didn’t do something we would,” Hensley stated.

Hensley also reminded the board that the funds for the Community Development Block Grant were only available to the Town of Erwin, and would go away if they weren’t used.

Alderman Mark Lafever questioned who would be responsible if revenues were not met, and asked if there would be a written agreement holding the other two municipalities responsible.

Hensley said there would be a written agreement drafted, however the Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch informed her he would not contribute to the service as he was already a part of the county.

Although additional money could also be saved if they found a suitable insurance clerk to handle the billing, according to Hensley.

“A call could also cost over $1,000,” she said. “It just depends on the type of call that comes in and the personnel that answers the call.”

Lafever was still concerned with raising taxes in the event the revenue stream fell short, and also mentioned that the Town of Erwin residents would be double taxed by paying both county and city taxes.

“So we will raise taxes to build tennis courts, but not an ambulance service,” Hensley asked.

Alderman Virgil Moore made a motion to approve the creation of a new Ambulance Service Department, but it failed due to lack of a second.

“I’d like to commend you for all of the work you’ve done mayor,” said Chandler. “I just think the county has dropped the ball.”

• • •

In other business, the board discussed the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s 2018 Local Parks and Recreation Fund Grant that could be used to improve Fishery Park.

“It seems to me the top priorities are tennis courts, and then two ball fields, bathrooms, and throw in the improvements to the basketball courts,” said Glenn Rosenoff, city recorder.

The town can request up to $500,000 for a $1,000,000 project in funding from TDEC, but the town is required to match 50 percent of the allotted funds.

Due to their condition, Rosenoff recommended the courts be demolished, and estimated the cost for all of the improvements to be around $1,000,000.

“My recommendation, since it seems TDEC likes improvement plans, is to go for the maximum of the grant,” he said.

However, Mayor Hensley was concerned that matching the full $500,000 for one fiscal year could be straining on the budget, and instead suggested splitting the project into two phases.

She suggested the town apply for one $500,000 project at a time, only requiring them to match $250,000, and noted that once one phase was complete, they could reapply for additional funds when grant applications were reopened in two years.

The price for six new tennis courts alone, would be estimated around $600,000, according to Rosenoff, and the lighting and fencing for the men’s field would be around $150,000.

“I get more complaints on the tennis courts than anything else in town,” Lafever said. “It would be nice to have solid numbers for each facility we are looking at … and then we can pick out what we can afford.”

Rosenoff said he would compile numbers for the cost of each project to present to the board in the called meeting before the April deadline for the grant application.

• • •

The board unanimously voted to approve the appointment of Tom Bradford to the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board.

The board also unanimously approved the closing of a section of Gay Street from the corner of Main Avenue to First Tennessee Bank as part of the Unicoi County High School prom at the Bramble from Saturday, April 28, at 11 a.m. to Sunday, April 29, at 11 a.m.

Sinkhole discovered, repaired on property adjacent to golf course

This sinkhole was located on a Buffalo Valley Golf Course property and was one of several other sinkholes that have been discovered in the area, according to a local official. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Zachary Morrison had just gotten off of the night shift at Nuclear Fuel Services and soon discovered a busted service line at his residence. It turned out that his property, located at 126 Buffalo Ridge Drive, had a massive sinkhole in the front yard.

“The service line started spraying water, and that’s what had caught my attention,” Morrison said.

He said the sinkhole was initially discovered three or four weeks ago, but progressively got worse with recent rain. After Town of Unicoi officials were notified on March 6 that the sinkhole had fully collapsed, the Unicoi County Highway Department came out to repair the sinkhole.

“This area is prone to sinkholes because it’s on Limestone rock,” said Terry Haynes, Unicoi County road superintendent. “You just don’t know where they’re at … we have them on the south end of the county too, we’ve got two or three out there. We’ve been very, very lucky that kids have not fallen in these things.”

Morrison moved to the golf course property four years ago with his wife and three young children. He said had he known about the sinkhole issue beforehand, he would’ve reconsidered purchasing the property.

“My wife is adamant about putting it up for sale,” he said. “But with the golf course closure and now this sinkhole, there’s no telling how much this has hurt my property value.”

Because not all sinkholes provide surface expressions before opening up, determining where they are located can be a difficult endeavor.

“We have no way of knowing where they all are, these things just started coming up in the last five or six years because there is a lot of building going on … a lot of drilling, shooting, and vibration,” Haynes said. “There’s several things that could be causing them to open up.”

There have been a total of three sinkholes open up in the general vicinity near Morrison’s property. Haynes said one of the sinkholes cost approximately $80,000 to fix, and the other was repaired by the homeowner.

“A guy dropped a cinder block in there and it just kept on going,” Haynes said. “We didn’t fix that one though, the landowners handled it.”

A total of 6,000 gallons of water was poured into the sinkhole on Morrison’s property, all of which was absorbed in less than a minute and a half.   

“We had no idea what we were dealing with until we saw a hole there,” Morrison said. “I’m  worried that eventually it’s just going to open up somewhere else.”

Morrison discovered the water from the sinkhole was letting out about a quarter mile downhill into a creek running through the Buffalo Valley Golf Course that feeds into a large pond.

Haynes estimated it would take $60,000 to fix Morrison’s sinkhole. The repair process involved filling in the hole with large stones and applying a layer of petromat. Petromat is a non-woven fabric of polypropylene fibers that acts as a water impervious barrier.

After the petromat and stones were put in the sinkhole, 50 yards of cement was poured into the hole up to the service line pipe, all in all around a 10 hour process.

With four other neighboring lots for sale, Haynes said the issue of an increasing number of sinkholes is something the Town of Unicoi Planning Commission may wish to address.

“This is a liability the city is going to have to eat,” Haynes said. “If somebody comes out and they see a hole in the yard, please don’t just stomp it. Because you have no idea where you’re going to wind up, you could end up a quarter of a mile underground … it’s dangerous.”

Harris Hollow Road temporarily closing for Linear Trail tunnel construction

By Kendal Groner

After seven or eight years of uncertainty about when it would become a reality, construction of the Erwin Linear Trail extension tunnel is about to begin.

On Wednesday, Feb, 28, the Town of Erwin Planning Commission heard an update about the project which will link the Erwin Linear Trail to Fishery Park.

In October of 2017, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen accepted a bid from Summers-Taylor Construction in the amount of $996,965.15 to construct the tunnel. Funds from the Tennessee Department of Transportation for a Transportation Alternatives grant in the amount of $885,271 will be used for the project, with the Town of Erwin providing a 20 percent match.

A precast of the concrete tunnel is being manufactured at Permatile Concrete Products Company in Bristol, Virginia, before it will be transported and put in place. The timeline for the entire project is from February to November, and will be open cut in the months of April and May.

“Summers Taylor is already on site doing marking and staking,” said Riki Forney, public works director for the Town of Erwin. “The open cut design has potential to shave months off of the project.”

During the four-week timeline from April 12 to May 16, Harris Hollow Road will be closed. Zane Whitson Drive and Old Fishery Road will be open to local traffic.

“They will have barricades there and they will have barricades closer to Main Avenue and 107,” Forney said.

Summers-Taylor is providing detour signs, and Forney added that local businesses from Governor’s Bend down to the area of Food Lion have been notified about the project and rerouting plans for delivery vehicles.

Forney said that Permatile is also building concrete blocks in two sections that will give a stacked stone look to fit in with the aesthetics of the area.

“It will look much nicer … it goes with the rural trail system we have in place,” he said. “Folks come from all over the region just because of our trail.”

• • •

The Town of Erwin Board of Zoning and Appeals also met on Feb. 28. During that meeting, the board heard a variance request from Lindsey Harris, project manager for the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital property, for a buffer strip along the northern property boundary between the new hospital and a neighboring residential property.

“We want to block the view of the residents from the actual building,” Harris said. “Both properties are zoned B-2 commercial zoning, so as far as the ordinance stating a buffer has to be between a residential and commercial, that is not the case here.”

Harris mentioned a general agreement between Mountain States Health Alliance and the neighboring property owner that there would be some sort of buffer. The buffer would be 5 feet in width, and 6 feet tall after one growing season.

“As far as what kind of trees, we did not specify,” Harris added. “It will be conducive to the landscaping plan for the hospital.”

The buffer would be approximately 100 feet at the top angle of the northern boundary of the property, and 200 feet along the bottom angle.

“This is not precise, we are just going to go off of site distance,” Harris said.

Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley made a motion to approve the variance request. Erwin Board of Zoning Appeals member Clyde Edwards seconded the motion before it unanimously passed.

• • •

The BZA also heard from Russ Davis, a planner with the First Tennessee Development District. Davis said that Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. is looking to build a 150 foot high weather tower on site.

The issue in regulating the tower, is that the zoning code does not include language pertaining to any towers other than wireless towers.

“This tower is classified as a weather reception tower and data is not being transmitted wirelessly to a receiver,” Davis said. “It’s a gray area and we need the board’s interpretation of whether or not this is actually a wireless transmission tower.”

According to the regulations for a wireless transmission tower, there must be a clear zone of the height of the tower plus 25 feet. There was concern regarding the close proximity of the tower to a neighboring building and NFS employee cars.

“The fall zone of this – if it did fall – it is in close proximity of a parking lot and also a building,” said Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff. “One of the things we asked them is if it was self-collapsing, then they would have a different fall zone.”

If the board did not interpret the tower as a wireless tower, the safety regulations would become the responsibility of Brian Tapp, town building inspector. Tapp said that he had spoken with NFS, and expressed that his main concern was the fall zone and would suggest a self-collapsing tower. He added that if the board did not categorize the tower as a wireless tower, NFS might still need to come before the board for a variance request because of the proximity of the building and parking lot to the tower.

“(The ordinance) says data transmission, but it doesn’t say what kind,” said Hensley. “To me that would include data.”

Hensley expressed concern that if they did not regulate the tower, the town could still be held responsible in the event that it fell and caused damage.

Hensley made a motion to have the town attorney look into the matter. Her motion was seconded by Rosenoff before it unanimously passed.

Tourism consultant urges officials to develop brand for county

Steve Chandler with Chandlerthinks gave a presentation of his findings for a comprehensive tourism plan for Unicoi County to county leaders last Thursday. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

On Thursday, Feb. 22, Steve Chandler with Chandlerthinks gave a final presentation on a strategic tourism plan for Unicoi County that was funded through a $20,000 State of Tennessee Tourism Enhancement Grant.

Chandler took a tourism impression tour, interviewed stakeholders in the community, held public input meetings, and conducted a community destination perception survey. as well as an online and marketing audit of Unicoi County to gather information for the plan.

“The Town of Unicoi, Unicoi County, and the City of Erwin, I want all of you to work together,” Chandler said. “The opportunities for Unicoi County require that you work together.”

The fundamental issues that Chandler found to be impacting tourism in the county are the need for a tourism organization and institution, interagency coordination, and comprehensive, integrated and inclusive planning.

“The Chamber of Commerce has been appointed some of those responsibilities in Unicoi County, but there has to be an organization that owns this,” Chandler explained. “One organization does not make great tourism. It takes a tourism ownership organization working with the chamber, local governments, and state governments.”

He compared the direct spending, sales tax generation, and local tax relief of Unicoi County with neighboring areas. Yearly, there is $8.8 million of direct spending in Unicoi County, compared to $245 million in Washington County, $47 million in Cocke County, and $371 million in Sullivan County.

“That’s not that much money really,” Chandler said.

For hotel and motel tax revenues, Johnson City has a 7 percent occupancy tax rate, and generates $144,020. Greene County has a 7 percent occupancy tax, and generates $125,000. Cocke County has a split occupancy tax rate of 3 percent in the county and 2 percent  in the city, and generates $241,708. Comparatively, Unicoi County has an occupancy tax of 5 percent and generates $49,000.

“If you look at a five year distribution of that, it’s pretty steady,” he said. “$49,000 isn’t a lot to share.”

Chandler found that the months of June, July, and October generate the heaviest potential for tourism activity in Unicoi County, mostly due to the allure of outdoor activities during the summer and fall.

“We are great at getting in touch with nature,” said Chandler. “This is a place for the nature lover.”

A large amount of natural assets, locations along I-26, lodging cabins, the culture of tourism beginning in Erwin, the culture of arts beginning in the Town of Unicoi, and the Unicoi County Apple Festival were listed as major strengths for the county.

Some of the natural assets that Chandler highlighted included the Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower Trail, Nolichucky River and their guided or unguided tours, the Cherokee National Forest, and the Appalachian Trail.

A lack of lodging, limited food and beverage options, limited shopping, a lack of a consistent way finding the area, a lack of funding, a lack of presence online, and a lack of a strong tourism structure were found to be weaknesses in Unicoi County in terms of attracting tourism.

“Our lodging is a tough one right now, and that needs to go on our radar,” Chandler said. “Economic development, a priority should be more hotels … that will create direct spending, not just in the community but it will provide sustained marketing funding for us.”

The proximity to Asheville and Johnson City positions Unicoi County to benefit from their tourism growth, and the fact that Unicoi County is included in the eight out of 95 Tennessee counties to have an Appalachian Trail connection provides additional opportunities for tourism in the future. 

“The future of tourism, a lot of it is what we gave,” Chandler said. “We are in the right place at the right time. RISE Erwin (community organization), I think is another good opportunity. They have a reputation of action … the community needs a dose of that.”

Chandler presented five main recommendations to increase tourism in Unicoi County. The first two recommendations included making tourism in the county real in terms of operations, presentation and accountability, and committing resources to sustain and fund tourism.

He also recommended leveraging assets that can create immediate revenue, developing assets for the future, and positioning Unicoi County as “The Great Natural Outdoor Wilderness.”

The first strategy he suggested to achieve those recommendations included creating a high-strategic tourism council for all three municipalities.

“We could start a 501(c) 3 … or the county can appoint a tourism council,” he said.

Aside from representatives from each government, Chandler recommended that representatives from USA Raft, Mountain Inn Suites, and downtown Erwin shop owners serve on the council.

“People that deliver tourism should be on the council,” he said. “Let them be a part of the solution.”

Chandler also stressed the importance of hiring a director to own, lead, manage and grow tourism efforts.

“If we’re serious about tourism maybe we need to have someone whose job is tourism,” he said

Next, Chandler said that although the Chamber of Commerce has a well designed website, there needs to be a website specifically dedicated to tourism activities.

“Seventy five percent of all tourism research is done online,” he added.

Due to the retail activities, amenities, and interstate exit, it was recommended to make the Town of Erwin the central base for tourism activity in order to maximize the amount of tax dollars collected.

“I’m not saying the Town of Unicoi isn’t important, it absolutely has a role, all three of our local governments have a role, but the City of Erwin has a place where we can all create revenues,” explained Chandler.

Educating the community on the value of tourism was another tactic Chandler said could expedite tourism efforts. Through annual meetings and working to create a strong tourism culture, this could be accomplished.

The next strategy Chandler suggested was to identify sources for funding and sustaining tourism, and the first recommendation was to allocate a percentage of occupancy tax collections. He suggested allocating 50 percent of those taxes, creating a marketing budget of $25,000. He also encouraged the Town of Erwin to create a 3 percent occupancy tax to create additional revenues.

“Our hotel is in the city limits, essentially we can double the marketing budget by doing this,” he said. “The beauty is that none of the residents are paying this tax; it’s the guests.”

With only 20 percent of area visitors staying overnight, Chandler said marketing efforts should focus on overnight stays due to the fact that overnight guests can generate three to five times more spending.

“We can’t afford to spend our dollars on people just coming here for the day and hanging out,” he said.

As a strategy to develop assets for future development, he recommended to focus on one development project per year. One project that was mentioned was to designate the Town of Unicoi as the premier destination to experience Tennessee’s Appalachian heritage and arts. Chandler said that Appalachian heritage is rich in Tennessee, and can include visual art, music, and food.

“It can be what an Appalachian town should be about,” Chandler said. “You can go over to a cabin and see reenactments, and you can hear some bluegrass and see some art, and get a glimpse into our Appalachian history. We have that opportunity.”

Along with that, he said that the Town of Unicoi should aggressively seek funding to complete the Tanasi Arts Center.

Another high priority project with a strong potential to generate tourism is the development of Rocky Fork State Park. Chandler suggested a partnership with the State of Tennessee to turn the Flag Pond Elementary School into Rocky Fork State Park Visitor’s Center.

The last strategy presented was to label Unicoi County as “The Great Natural Outdoor Wilderness.”

“Your assets are epic, they are very natural, and you have a big opportunity,” he said. “People don’t want to visit Unicoi County, that is not going to be it. What you have is bigger than the name Unicoi County.”

By creating that brand it would increase the marketability of the entire area, creating more appeal for trip packages that would encourage longer stays from tourists.

“Tourism is big business, and you have to work your butt off at it,” Chandler concluded. “But I do believe there is a fantastic opportunity for Unicoi County. People would be chomping at the bit to have what Unicoi County has.”

Town of Unicoi awaiting news from Johnson City on $400K golf course bid

Pictured is the recent excavation work done by the City of Johnson City to a portion of the Buffalo Valley Golf Course. According to Johnson City officials, this excavation work which has occurred around the tee box at the Lakeview Drive entrance, was started to address flooding and drainage issues. However, some homeowners involved with the Buffalo Valley Golf Course are concerned that the work is unnecessary and creating an eyesore on the property. (Contributed photo)

By Kendal Groner

The City of Johnson City has neither accepted nor declined the $400,000 offer the Town of Unicoi placed on the 126-acre Buffalo Valley Golf Course property on Feb.7. The original offer included a $200,000 down payment, with the other $200,000 being paid over the course of 10 years.

In the event that the Town of Unicoi’s bid is declined, the offer did include a request to return the Town of Unicoi’s $200,000 deposit within 30 days.

“The offer is still on the table,” said Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch. “This is one of those deals where you just have to wait for a response.”

In the meantime, the homeowner’s group that was formed during the series of Buffalo Valley Golf Course Committee meetings, isn’t dragging its feet as it waits for a response.

During the Buffalo Valley Golf Course Committee meetings, the homeowner’s group was tasked with forming their own corporation in order to enter into a lease-purchase agreement with the Town of Unicoi to be able to operate the golf course.

“We are in the process of forming our own corporation, and we have a lot of commitments for memberships,” said Steve Williams, member of the homeowner’s group. “We are actually up to 62 now, and we did that in just one day. Those memberships will generate $55,920 in revenue.”

During the sequence of Buffalo Valley Golf Course Committee meetings, the homeowners presented a sample business plan to operate the course. The homeowners proposed an operating budget of $373,502, with $382,820 in revenues and operating profits of $9,318. 

The group suggested the sponsorship of golf carts by local businesses to increase community engagement and start up costs. In exchange for sponsoring a golf cart, businesses would have a marketing logo displayed on the carts.

“We have already sold 12 sponsorships for our golf cart logo concepts, totaling $5,000,” Williams said. “Brandy Bevins led this effort, and our street marketing accomplished all of this in one day as well.”

However, Williams’ main concern is that while the City of Johnson City is deliberating over the Town of Unicoi’s offer, the greens are due to be treated for crabgrass by the first of March to ensure the course is playable this spring.

“We are going to approach the City of Johnson City independently once we get our corporation set up and see if we can enter into some sort of agreement with them,” Williams said. “I would rather deal with Unicoi, but it’s all about the timing of the greens.”

Williams is also concerned about recent excavation work by the City of Johnson City to a strip of the course’s fairway. He said the excavation was right around the tee box at the Lakeview Drive entrance, and believes the work is negatively impacting the aesthetics of the course.

According to the City of Johnson City, the excavation work was carried out to address a drainage problem that had existed for many years. 

“What they did out there makes no sense … there is no standing water issue right there,” Williams stated.

Williams also said he is concerned that the City of Johnson City hadn’t received a permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), or contacted the Town of Unicoi for an excavation permit.

“We have submitted information to TDEC to obtain a required SWPP (Stormwater Pollution Permit) necessary to carry out the excavation activity,” said JT McSpadden, community relations representative for the City of Johnson City.

McSpadden said that after that permit is received, most likely within a week or two, the city commission will have to approve plans to proceed. He added that TDEC is aware of the activity to date, and after meeting with them on site they did not take any issue with the work.

“We do not feel that any activity conducted to date has in any way affected the golf course,” McSpadden said. “When warmer weather comes, we will ensure the area that has been excavated has proper grass to mow.”

Larry Rea, interim city recorder for the Town of Unicoi, noted that the City of Johnson City has not approached the Town of Unicoi’s Planning Commission for an excavation permit, and according to state law, he said they are required to do so.

“We want to know why they didn’t get approval before they did this excavation project,” Williams said. “We may be wrong, but it appears that the City of Johnson City may be in violation of several local, state, and federal codes. We want answers…something just doesn’t add up. They have owned the property since 1993 and days after they closed the golf course they excavate and leave the entrance into our neighborhood a mess.”

Phil Pindzola, the director of Public Works for Johnson City, said he was not aware of any policies for excavation activity in the Town of Unicoi, and added that they are first pursuing a state permit.

Pindzola said he expects the timeline of completion for the entire project to be around two weeks.

“If excavation resumes, the target area is just over an acre,” Pindzola said. “We have excavated about 25 percent of the area being considered. I’m very open to meeting with residents to discuss further excavation activity if and when that occurs, in order to get input and adjust accordingly.”

Unicoi County Solid Waste Committee discusses decision to prohibit dumping of demolition materials at convenience sites

The Unicoi County Solid Waste Committee is still deliberating over how to handle customer complaints over the county’s solid waste services, much of which center around the decision to stop taking demolition materials. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

The Unicoi County Solid Waste Committee met on Tuesday, Feb. 13, to discuss issues of illegal dumping and customer complaints, most of which surround the county’s April 2016 decision to stop taking demolition materials.

Unicoi County has an approximate annual budget of $557,000 for solid waste services. Between the three convenience sites – Limestone Cove, Lower Higgins Creek, and Hoover –  there are three employees, or a director for each site.

At the Limestone Cove site the director is paid $350 weekly, $405 a week at the Lower Higgins Creek site, and $350 at the Hoover site. In order to compensate for the low pay, the employees are permitted to salvage some of the items they deem to be valuable and resell them.

“This formula has saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Glenn White, Unicoi County Commissioner and chairman of the Unicoi County Solid Waste Committee. “If we went the other route of hiring more personnel, our budget costs could double. We want to provide a good service, but also save dollars.”

White also said that the current payment structure with the waste site directors has allowed them to avoid raising taxes, and if they were to pay the waste site directors a salary with benefits, that could amount to about $90,000 a year.

Since the county stopped accepting demolition or construction materials such as carpet, shingles, or wood, it has saved the county close to $100,000 annually.

Charles Baines, solid waste director for Washington County and chairman for the Regional Solid Waste Committee, was present at the meeting to inform committee members on Washington County’s solid waste plan, and assist county leaders in how to move forward with this issue.

“We have had the same problem with demolition materials,” Baines said. “We were getting large amounts of demolition materials, and a lot of that was from small contractors running around that didn’t even have a license.”

Baines said that by not accepting demolition materials, it has saved Washington County around $6,000 per month. Baines added that after they put up signage indicating they would no longer accept demolition materials, he and the mayor received close to 100 complaints a week

“We got threatened and cursed, but we were getting to the point where we were going to have to increase the budget if we kept accepting it,” Baines said.

Among Washington County’s five waste sites, there are 14 full-time employees, and around 12 part-time employees. Baines said that there are three full-time truck drivers, and the other employees handle recycle and maintenance, while others operate the convenience center.

The full-time employees are started out with a pay of $9 per hour with benefits for a 40 hour work week, and the part-time employees start out at $8.50.

Their employees are not allowed to salvage or sell any materials, and instead recycle any scraps. For 2017, Washington County had a net savings of $315,803.72 by recycling their scrap material.

One thing that has helped Washington County cut costs is by limiting the open top bins to larger items like mattresses and box springs, and trying to utilize a compactor as much as possible.

“The more tons we could pack in a compactor, the better off we were,” Baines said.

They used to only have four or five tons of waste in the compactors, but now most of their sites averaged around 10 tons for the month of January.

Baines noted that solid waste sites are required by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to accept household waste, but not demolition materials. However, they can choose to accept demolition materials as long as the permit includes those items.

“You can take it if you want, but you are going to have to pay to haul it,” Baines told the board.

The county pays a haul bill, and then there is additional charges according to the tonnage being transported.

White and Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice pointed out that the current permit, which was issued in 1998, does not include demolition materials.

Baines said that the permits do not have to be renewed, and he wouldn’t anticipate there being a problem with updating the permit to include demolition materials, but ultimately it was something they would have to discuss with TDEC.

“I don’t understand how we can take couches and box springs when those items have wood in them,” asked Gene Wilson, Unicoi County commissioner and Unicoi County Solid Waste Committee member.

Baines replied that because they were technically household materials, those were permitted. Wilson suggested the possibility of purchasing an incinerator for those items to cut costs, but Baines said those were extremely costly and heavily regulated.

While the solid wastes sites are not permitted by TDEC to burn brush on site, individuals can burn their own brush on private property as long as they have a permit through the U.S. Forest Service.

Unicoi County Commissioner Loren Thomas asked if there had been any problems in Washington County with employees stealing scrap or metal to sell on the side.

“We have had some problems, and I’ve had to fire two or three people, but the cameras take care of a lot of that issue,” said Baines.

Wilson brought up the issue of excess tires that are received at the dump site, and asked if Baines knew of a solution. Baines said that Washington County accepts the tires, but citizens are required to pay a nominal fee of $1 to dispose of them, and dealers are required to pay by the ton.

“A lot of places charge $3 or $4,” he said.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said that in Unicoi County, citizens are allowed to dispose of 12 tires per year, per address.

“This is just an assumption, but if we stopped accepting tires they would probably throw them over a bank somewhere,” White said.

Baines shared a story of someone in Washington County renting a mini-storage warehouse, and after the user ceased payments, the warehouse owner found the storage unit filled to the brim with tires, which he had to pay to dispose of.

“They’ll think of anyway they can to get rid of them,” Baines said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Kenneth Garland asked how Washington County handles the disposal of asbestos shingles.

Baines replied that even though it was technically demolition material, their landfill will accept it, but there is a special waste charge.

The discussion once again circled back to the issue of how to dispose of demolition material, and Thomas said it was the number one complaint he has received. He suggested the committee compile hard data comparing when demolition material was accepted, and when the county stopped accepting it as well as composing an alternate budget showing what it could cost the county if they were to start accepting those materials again.

“About every three years, I would say every citizen has demolition or construction material to dispose of, and not everyone has a place to burn it or bury it,” Thomas said. “As a taxpayer, I would rather pay three cents of my taxes to be able to dump this than to drive somewhere where I could dump it, which would cost more.”

The Unicoi County Solid Waste Committee will compile more data and information on the waste sites before meeting again in about two weeks.

Candidate Black tours county, shares plans to battle opioid epidemic

Gubernatorial candidate Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn, received a tour of the Unicoi County School Board on Feb.19. Pictured from left to right is Director of Unicoi County Schools John English, Rep. Diane Black, Renea Jones-Rogers, president of Tennessee Farm Bureau for Unicoi County, and former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

After presenting her plan to tackle the opioid crisis to researchers and health care professionals at East Tennessee State University, gubernatorial candidate Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn, made her way to Unicoi County where she toured Erwin Town Hall and the Unicoi County Board of Education building on Monday, Feb. 19.

Black has been serving as the U.S. Representative for Tennessee’s 6th congressional district since 2010. Before entering politics, Black worked as a registered nurse and as a college educator.

Some of the key issues she is addressing in her 2018 campaign are the opioid crisis, increasing educational opportunities for Tennesseans, and addressing infrastructure needs of rural areas.

Black said her plan to address the opioid crisis includes prosecuting pill mills, going after drug abusers, rehabbing drugs addicts in prison, increasing oversight and law enforcement capabilities, regulating prescriptions, and supporting measures to protect patients.

“The opioid issue right now, I think has three different main pieces,” Black said. “If we can prevent people from becoming unintentionally dependent on opioids, and that’s with education, both at the youth level and with adults as well.”

The next piece of her plan includes going after over-prescribers, particularly pill mills. She is also in favor of integrating access to the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database without adding administrative hassles to healthcare providers.

“You need to make sure those who are dispensing these pills are doing so in a responsible manner,” she said. “The pill mills where people are getting their pills for cash, there’s not a good way to monitor them

“There certainly is a place for pain management … but those that are abusing those privileges, for example by cash only, we need to be suspicious of that.”

Providing law enforcement personnel with more tools to find cases of over prescribing while also imposing stricter penalties to opioid dealers and users is another integral component of her plan.

Along with hiring additional TBI agents to search for over prescribers, Black wants to increase the penalty for the sale of more than half a gram of fentanyl – a highly addictive and potent opioid – from a class C felony to a class B felony, and increase the sale of more than 150 grams of the substance to a class A felony.

She would also like to broaden the scope of the second degree murder statute to include the killing of a person that results from the unlawful distribution or dispension of any scheduled substance on the Tennessee Drug Control Act of 1989.

“Our law enforcement needs to have access to the tools to hold the dealers accountable, and then finally after that there is the recovery aspect,” Black told The Erwin Record.

Black said she believes there is usefulness in both medication assisted treatment to treat opioid addiction as well as 12 step programs.

“It’s not one size fits all,” she explained. “What’s good for one person might not necessarily be the best treatment for another.”

Along with addressing the opioid crisis, Black said she wants to increase educational opportunities in Tennessee to include more career and technical education programs. In order to find what programs will be most beneficial, she has been holding discussions with educational leaders to see what programs students need most.

“I think we’ve lost our way in thinking that everyone needs to go to college,” Black said. “Some people really are better working with their hands.”

A good starting place, according to Black, is to speak with Tennessee businesses and determine what skillsets they are looking for in employees in order to better prepare students for recruitment opportunities.

Implementing a tuition freeze to prevent the common cost increases at Tennessee Universities,will allow the HOPE scholarship to retain its value to ensure a college education is financially attainable for poor and middle-class Tennesseans, according to Black.

Black also said she wants to focus on the importance of “homegrown Tennessee businesses,” and wants to make it easier for those businesses to expand into rural communities. She is also prioritizing the infrastructure needs of rural areas such as Unicoi County, and said that includes better access to broadband as well as expediting projects to improve the road and water/sewer systems.

“Even the farmers need access to broadband,” she said. “Their newest equipment operates off of broadband.”

Black said that her overall impression of Unicoi County was that it was a welcoming community full of people who love the county they live in.

Land use plan to highlight local assets

Unicoi County officials listen as representatives of the First Tennessee Development District describe details of the land use plan now in progress. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

On Tuesday, Feb. 13, the First Tennessee Development District (FTDD) held an informal work session with local officials and representatives from Unicoi County to discuss a joint comprehensive land use plan for the entire county.

Comprehensive land use plans are intended to guide the future decisions of a community and address public policy issues related to issues such as transportation, utilities, land use, recreation and housing. The final copy of the plan will be ready by mid-June.

“A land use plan generally spans about 20 years, and we’ve been gathering information from stakeholders in the community,” said Rhonda Sawyer, community planner with the FTDD. “We’re writing this plan for the citizens and municipalities of Unicoi County, and we want as much participation as possible.”

After meeting with the municipalities, the FTDD will hold a series of public meetings to include input from community members in the plan. They are currently in phase three of the plan, and phase one was community profiling followed by the analysis of transportation, mobility, infrastructure, and housing in phase two.

“We have these plans to spur economic growth and guide planning commissions and legislative bodies,” said Renee Mann, regional planner with the FTDD.

Mann said they intend to take what is important to the community and create objectives to be included in the plan. During last week’s work session, marketing, transportation, public improvement projects, utilities, and housing were some of the topics discussed.

Sawyer began by asking whether Unicoi County was being sufficiently marketed, or if there was room for improvement in order to highlight the assets of the area.

“It definitely needs more marketing,” said Marie Rice, Unicoi County Commission chairwoman. “I think our natural resources, which is a big plus, is one of the things that we can really use to pull people into the county and get them to live here, and play here.”

Sawyer also asked if the county officials believed that community members were good stewards of the environment, and if that could be prioritized and utilized in any way.

“I think we are good stewards, but I do think there’s room for improvement,” said Rice. “I think we need more education … just as far as protecting the viewshed and the visibility of the land in whatever means we can. There’s a lot to be said because everyone that passes through says it’s beautiful, and when I look around I see the beauty but I do see areas that could use improvement.”

Rocky Fork State Park, the newest state park in Tennessee, the Nolichucky River with pristine trout fishing, and the Appalachian Trail were mentioned as strong natural resource assets that attract people to the area.

Sawyer also mentioned the installation of colorblind viewfinders that were installed at the westbound I-26 overlook near Erwin back in November. Tennessee Tourism officials installed the viewfinders at three overlooks in the Tri-Cities to allow those who are colorblind to see the fall foliage.

“That really spoke volumes for what Tennessee thought Unicoi County had to offer,” Sawyer said.

Community member John Day mentioned that he would like to see more attention geared towards Unicoi County and its natural attractions on the State of Tennessee main website.

“We don’t get the attention we need from the state level,” Day said. “That could be quite an asset for us here, and we need those listings for our county.”

Next, Sawyer and Mann asked about any transportation needs for the county, as well as ideas for public improvement projects or ideas for additional activities.

“I think that NET Trans is pretty good for our area, but I know we could use more handicap transportation,” Rice said.

Day also mentioned that he felt a lack of parking was an issue for the county, and could potentially deter people from opening businesses or restaurants.

“Who will put a restaurant in when there’s not parking?” Day asked. “I think additional parking would help us grow.”

Sawyer said that she had grown up in Unicoi County, and one problem she noticed in terms of retaining the population, especially among the younger crowd, was a lack of things to do.

“I don’t think much has changed,” she said.

Rice mentioned a slew of ongoing sports activities at the YMCA in Erwin; however she noted that it might not be appealing to everyone.

“It depends on the family,” Rice said. “If you’ve got families that like to camp or have their kids in the outdoors, we have that, but you don’t see that much anymore. When I was growing up that was the big thing … but people are kind of migrating back to that and a lot of millennials do like hiking.”

The issue, according to Sawyer, is that many businesses and restaurants are apprehensive to locate here simply because they fear there isn’t enough of a population to support them, creating a bit of a catch 22.

She did praise the safety of the area as an appealing asset, especially for families looking to move from cities where there might be more crime.

Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White spoke to the feeling of innocence that this area has maintained, but he said ultimately he felt the focus should be on trying to attract industry.

“The bigger picture here is I bet back in the 1970s when I grew up, we had 10 or so industries,” White said. “When you lose a 500 employee plant and replace it with restaurants, you’re really going down the wrong road in my opinion.”

White asked if it was plausible that Unicoi County could attract industry like that again, and Rice noted that the competition from surrounding communities was probably a hindrance to that.

“When you drive through Greene County and Sullivan County and Carter County, and you look at those empty buildings there too and those businesses that are gone, and we’re competing with those counties that are a lot larger than we are,” Rice said.

Sawyer said the lack of site ready locations seems to be the biggest deterrent for new industries, especially larger ones.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch mentioned that since around 2008, the entire industrial base in America has been declining, and it is affecting more areas than just Unicoi County.

“There’s a signal now that it may be coming back … but people are looking to build bigger, more modernized plants with robotics and automation,” Lynch said. “Of course we still need to find the people who are entrepreneurs and small industries that may grow. We need to try to feed that. But on the other hand, we also have to support what happens regionally, because that’s kind of where we’re going whether we want to or not.”

The FTDD will begin their public meetings on Monday, Feb. 19, at Temple Hill Elementary School from 4-5 p.m., and from 6-7 p.m. The following meeting will be on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Unicoi Elementary School at the same times.

Community members are also encouraged to fill out an online survey to provide additional input. The survey can be found at

Town of Erwin BMA OKs outdoor festival

By Kendal Groner

On Monday, Feb. 12, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival and events to be held on Friday, May 4, and Saturday, May 5.

“People are getting really excited about it. We’ve booked a big headline for the day, and it should draw a lot of people downtown,” said Jamie Rice, RISE Erwin member. “We’re not going to shut the streets down until early Saturday morning instead of shutting them down Friday as well.”

Alderman Virgil Moore made a motion to approve the festival, and it was seconded by Alderwoman Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz before it unanimously passed.

Acting as the Erwin Beverage Board, the BMA later approved the sale of beer at the Erwin Great Outdoor Festival only within an approved designated area.

“Our festival is growing, and changing just a little bit,” said Rice. “We had an idea since we were going to have this big tent up for the Saturday festivity that we would use it on Friday night as well since it’s already there.”

There will be an outdoor movie shown promoting the designation of the Nolichucky River as a wild and scenic river, along with food trucks to kick off the Saturday festival.

“There won’t be road closures or anything like that Friday night, but we were hoping to serve beer on Friday in the designated area as well as Saturday,” Rice said.

Rice added that as in years prior, everything will be confined to the Gathering Place and only those with the appropriate ABC license would be permitted to serve beer.

Mayor Doris Hensley made a motion to approve the sale of beer at the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, May 4, and between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 5. Alderman Gary Chandler seconded the motion, and it unanimously passed.

• • •

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously passed a resolution allowing the Town of Erwin to apply for the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business Enterprise Grant for additional signage and website development.

A motion was made by Alderman Moore and seconded by Alderman Chandler before it unanimously passed.

• • •

The BMA also approved the appointment of Eric Garland to fulfill a vacancy on the Erwin Design Review Commission for a four year term.

“I look forward to working with him, and I think he’ll do a good job for the town,” Hensley said.

Alderman Moore made a motion to accept the appointment, and Alderwoman Hyder-Shurtz seconded the motion before it unanimously passed.

• • •

The board approved a request to close the corner of Main Avenue and Gay Street to Church Street for the Future Farmers of America (FFA) Shindig, line dance for FFA Chapters of East Tennessee. The event will be held at the Bramble on Feb. 24 from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

“I think it’s an excellent reason to close that corner, and it will be exciting to bring other FFA members from out of the county into our county and show them what we have,” Hensley said.

Alderman Chandler made a motion to approve the road closer, and Alderwoman Hyder-Shurtz seconded before it unanimously passed.

• • •

The board also approved a request by Sarah Shults to close the corner of Main Avenue and Gay Street to Church Street for a wedding held at the Bramble on May 26 from 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the event of exceeding occupancy load within the Bramble.

“My main concern is we’re creating a precedent where anyone that wants to close the street can come in and close the street,” Hensley said. “We’re trying to keep business downtown and generate some revenue and that might discourage that some, but it’s up for the board to decide.”

Hensley asked Town of Erwin City Attorney Thomas Seeley if there would be any legal ramifications in closing the street because it was a private event.

“As long as there are alternative routes and the police chief believes it is acceptable, then I don’t think it would create any liability for the town,” Seeley said.

Alderwoman Hyder-Shurtz made a motion to approve the request and it was seconded by Alderman Moore before it unanimously passed.

• • •

The board unanimously approved the approval of Tax Sale properties if no bid were received at the scheduled Tax Sale on March 21, 2018.

“I don’t think there will be any issue with this because it looks like they are all very good properties and I expect they will be sold,” Hensley said. “In case there is a property that doesn’t sell, we want to give approval to the city recorder to make a bid in the amount of the taxes due on the property.”

Alderman Chandler made a motion to consider the approval, and it was seconded by Alderwoman Hyder-Shurtz before it unanimously passed.

Pauline Day Tilson

Pauline Day Tilson, age 92, Erwin passed away Monday, February 5, 2018, in the Center on Agin g and Health. She was a lifelong resident of Unicoi County and a daughter of the late Bill and Florence Smith Day. Pauline was employed by the former Southern Pottery as a hand painter. She was a member of the Clear Branch Baptist Church. Other than her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband of thirty years, Ottie Tilson on September 13, 1976; one brother and four sisters.

Mrs. Tilson leaves behind to cherish her memories two sons: Wayne Tilson and wife, Gail, Wade Tilson and wife, Carolyn, all of Erwin; one sister, Loraine Johnson and husband, Doug, Erwin; three grandchildren, Amy Williamson and husband, Adam, Kingsport, Adam Tilson, Carter County and Victoria Tilson, Hot Springs, NC; four step-grandchildren; sister-in-law, Ethel Chandler; brother-in-law, Denny Chandler; several nieces and nephews also survive.

The family will receive friends Thursday, February 8, 2018, from 5:00 P. M. until the hour of service at the Robert Ledford Funeral Home Chapel. Reverend Albert Bentley will officiate at the 7:00 P. M. funeral service. Music will be provided by Inez Chandler, Allan Foster and Andy Landers. Pallbearers will be Gary Tilson, Mike Lewis, Gene Tilson, Adam Tilson, Adam Williamson and Neil Johnson. Committal service will be at 11:00 A. M. Friday in the Clear Branch Cemetery. Those wishing to attend are asked to meet by 10:50 A.M. Friday at the cemetery.

The family would like to extend a special thank you to the Center on Aging and Health Staff for the exceptional care given to Mrs. Tilson.

Online condolences, photos and memories may be shared with the Tilson family through our complimentary, interactive Book of Memories at

Robert Ledford Funeral Home, 720 Ohio Avenue, Erwin, is privileged to serve the Tilson family. (423) 743-1380.

Unicoi County School System names year’s top teachers

From Staff Reports

The Teacher of the Year program recognizes and honors outstanding teachers in Unicoi County and across Tennessee.

“We applaud teachers who devote their professional lives to enriching the lives of children and who demonstrate exceptional gains in achievement,” Unicoi County Director of Schools John English said. “Congratulations!”

The following is a list of the local educators who received the award.

Leslie Franks – Love Chapel Elementary & District Grades PreK-4 Teacher of the Year

Franks is a third grade teacher at Love Chapel Elementary. She has seven years of experience. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Development from Milligan College in 2010 and her Masters degree from Tusculum College in Curriculum and Instruction in December of 2017.

Frank’s TEAM evaluation overall level of effectiveness places her above expectations in 2017 and significantly above expectations in 2016. She serves as a district math collaborative leader, as well as a cheerleading coach at Unicoi Middle School. She has previously been a coach for Girls on the Run.

Franks begins her approach to student growth and achievement through getting to know her students, their personal likes and dislikes, their interests, their current achievement, as well as their personal desires towards learning. She uses formative assessment information to plan instructional next steps and to ensure all students are progressing appropriately. Franks is intentional to facilitate strategies for students to think about thinking, reflect, organize, and digest what they are being taught. Franks values partnerships with families and strives to communicate regularly regarding student progress and goals. She has played a large role in the development of Love Chapel’s House System and feels it has been instrumental in development of student ownership, community, and teamwork.

Alexa Renfro – Unicoi County Middle School & District Grades 5-9 Teacher of the Year

Renfro earned her Bachelor’s degree in English from Wake Forest University in 2012 and her Masters from Milligan College in  2014. She received the Milligan College Outstanding Portfolio Award, and was also a member of Pi Lambda Theta Education Honor Society. She has been teaching for four years.

Renfro serves as a district teacher leader, on her school leadership team, and as a collaborative facilitator for middle grades. She has re-delivered several state level trainings locally and is a member of the Aspiring Principal Academy Cohort between Unicoi County and Carter County.  Her classroom practices are grounded in student-centered learning and high expectations for all of her students.

Renfro is currently working with one other colleague to establish a mentor program for middle school students. The mentor program will target students who need extra social supports at school, which will, in turn, assist in their home lives. Students interested in being mentors will undergo an application process, including an interview, and a training process to ensure that they are prepared to mentor other students. Each mentee will be paired with a mentor from a higher grade level. Renfro’s TEAM evaluation overall level of effectiveness places her significantly above expectations in 2017 and above expectations in 2016.

Lori Ann Wright – Unicoi County High School & District Grades 9-12 Teacher of the Year

Wright has over 15 years in total teaching experiences, including university adjunct work, with ten years service in public schools. She graduated from East Tennessee State University, with a Bachelor’s degree in 1998 and a Master’s in 2002. She earned her Masters in Education in 2006 from Milligan College. She holds an active endorsement in both Theatre (K-12) and English (7-12). Her leadership positions are many, including serving as a coordinator for the ETSU /UCHS ELA Teacher Collaborative, as a District Level Teacher Leader, a Building Level Teacher Leader, and a Mentor Teacher. She has served as SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellow, and has also served as a Mentor Teacher to Milligan College student teachers. She is the Chair of the Fine Arts Department and Foundering Sponsor of the UCHS Bluegrass Band. She has also served as Vice- President of the Unicoi County Education Association, Coordinator of the Capstone Community Service Program at UCHS, Milligan College External Teacher Education Council, Drama Coach for the UCHS Mock Trial team, and Sponsor of the UCHS Drama Club.

Wright’s awards and recognitions include serving as a speaker for the SCORE Video “Voices of Tennesseans,” a presenter at the ETSU Freshman Composition Workshop, panelist for the SCORE annual Report Release, and SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellow. She has been recognized as 98.5 WTFM Teacher of the Month, and was also the 2012 Teacher of the Year. Lori Ann has been featured in TEACH Magazine with her article “The Wright Approach to Drama”. She is also a community leader. She is the founding Director for Second Story Theatre Troupe, a theatrical consultant for RISE Erwin, a team captain for Relay For Life in Unicoi County, and has held various positions on the Relay for Life Committee.

Wright is also an event committee member for the Tanasi Arts and Heritage Center in Unicoi and cofounder for the Erwin Theatre Restoration Project. Over the last four years the drama student mentor program has grown significantly under her leadership. During the first year of the program, there were two senior student directors and one primary scriptwriter; the class of 2018 will have seven student directed performances and two complete productions written by students. The long-term results of this program are illustrated by the class of 2017. Because student directors/writers need to have experience in all areas of theatre arts, most of the drama students in the senior class were in multiple shows working both as actors and as technical support for productions. The 185 seniors in the class of 2017 included 42 drama students whom have been in multiple stage productions at UCHS – of those 42 students, eight (19 percent) have selected careers in the theatre/performing arts. Of those eight students, five were able to participate (as lead cast members or lead tech) in professional or collegiate stage/film productions as entering college freshman. This illustrates how a challenging student mentor program can create both a stronger classroom experience and encourage individual student growth in a professional manner.

Wright’s TEAM level of effectiveness has been significantly above expectations for two consecutive years and consistently place her above expectations in effectiveness.

Christy Miller – Rock Creek Elementary Teacher of the Year

Miller earned her Bachelor’s degree in Family and Consumer Sciences from East Tennessee State University in 2008, a Masters in Education degree in Secondary Education in 2009, and a Masters of Arts degree in School Counseling in 2010. She serves as both school counselor and teaches guidance classes at Rock Creek Elementary School.

Miller Christy has seven years of experience. She serves on the social committee at Rock Creek and has coached Girls on the Run since 2011. Miller is the 504 Coordinator at Rock Creek and also serves as a Mentor Counselor for Temple Hill. She has presented at the Title 1 Conference previously, and was recognized and awarded with $1,000 for school funds in 2016 by Girls on the Run for most improvement in participation. These funds were used to sponsor a variety of enrichment clubs at Rock Creek.

Miller is a community liaison for the Food Backpack program, the Back to School and Thanksgiving events, the Kiwanis Christmas Trip, and is the Angel Tree Coordinator. She instructs all students at Rock Creek once a week for one hour. This interaction allows her to build a relationship with each student so if there is a need for direct counseling she has already been able to build a bond with them. She credits high levels of growth and learning for all students in many ways but one being through fewer discipline referrals and improved attendance.

Miller leads the cheer/pep club and has noticed an increase in a sense of school community within the group as well as increased friendship and communication skills. Her TEAM evaluation overall level of effectiveness places her significantly above expectations in 2017 and above expectations in 2016.

Tammy Peterson – Temple Hill Teacher of the Year

Peterson earned her Graduated Associates Science Degree from Montreat-Anderson College and her Bachelor of Science Degree from East Tennessee State University. She has nineteen years of experience. She currently is serving as a TVAAS Learning Leader at Temple Hill and has re-delivered both Math and ELA trainings locally.

Peterson was selected as Temple Hill Teacher of the Year in 2007 and 2008 and has also served as TEA Association representative for multiple years. She has coached in the Clover Bowl and placed first place on numerous occasions, has been the recipient of the Nuclear Fuel Award for reading score gains and was the recipient of Exemplary Service from Appalachian Education Opportunity Center TRIO Program.

Peterson has served as a 4-H Leader, and has volunteered for Good Samaritan, Red Cross, United Way, St. Jude’s Children Hospital, Blue Cross Walking Works Program, Unicoi County Care and Share, Relay for Life and several local science events. She is especially proud that all student in her 2012-13 class were 100 percent proficient or advanced in all TCAP tests and feels building relationships, self-esteem, and self-worth all play a role in student achievement. She feels “success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and love of what you are doing or learning to do.” Peterson’s TEAM evaluation overall level of effectiveness places her above expectations in 2017.

Whitney Evely

Unicoi Elementary Teacher of the Year

Evely is a fifth grade teacher at Unicoi Elementary. She is currently teaching Science and Social Studies, but has also taught English Language Arts and math, as well as teaching in multiple grade levels from second through fifth grade in both Johnson City and Unicoi County schools. She has ten years of experience and received her Bachelor’s degree from East Tennessee State University in 2010 as well as her Masters in Reading in 2011.

Evely serves as an RTI-B2 Committee Member, Science Content Leader, and a facilitator of science standards training for grades 3-5. She also serves on the Science Textbook Committee. In 2016, 73 percent of her students were proficient in science. Her TEAM evaluation overall level of effectiveness places her above expectations.

Evely is service minded. She organized a community service outreach project in response to the fires in Gatlinburg in December 2016. Students collected over 1,200 items. Fifth graders decorated and placed boxes around the school to collect the donations school wide.

Project will replace water storage tanks

Pictured is the 150,000 gallon water storage tank, one of the tanks that will be replaced. Built in 1921, the nearly 100 year old tank is the oldest of the three tanks at the O’Brien Water Plant in Erwin. (Contributed photo)

By Kendal Groner

Funding for a water tank replacement project was approved during the Jan. 22 meeting of the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The cost of the project is $750,000 with a 20 percent principal forgiveness, amounting to $600,000 that will be repaid, plus interest.

Two water storage tanks will be replaced at the O’Brien Water Plant, located at the end of Gay Street in Erwin. The O’Brien Water Plant pumps water into three storage tanks, a 100,000 gallon tank built in 1921, a 150,000 gallon tank built in 1923, and a 250,000 gallon tank built in 1957.

“The two oldest tanks will be replaced with a new 500,000 gallon tank, and the tank replacement will be out for bid in March,” said Lee Brown, general manager of Erwin Utilities.

This will increase the water storage capacity of the O’Brien Water Plant by approximately 250,000 gallons. Erwin Utilities conducts monthly inspections of the tanks and contracts for a professional tank inspection every five years. These inspections evaluate the overall health and condition of the water tank.

“These inspections indicated it was time for significant tank maintenance,” Brown said. “A life cycle cost analysis determined it was better to replace the two tanks and not perform additional maintenance on them.”

Brown said that Erwin Utilities’ employees work hard to provide safe, reliable and efficient services to the community and their customers every day. Part of that process involves the continuous inspection and evaluation of the water treatment plants, water mains and storage tanks.

“From this continuous inspection and evaluation we determine what is nearing the end of useful life and budget to replace or repair our treatment plants, water mains, and storage tanks,” he said. “Through this continuous inspection, evaluation, repair, and replacement process we can continue to provide safe, reliable, and efficient water service and fire protection to our community everyday.”

Funds now available for qualifying home repairs

Speaking to the Erwin Kiwanis Club, Donna Lewis with the First Tennessee Development District, said funds are available to qualifying Unicoi County and Town of Erwin residents for home improvements through the Home Rehabilitation Program. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUG) funds awarded through the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency (THDA) is conducting a Home Rehabilitation Program for low-income homeowners. The program has provided a total of $250,000 for Erwin residents and $500,000 for Unicoi County residents to receive home repairs if they meet the specified criteria.

On Jan. 9, Donna Lewis, Housing Programs Assistant with the First Tennessee Development District, gave an informational presentation on the program during the Erwin Kiwanis Club’s weekly meeting.

“One of the things we’re finding in our communities throughout upper East Tennessee is that there are needs some folks have that they can no longer meet,” Lewis said.

The goal of the program is to bring substandard housing units into compliance with HUD housing quality standards and local building codes while also addressing health and safety concerns.

Lewis said the agency has already received multiple applications from Erwin residents, but they have just began taking applications for Unicoi County.

Eligible work that may be done under the Home Rehabilitation Program includes plumbing and electrical work, foundation and subfloor replacement and repair, roof truss repair and roof replacement, handicap accessibility, and window and door replacement.

“If lead based paint is involved in your home, we can spend up to $25,000, but if there is no lead based paint, we can go upwards of $40,000 for a home rehab,” said Lewis. “That allows for a lot of work to be done on someone’s home.”

Lewis gave an example of how the program can assist people by giving the example of a 65-year-old single woman living on a fixed income who’s bathroom sink is experiencing a leak.

“Something that starts out as not being a major problem can become a big deal,” Lewis said. “When that water starts to leak through the cabinet and the bathroom, then it leaks through the floor of the bathroom, then it starts deteriorating the floor joists, and before long she’s got a hole there.”

Plumbing and electrical work are often some of the first home improvements that people need. For those totally lost in terms of what kind of repair their home may need, a thorough home inspection will be conducted by a professional contractor to determine any necessary repairs.

“We do have to put a deed of trust on the home for the amount of work that we do,” she said. “As long as you maintain the home as your primary residence for five years, that deed of trust will be released.”

If the resident of the home has a life estate to the property, work can still be done on the home, but whoever is the other party to the life estate must sign the deed of trust and promissory note.

In order to qualify for the repair work, the home value cannot exceed $158,000 after the repairs are completed.

“Sometimes we have issues with the value of homes, especially in rural areas because sometimes people own land, whether it be farm land or mountain land, and they have a higher property tax assessment,” Lewis explained. “But we are just looking at the value of the home itself, and not the value of the land.”

Other applicant criteria include: qualifications by low income guidelines, all property taxes must be paid and up to date, the applicant must occupy the property as their principal residence and must have been a resident there for at least a year.

The applicant must also voluntarily apply for assistance, must demonstrate ability to maintain their residence in areas of ongoing maintenance and repairs, and must maintain homeowners insurance during the five-year compliance period.

To meet the low-income qualification, the maximum household income for one person is $29,050, for two people it is $33,200, for three people it is $37,350, for four people it is $41,450, for five people it is $44,800, for six people it is $48,100, and for seven people it is $51,400.

Homeowners also must be prepared to stay elsewhere if needed during the time of repair work if, for example, the power needs to be cut off to change out the electrical or a heat pump needs to be unhooked.

“The only requirement for a homeowner’s investment besides putting together their information, is they have to come up with $150 to pay for a financial management class,” Lewis said. “Anyone who attends the class can learn how to manage money and also save money so that if their sink does start leaking again, or they need future repairs, they have funds set aside for that.”

Applications will be accepted until Jan. 31, and the home repairs are anticipated to begin within 18 to 24 months of approval.

For more information, on the Home Rehabilitation Program, contact Donna Lewis at 722 5122, or Applications can be found at

Mayors share plans for upcoming year

By Kendal Groner

The Erwin Record recently interviewed Unicoi County’s three mayors to get their outlooks for their respective municipalities in the coming year.


As Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley reflects back on the past year, she praises the unprecedented amount of community involvement and volunteerism. as well as the growth of the downtown area.

“I’m very pleased with the growth that has taken place in Erwin, and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do to encourage that growth,” Hensley said.

As she looks ahead to the new year, forming the town’s own emergency medical system and continuing to support economic development are at the forefront of her agenda.

The Town of Erwin had previously contracted their ambulance services through Unicoi County, who has a contract with MedicOne. Due to the lack of personnel as well as ambulances, MedicOne was failing to meet its contractual obligations, prompting the town to takes steps to establish its own emergency medical services.

A $500,000 Community Development Block Grant was secured by the town in order to purchase new ambulances. Hensley said town officials are currently in the process of putting the budget data together and determining what new equipment will be needed.

“Our wishlist is to have three ambulances, two that are advanced life support and one that is basic life support,” explained Hensley. “In the next couple of weeks we will be looking for an emergency medical director and I think that’s the first item of business we need to take care of. Hopefully we can come up with some EMTs and paramedics in a short period of time.”

She said that she has spoken with nurses from Wings Air Rescue that have shown interest, and while the town hasn’t yet determined a space to house the ambulances, they can temporarily put one ambulance downstairs by the Erwin Police Department and another at Unicoi County Memorial Hospital.

“The new hospital will also be a tremendous asset, not just to Erwin but to the entire community, and I think that can help recruit some new businesses,” she added.

Between now and June 30, the Town of Erwin will be purchasing two new police cars, as well as beginning the tunnel and extension for the Erwin Linear Trail. The construction will make the Linear Trail, a major asset to the town, more accessible by building a tunnel under Harris Hollow Road to link part of the existing Linear Trail to Fishery Park.

Hensley is encouraged by several new businesses locating downtown, and she added that even though there has been some job loss, the economy has remained stable. The Town of Erwin is also in the process of applying for a tourism grant and a grant that would survey the entire town to determine what businesses would best fit the area.

“I think we often take our location for granted, and we think no one has interest here, but this really is a novel area for many people,” she remarked. “This area has caught the attention of people outside the county, and now they are really wanting to move to Erwin.”

The town is trying to take advantage of as many grant programs as possible to improve the downtown area, and is currently working with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership to designate Erwin as a Main Street community.

“One of my main goals is to become a mainstreet community, and I think we already meet the criteria for one now, but we just need to get that info to the state,” Hensley said. 

If designated as a Main Street Community, participation in the program could open up additional funding opportunities to continue improving the downtown area.

“We are always recruiting more businesses and jobs, and hopefully once we get the silo down that area will be site ready and we will have some development interest in the former Morgan Insulation property,” she said. 

According to Hensley, there has also been interest shown in the former hotel and Morrill Motors building located on Main Avenue, a prime location for a potential business.

“We are excited about the plans for the hotel downtown, and we have someone looking to maybe do educational training in the bottom and then also the possibility of an upscale restaurant,” Hensley mentioned. “I think that’s another item really needed here is an upscale restaurant in the downtown area.”

Hensley has enjoyed the success of several downtown events that have enticed thousands of visitors to Erwin over the past year.

The Erwin Farmers Market, Erwin Elephant Revival, Unicoi County Apple Festival, Halloween Trunk or Treat and the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony are a few of the larger events that have drawn large crowds to downtown Erwin. 

“We would like to create another large event in December, and one of our main goals is to utilize the trail more than we have been,” she added.

Hensley applauded the young professional group, RISE Erwin, for benefiting the town by spearheading a large portion of these events.

“We have had more volunteers than I can ever recall, and the RISE Erwin group has been such an asset, I just can’t thank them enough,” she said. “We wouldn’t have had the growth and successful events had it not been for their volunteerism … once people see all RISE has done, it makes them want to be a part of these things. “We’ve had the millennials, baby boomers, and people from Generation X all get involved … that’s really what makes Erwin unique.”


The Town of Unicoi’s appeal to tourists and those seeking outdoor recreation are some of the major assets of the town that Mayor Johnny Lynch plans to continue supporting in the new year. He considers the town’s biggest successes of 2017 to be the opening of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen, the popularity of the Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower Trail, and the numerous events the town hosted.

“The biggest moment in 2017 to me was the opening of Mountain Harvest Kitchen and the unveiling of the Tanasi Bison carving done by Joe Pilkenton at the Town of Unicoi Tourist Information Center,” Lynch said.

Both the grand opening of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen and the reveal of the Tanasi Bison wooden carving took place on the same day. The Mountain Harvest Kitchen opened in August, and is a commercial grade food kitchen that individuals and businesses can utilize for food processing.

Some of the amenities include commercial-sized equipment, a research and development lab, a receiving area, walk-in refrigerator and freezer, a dry storage area and office space.

“We’ve got several new classes with agricultural extension series, ETSU, and various other organizations that we’re partnering with to present everything from entrepreneurial classes and business classes to food related demonstrations on preparation and safety,” informed Lynch.

The second phase of development for Mountain Harvest Kitchen is getting ready to begin, which will include the installation of filling equipment so people are able to come in and prepare a shelf-ready product.

“We managed to purchase a piece of property between the visitor’s center and Mountain Harvest Kitchen this year, and that was important to us because in our five year plan, we want to have a farmer’s market pavilion and a small amphitheater located on that property,” Lynch said. “That’s been in our strategic plan before, and now this past year we were able to take that first step in the planning process by purchasing that property.”

Lynch said that he wants to have the farmer’s market pavilion incorporated into the entrance to the amphitheater. Plans for a community garden are also underway, which will be wheelchair accessible and will provide a unique learning opportunity for local children.

There are also aspirations for the community garden to be incorporated into educational classes at the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. The groundwork has been laid out for more grants, such as one for a Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower Trail extension and additional kitchen equipment.

The Town of Unicoi is currently in the process of expanding the available parking spots to give people better access to the trail as well as using $10,000 that was set aside to construct a rustic inspired playground for children.

“We have had a great continued use of the Pinnacle Trail, and it has been amazing this past year how many people have used it,” said Lynch.

Last year a multitude of outdoor enthusiasts participated in the annual Hunger Hike at Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower Trail and raised $1,000 as well as canned food items to be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank.

“We are also planning a trail extension down to Maple Grove through a power grant and partnership with Erwin and Unicoi County.”

Lynch was also pleased with the numerous events sponsored by the Town of Unicoi, such as the Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival in May and the 21st annual Fiddlers and Fiddlehead Festival in April that was sponsored by the Unicoi Business Alliance.

The Bogart-Bowman Cabin was once again a popular spot for events and outdoor recreation for residents of the Town of Unicoi as well as outside tourists. The Town of Unicoi History Committee hosted a variety of events at the historic cabin, some of which included Heritage Day, Christmas at the Cabin, and regular Monday and Wednesday night ‘Picking on the Porch.’

“We have to have economic activity, but we know our best bet is tourism here and the events we have really keep that cycle going and keeps people in this area,” Lynch said. “The biggest thing that comes to my mind is the regular Monday and Wednesday night picking events, and those have been a huge success. … We really value outdoor recreation, and so we have soccer fields at the cabin as well as walking trails that we have maintained this past year.”

On Monday nights, local bluegrass and country music musicians can be found playing on the front porch of the cabin. Wednesday nights are dedicated specifically to the bluegrass genre.

“Future plans with the history committee include the creation of a cantilever barn, which is an original barn design from the 1700s,” Lynch explained. “It would fit the time period of the cabin, and there’s only one other barn of that type in Unicoi.”

In the coming year, the road systems will be evaluated through TTAP, a division of TDOT to determine any needed improvements. Several road improvement projects were completed in 2017 that included paving, striping, and bridgework.

“This coming year we are also supposed to complete the road beautification project on the interstate that puts out native species of wild flowers and plants to enhance the overall aesthetics of the 1-26 corridor,” Lynch said.

In addition to encouraging some retail development at exits 32 and 34, Lynch said that addressing concerns with the Buffalo Valley Golf Course is also at the top of his agenda.

“One of our biggest concerns right now is with the Buffalo Valley Golf Course, and we feel like losing that will be an economic drain, and although right now I don’t have any concrete solutions, we are gathering more information.”

The Buffalo Valley Golf Course, operated by Johnson City, has not been seeing much use by Johnson City residents, and Johnson City commissioners voted to close the course earlier in 2017 to save on maintenance costs.

The Town of Unicoi is also in the process of securing high speed internet through Comcast for its residents this year. The Town of Unicoi Tourist Information Center could become a new charging station for electric cars in 2018. There are hopes that installing the charging station would increase tourism by drawing ecology- and environmentally-minded people to the area. It would include the Town of Unicoi in a nationwide database of charging locations.

“We really try to do things that project pride in our town,” Lynch stated. “We always want to help the community in educational ways, and we’re here to serve. That’s the bottom line.”

Lynch added that many of the successes for the Town of Unicoi in 2017 were due to the help of numerous volunteers that made the area’s community pride really stand out.

“We’re very much attuned to creating economic development, but given the assets we have, we would be fools to not utilize that and promote tourism and outdoor recreation,” he added. “We don’t have a lot of land suitable for industrial development, but we do have these mountains and these streams that people come from afar to see because they truly love it.”


Despite the closing of the CSX Erwin railyard in 2015 that led to the loss of almost 300 jobs in Unicoi County, Mayor Greg Lynch is pleased with the area as it continues to recover and remains optimistic regarding future economic development opportunities.

“Although it’s not something that’s measurable, I feel like we’ve come a long way for economic development,” Lynch said. “As we look back, I believe this will be a crucial time for the history of Unicoi County.”

Lynch stated that the loss of jobs with CSX seemed to act as a catalyst for a number of state grants that will come to fruition in the following months.

Unicoi County merged with Washington and Carter counties to join NTREDP, the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Development Partnership, that seeks to combine the economic development efforts of all counties involved to benefit the region as a whole.

Since joining NTREDP, a number of grants have become available to the county, one of which is a $20,000 State of Tennessee Tourism Enhancement Grant that will be used to devise and implement a strategic tourism plan.

A $750,000 Housing Rehabilitation Grant that was awarded to Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin will provide $500,000 in funding for low income homeowners in Unicoi County by the third quarter of this year.

“That grant will really benefit elderly or disabled residents and those who qualify as low income by allowing up to 10 houses to be rehabbed, and my understanding is that there have already been several applications,” explained Lynch. “I feel like the series of events that took place after the closing of the railyard will really benefit the county, and I think we’ve been at a crossroads since the layoff of the workers.”

Lynch added that all of the additional funding the county received following CSX closing has served as the state’s way of helping them arrive at their next destination. That state funding assisted with the opening of Mountain Harvest Kitchen and also furthered the development of downtown Erwin.

“I think we’ve had some leaders really step up that are wanting to invest in the economic development of Unicoi County,” he said.

The use of a capital investment plan created by the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board is encouraging to Lynch as he sees the potential of that plan to incentivize new developers to come into the county, thus bettering the economy and creating additional jobs.

“The capital improvement plan shows that we are ready to sit down at the table and offer some incentives to people,” Lynch stated. “It’s a matter of showing people seeking industrial sites that we are competitive and we have a livable community.”

In the coming year, Lynch is excited to continue furthering efforts to improve the Unicoi County Education System. Some of those efforts include working on specific goals after being designated as a ACT Work Ready community and utilizing the partnership with The Ayers Foundation.

In order to reach ACT Work Ready status, a community must demonstrate that they have an approach with a public-private partnership to align education with workforce development and effectively match people with jobs. After becoming an ACT Work Ready community, the county can participate in additional initiatives that further aid the progress of generating work ready citizens.

“We are continually working on the goals for ACT Work Ready communities, and it’s preparing our kids to take standardized testing and acquire jobs,” Lynch said.

The Ayers Foundation, which provides funding to students throughout Tennessee for post secondary education, announced a partnership with Unicoi County High School in 2016.

Through the partnership, the school received a counselor to assist students with finding and applying for funding for their post secondary schooling. The Ayers Foundation has shown to greatly improve the graduation rates and the number of graduates continuing their education in the high schools it has partnered with.

“We’ve seen success with a number of kids entering college, and these things are really important for our future workforce,” Lynch remarked.

Lynch also sees the increasing popularity and usage of Rocky Fork State Park as another important asset for the county. Plans are currently underway to construct a new visitor’s center at the park in addition to the roadwork the Unicoi County Highway Department is doing to improve access to the area.

“The stars really kind of aligned on Rocky Fork State Park, and a lot of people have worked really hard to make it possible,” Lynch said.

With funding from a Community Development Block Grant, Unicoi County and Erwin Utilities, a Rocky Fork waterline extension project, valued at over $1 million, will be under construction this year and will include the installation a new 8-inch line from the end of Erwin Utilities’ line at Clear Branch up to Rocky Fork Road along Old Asheville Highway.

“That’ll help with catalyzing economic and tourism development and help out that entire area by getting that waterline installed,” Lynch added. “I am excited to see the entire Rocky Fork State Park project continue to build up and materialize, and it will serve as a strong catalyst for local sales tax revenues and new entrepreneurs.”

Overall, Lynch has an optimistic outlook for Unicoi County in 2018 and he says that the main focus for the year will be for the leaders of the county to come together to devise a formula to keep the area on the right track for continued growth and development.

“We’re at a point where we kind of have to reinvent ourselves, but on the other hand it’s not so much that we need to change Unicoi County, but rather find new ways to grow this economy,” he advised. “It’s important that we know the people of Unicoi County are confident and comfortable with what’s going on, because this is their county.”

Animal Welfare Board votes to outsource bookkeeping

The Animal Welfare Board ultimately felt it would be in the Unicoi County Animal Shelter’s best interest to outsource the bookkeeping. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

In its Dec. 28 meeting, the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board voted to outsource the majority of the Unicoi County Animal Shelter’s bookkeeping tasks by accepting a financial services proposal from Rodefer Moss & Company.

Under the agreement, for a monthly fee of $500 the financial firm would be responsible for identifying any errors with the monthly financial statement and reconcile those statements with the shelter’s checking accounts as well as prepare monthly invoices that are approved by the board.

It will also move the majority of the shelter’s banking to Quickbooks Online and provide monthly accounts payable payment reconciliation as well as recording and tracking all income, expenses, and deposits and prepare the shelter’s annual federal form 990, an Internal Revenue Services form required from non-profit organizations. 

“This will all be very streamlined,” said Joann Tatro, Animal Welfare Board chairman. “If we were to keep this in house, we would have to look at having more of a professional accounting person to perform those duties. … That would probably be a minimum of $15 per hour and at least 30 hours per week.”

Travis Bishop, a CPA with Rodefer Moss, attended the meeting on behalf of the financial firm to assist with any questions the board members had regarding the new way of handling the shelter’s finances. In the previous Animal Welfare Board meeting, Bishop had also volunteered his own personal time to serve as the board’s financial advisor.

A few issues that grabbed Bishop’s attention with the way the finances have been handled at the shelter stemmed from issues with the shelter requiring two-signer checks, and handwritten receipts.

In addition to removing the time spent that board members have to physically sign checks, by using Quickbooks online everything could be tracked and accessed electronically. Bishop added that it would provide more accountability and oversight by removing the majority of the accounting duties from the hands of one person.

Up until now, the majority of the shelter’s accounting duties have been performed by one worker at the shelter, and due to the time demands of those tasks and the small staff at the shelter, they have had to hire another part-time worker to work the front desk in order to free up time for that employee to complete those financial duties.

“Right now the way it is, that employee would have the ability to receive transactions, record the deposit, record the disbursement, and they’re the only one in the software making the journal entries,” Bishop added. “There’s no board oversight. That’s a lot of trust to place on that one person, which you should never, ever do. That’s not just with the shelter, but any organization.”

While she acknowledged that something needed to change with how the finances were being handled, Melissa Dagastino, co-chairman-elect, questioned whether or not there was a way to strengthen internal controls without outsourcing the financial duties.

“I really don’t think we can afford $500 a month right now, and I’m not saying that we couldn’t do it down the road, but in my opinion we need to think about how to get through this tough time,” Dagastino told the board. “Jessica Rogers (Unicoi County Animal Shelter Director), hasn’t been able to even do anything with animals that are sick. I’m just asking if we can buy time before we do this.”

Tatro responded to Dagastino by saying that she felt they were in these tough times because they didn’t have anyone at the shelter who could take the time to do the accounting.

“This isn’t against anyone’s abilities, but they are so covered up with daily duties that there just isn’t time to get to the accounting,” Tatro said.

Dagastino asked Bishop if he felt they could afford the $500 a month charge at this time. He added that they wouldn’t need to do the annual review from an outside agency this year, which costs them $2,000, if they were to outsource the financial tasks.

“I look at this matter from the perspective of strength, and to me the shelter’s strength is with animals, animal care, and adoptions, not accounting,” said Chris Oetjen, Animal Welfare Board secretary. “Rodefer Moss’s abilities don’t lie with animal care … it’s with accounting. I really feel strongly that these two should be separated.”

Dagastino asked if they had asked for or received any bids from other financial firms besides Rodefer Moss & Co. for accounting services. Tatro responded that they had not, and that they could possibly find a cheaper rate; however, she felt it was advantageous to the shelter to have the assistance of Bishop, who was already abreast on the shelter’s programs and current financial struggles.

Ginger Ray, chairman-elect for the Animal Welfare Board, asked Bishop what he typically charges small businesses for these services. Bishop responded that typical charges would include rates over $100 per hour, and if the job requires more than five hours each month, which he added it will, that would already be exceeding the $500 per month rate he provided to the shelter.

“It’s my personal and professional feeling that we cannot afford to not do this. … This will give us more time to focus on everything else,” Ray said.

Ray made a motion to accept the proposal from Rodefer Moss & Co. Oetjen seconded the motion, and it passed in a 4-1 vote with Linda Mathes, Chris Oetjen, Ginger Ray and Joann Tatro voting in favor and Melissa Dagastino voting in opposition of accepting the proposal.

The Animal Welfare Board’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, Jan. 11, at 4 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall.

When winter weather is forecast, local officials take precautions

Terry Haynes, Unicoi County road superintendent, stands alongside one of the powerful snow plow and salt trucks at the Unicoi County Highway Department. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

While nothing says winter quite like a beautiful, white snow, when inclement weather hits, the Unicoi County Highway Department works around the clock to ensure the roads are as safe as possible for vehicular traffic.

If ice or snow is anticipated, the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department contacts the Highway Department and they begin salting the roads as a precautionary measure. Unicoi County has a small budget of about $80,000 to $90,000 allocated for the salt they use to treat the roads.

“We really try to save as much salt as possible because once that salt is gone it’s gone,” said Terry Haynes, Unicoi County road superintendent.

Thankfully the salt itself will keep well, and due to the milder winter last year, there was a bin of salt leftover. According to Haynes, the price of the salt can vary from year to year.

“We have to bid our salt, and we’ve been fortunate to be able to use a salt supplier really close by,” said Haynes. “That saves us from having to transport it from Knoxville or Virginia. We can afford to pay a little more because we’re saving on mileage costs, and that’s really a blessing.”

He said that they always try to pretreat the roads if they get enough of a heads up, but due to discrepancies in weather reports it isn’t always possible. They were only expecting to get flurries with the snow that began on Dec. 8, but instead some areas of the county saw six inches.

With the snow that came down that day, Haynes described the south end of the county along with the Limestone Cove area being hit the worst and receiving six or seven inches. Closer to town, and into the downtown Erwin area, there was only three or four inches.

“This past snow it was a wet snow and that kind of gave us a heads up because we could just push a lot of it off the road, but around one or two in the morning on Saturday it warmed up and melted, and then by Sunday it had frozen into black ice,” Haynes explained. “So we had to get out again on Sunday morning and get some men out to treat the slick places.” 

The Unicoi County Highway Department uses snow plow trucks with a blade that’s designed to fit on the front of a four-wheel drive vehicle. This way they can use the blade to push snow off the road and salt the roads at the same time. The snow is pushed off at the front and then salt is applied at the back of the vehicle as they move along.

“I don’t have a whole lot of personnel anymore, and we’re having a lot of equipment breakdowns,” said Haynes. “I’ve got 10 trucks, and I have to have 10 commercially licensed, or CDL, drivers and then I have a crew for maintenance. We have to have a mechanic on duty. If we lose a truck by wreck or damage, then we really have to double up and that means working continuously.”

When Haynes and his crews go out to salt the roads they work around the clock. He said there’s times the men will pull over to try and get an hour’s nap in, but there’s often no time to spare for even short breaks.

He said with this past snow, as fast as they could push the snow off the roads, it was coming back down. In the 20 years that Haynes has been in office he’s seen community members bring them food as well as donations from local Pizza Huts.

“We’ve really been blessed, and it’s all a partnership,” Haynes said. We’re not out here working for ourselves, we’re working for the citizens of Unicoi County. The county is very fortunate to have men working at the Highway Department as dedicated as they are to serving the county. These guys really take pride in their work.”

• • •

For school dismissal procedures for inclement weather, Unicoi County School system officials always try to air on the side of caution when making judgement calls on school delays, closings or early dismissals.

“A lot of times we’re working off of weather forecasts and like the situation on Friday Dec. 8, things can get out of hand quickly when winter weather hits,” said John English, director of schools for Unicoi County. “Oftentimes we make a decision based on a forecast that may not come to fruition, but one thing a lot of people don’t understand is that it can be a totally different situation in our mountain regions.”

English said that it’s common for the mountainous regions such as Limestone Cove, Spivey and Coffee Ridge to receive several more inches of snow or ice compared to other areas in the county.

“Our number one priority is to do what will be in the best interest of the students, and sometimes that doesn’t match up with parent’s schedules, but we have to think about kids driving,” English said. “Last time we were out it wasn’t so much for snow as it was for wind chill and freezing temperatures. You have to think about kids waiting at bus stops or possibly having to walk long distances for rides.”

If there is a forecast for snow, early in the morning around 5 a.m. English and other school officials will get in touch with people across the county in higher elevations and get a report on the conditions there before making a decision.

“I would rather have 15 or 20 conversations with people that are upset that we’re out than one conversation with a parent where there’s been some sort of accident,” English explained. 

Each school year there are 13 extra days built in to be used for closings in cases of inclement weather. When Unicoi County Schools are closed or on a delay, all news stations as well as both the Erwin Police Department and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department are notified.

Dismissals are also posted on the Unicoi County Schools Twitter and Facebook pages. There is an automatic text alert system that parents are encouraged to sign up for.

Whenever there are school closings, delays, early dismissals or lockdowns, those that are on the alert system will automatically receive a text message. Parents can call the secretary at each school with more information on signing up for the automatic text alert system.

“I would like to thank the Highway Department for keeping the roads safe, and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department for how helpful they were in helping the kids get home safely with the recent snow,” said English.

Animal Welfare Board elects officers, hears financial update

The Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board is looking at options to better manage the shelter’s finances. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

y Kendal Groner

In their Dec. 11 meeting, the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board held its annual election of officers, discussed additional ways to cut costs at the Unicoi County Animal Shelter, and reflected on recent fundraising successes.

Joann Tatro, who has been chairman of the Animal Welfare Board for five years, nominated Ginger Ray to replace her as chairman.

“I really want someone who can be present at the shelter,” said Jessica Rogers, Unicoi County Animal Shelter director. “I want someone that’s hands on and it’s crucial we have that. If we’re changing roles, that’s something to consider.”

Ray asked Rogers what her specific expectations for the new chairman would be.

“We would like someone that can visit the shelter, that can be present at fundraisers, and know what it’s like and what we do on a daily basis,” Rogers replied. “I think the board, historically, has not been as hands on and involved … such as everyone not attending fundraisers and things like that. For us to continue to move forward, we definitely need someone very hands on outside of the monthly meetings here.”

Linda Mathes, Animal Welfare Board treasurer, added that Tatro had done a good job in her years as chairman, but knew that she was ready to step down. Mathes also vouched for Ray saying that she had known her for quite some time and felt she would make a good chairman.

“My only concern is you haven’t been at the shelter very much,” said Melissa Dagastino, Animal Welfare Board co-chairman. “That would be my concern going forward. I don’t know you that well, but I know how much I’ve been at the shelter and I guess my input is that the staff really just needs someone that’s going to be there, especially right now. They really need that support.”

Ray suggested a partnership since Dagastino had been so involved at the shelter and offered the possibility of her serving with her as co-chairman. The former co-chairman, Billy Harkins, said he had no issue in giving up the co-chairman position due to his own time constraints.

“Things today really are better as a team, and I’m willing to work together as a team rather than just an individual contributor,” Ray said.

Ray was unanimously elected as chairman of the board, and Melissa Dagastino was unanimously elected as co-chairman of the board.

Chris Oetjen will continue serving as secretary of the board, and Linda Mathes will continue serving as treasurer of the board.

• • •

In other business, the board also gave a report on the shelter, which currently has around 45 dogs and 165 cats, with 72 animals exiting the shelter this past month. For the month of December the shelter brought in $1,800 in fundraisers, with $600 coming from the East Tennessee Jeep Club fundraiser and another $800 coming from the Cookie Extravaganza fundraiser.

The shelter has received $2,300 in donations so far this month, and has received $900 in income from pet adoptions.

“December tends to be our busiest month for adoptions and donations,” said Rogers.

The board also gave the monthly financial report which showed direct public support to be around 31 percent, although it has historically been around 50 percent for this time of year.

Although the recent success of the fundraisers and the additional donations have helped, the shelter’s expenses are still at 45 percent, with the total income falling short at 31 percent. Operational costs alone for the shelter each month are approximately $9,000.

The shelter was able to pay off a $2,700 and a $1,900 vet bill, but they still owe around $1,500 to $1,600 in vet bills.

“Right now we have a temporary challenge with our finances,” Tatro said. “We have overspent our buffer, and so we don’t have a financial buffer anymore. We’ve had challenges in the past. … We need to put our heads together and make some changes.”

The shelter currently has around $17,000 in the bank and their recent bills total $12,671.90. That’s not including the $18,154 in wage costs incurred this year that will have to be paid in June.

“We need about $39,000 to pay those bills,” Tatro calculated. “That’s an awful big chunk of change. … Instead of waiting until that time comes we need to look at cutbacks now. I think the board’s job is to support the director and her ambitions … but we also have a job to the taxpayer and we have to have a balance here.”

Travis Bishop from Rodefer Moss & Co. offered to volunteer as a financial adviser to the board. The board voted unanimously to allow Bishop to assist them in making financial decisions as they move forward.

“I think this would really, really benefit our group,” Tatro told the board.

Rodefer Moss & Co. also offered to handle the shelter’s bookkeeping, which has previously always been done in house.

“Whenever you have a non-profit, if there’s not an outside look there’s often things that happen that you don’t want to,” said Tatro. “I’ve been overseeing the accounting like this for nine years, and I’m ready to take a step back. We can’t afford to have an audit every year.”

According to Bishop, in outsourcing the bookkeeping, it would involve paying the bills, maintaining the books, providing oversight, preparing financial statements on a monthly basis, and going over monthly and year-to-date activities.

He also added that he would like to see more of the process done online by using a program such as Quickbooks. 

“We want to strengthen internal controls,” Bishop added, “There’s a lot of ways that we can work to strengthen those controls to prevent any issues.”

The board will vote in next month’s meeting on whether or not to hand over the task of bookkeeping to Rodefer Moss & Co., or possibly another accounting business.

• • •

The shelter is still unable to provide extra medical treatment to animals aside from spay or neuter procedures due to their financial situation. They are currently operating under a managed intake system, meaning they are taking in animals as space is available, but some people are being deferred to a waiting list or other resources.

On Jan. 6 the Unicoi County Animal Shelter will be having a fundraiser at Masterpiece Mixers, a public art studio, in Johnson City. Tickets can be purchased through the shelter’s website for $35 a person and each ticket includes the class, materials and refreshments. The event will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

• • •

The Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board will hold a called meeting on Thursday, Dec. 28, at 4 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall. The public is welcome to attend.

Alderman Cooper questions use of kitchen

By Kendal Groner

During the reports of officers and committees held at the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on Monday, Dec. 18, there was a concern raised by Alderman Roger Cooper regarding the finances and community use of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. Cooper said he was informed that there had only been three users since the kitchen was opened in August of this year.

During the meeting Cooper asked for a financial report on the kitchen, and acting City Recorder Larry Rea said that he did not have one available at this time.

“I think in January we need to revisit the kitchen policy, and make it a little more attractive to people, at least for a month or two, just to get people in to use it,” Cooper said. “Because right now it seems like it’s not being utilized at all, and if we need to let people use it for free then so be it.”

In addition to hosting classes or educational events, the facility at Mountain Harvest Kitchen is a certified commercial kitchen that can be rented by individuals or businesses to use for food processing.

The Mountain Harvest Kitchen rates include an application and initial consultation fee of $80, a $200 refundable deposit to cover potential equipment damages, and also hourly fees for use of the facility.

For a regular user, defined as using the kitchen for 0-50 hours during the first month, the charge is $25 per hour, and for high frequency users, after 50 hours of use in a month, the fee is $20 per hour.

Additional fees can be incurred in the amount of $25 for the use of a dehydrator in a 24 hour period, a $25 per month fee for the use of a cooler shelf, and a $25 per month fee for the use of a freezer shelf.

Mayor Johnny Lynch said that the Director of Mountain Harvest Kitchen Lee Manning has been marketing the kitchen to various clubs in the area as well as at East Tennessee State University.

“Actually Roger, this thing has been in the making for 10 years and everyone knew that when the kitchen got started it’s not just going to jump off and get full,” Lynch told Cooper.

Lynch also stated that he believed they had around $1,000 in revenue from classes held at Mountain Harvest Kitchen this past month.

“By the way, when you need information on the kitchen, you are not supposed to go up there to the employees,” continued Lynch. “You’re supposed to come down here and give a written request for information on the kitchen.”

Cooper replied in saying that he has asked several times for an update on the Mountain Harvest Kitchen and has not yet received anything.

Lynch pointed out that with the recent loss of the full-time city recorder, acting City Recorder Larry Rea has only been working a few days a week and has not had time to prepare as many reports.

Have a little patience,” Lynch told Cooper.

However, Alderwoman Kathy Bullen pointed out that they had issues receiving reports and adequate information on the kitchen prior to the full-time city recorder’s departure, and felt it was more of an organizational issue.

“As an outsider … we’re paying a large salary of $60,000 a year to our kitchen manager, and if she is not capable of answering our questions when we ask them about the kitchen, then what are we paying her for,” asked Bullen.

Cooper made a motion to have outside auditors come in a few days a week to allow Rea to produce a detailed financial report for the kitchen. Bullen seconded the motion.

“It’s shameful because when you leave this community and you talk about the kitchen everyone is excited about it,” Lynch told the board. “Everyone seems to be excited except for people in this community, and it’s because people are exaggerating this and spreading poison.”

Cooper replied that he was in full support of the kitchen, but felt it needed to be made more attractive to users in order for it to be successful. Cooper’s motion failed in a 2-3 vote, with he and Bullen voting in favor and Lynch, Vice Mayor Doug Hopson and Alderman Jeff Linville voting against it.

Rea agreed to have a financial report on the Mountain Harvest Kitchen prepared by the January meeting for the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

• • •

The Town of Unicoi is still in the process of determining who will fill two of the town’s top administrative posts since last month’s departure of City Recorder Mike Housewright and Parks and Recreation and Community Relations Director Sarah Jennings.

The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen discussed the applications received thus far and the interview process for the two positions. According to acting City Recorder Larry Rea, they have received 19 applications for the city recorder position.

The interview questions and rating rubric for the applicant have been created by Pat Hardy, a municipal management consultant with the University of Tennessee. The interviews of the top rated applicants have been set for the dates of Jan. 9, 10 and 11.

“There’s five people that rated quite a bit better than the rest of the group, and that’s who we’re planning on interviewing during the first round,” Rea said.

There have been 27 applications received for the Parks and Recreation and Community Relations position. The deadline to turn in an application is Dec. 22, and interested applicants can send a resume and cover letter to

• • •

In other business, the board also passed a 2017 resolution for a $100 Christmas bonus for the Town of Unicoi Employees.

The following winners of the annual Christmas Decorating Contest were announced:

• Overall Appearance Award – Collins family located at 107 Beechbrook Drive in Unicoi;

• Best Use of Lights – Roberts family located at 110 Beechbrook Drive in Unicoi;

• Best Christmas Theme – Bridges family located at 118 Meadowstone Drive in Unicoi.

Animal Shelter still needs donations

Anna Nickels, a Unicoi County Animal Shelter employee, holds one of the cats available for adoption. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Since the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board meeting earlier this month, the Unicoi County Animal Shelter staff has been working diligently to raise much needed funds and secure successful adoptions.

During the Nov. 9 meeting, the staff and board members made the decision to temporarily cease intakes due to the influx of animals they had been receiving from other counties.

“We don’t like turning people down, and we’ve made every attempt to take as many animals as possible,” said Anna Nickels, Unicoi County Animal Shelter employee. “We got overloaded when Carter and Hawkins counties quit accepting animals.”

With all of the additional animals, this has meant more overhead costs for the shelter. The shelter held a coffee, kittens and yoga fundraiser on Nov. 25 at the Downtown Yoga Studio in Johnson City.

“Yoga, Kittens and Coffee was a success,” said Jessica Rogers, Unicoi County Animal Shelter director. “More than 30 humans and 22 cats attended. The event sold out and we raised $550 for the shelter. We also had two cat adoptions.”

Nickels said that they currently have more pit bulls and hounds than any other type of dogs, but there are several rescues up north that are usually excited to see hounds because that breed is more difficult to find in that region.

“The staff has had to work harder,” Nickels said. “Along with monetary donations we are still in need of non-clumping litter, bleach, fabuloso cleaner, cat toys and any kind of flea medication. People always seem to donate more around Christmas time,” she added.

Rogers said that there has been a great community response recently, and they’ve seen an increase in bedding donations and supplies. The shelter has always had a very active foster program, but due to financial concerns they are unable to add any new fosters at this time.

“We are always in need of volunteers, and they are always welcome during open hours to help walk dogs, play with the cats and assist with light cleaning,” said Rogers.

The shelter will revisit the decision to temporarily close intake during the Dec. 11 Animal Welfare Board meeting. Anyone interested in taking donations to the shelter or becoming a volunteer, can visit the shelter at 185 N. Industrial Drive in Erwin, or call the shelter at 743 3071.

The following is a list of the upcoming fundraisers and events for the shelter:

• Dec. 2 – East Coast Wings and Grill in Johnson City at 1 p.m.

• Dec. 2 – Barley’s Holiday Pawty at Main Street Cafe in Jonesborough from 7-10 p.m. The cost is $25 per person.

• Dec. 9 – The 5th annual Holiday Cookie Extravaganza at Fizz Soda Bar in Johnson City from 1-7 p.m.

• Dec. 16 – Christmas Open House for the shelter from 1-5 p.m.