Local United Way chapter begins annual fundraising campaign

Joel Duling speaks about the work of United Way during the local chapter’s campaign kickoff breakfast on Tuesday, Oct. 17. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

With a focus on education, financial stability and health, United Way works to improve the lives of communities all around the world. With nearly 1,800 United Way chapters, the nonprofit is powered by over 2.8 million volunteers and 9.8 million donors.

On Tuesday Oct.17, the Unicoi United Way held its fundraising kickoff breakfast at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center. Dozens of community members and leaders, business owners and school officials attended the event to share their support and enthusiasm for the organization’s fundraising efforts.

The Rotary Club of Unicoi County, Unicoi County Family YMCA, Contact Ministries 211, Children’s Advocacy Center of the First Judicial District, Unicoi County Little League, Change is Possible (CHIPS) Family Violence Shelter, Unicoi County/Erwin Health Department, Unicoi County Shoe Fund, Second Harvest Food Bank, Sequoyah Council Boy Scouts of America, Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, Unicoi County Dental Schools Program and Backpack Program, Unicoi County 4-H, Tennessee Rehabilitation Center, Unicoi County Habitat for Humanity, The Monroe Foundation and CASA of Northeast Tennessee all receive funding from Unicoi County United Way.

“Our major role is to provide funding for all the nonprofits in the area that we serve,” said Lee Brown, president of the Unicoi County United Way. “One of the highlights is the backpack program where we take kids shopping for school supplies, and we provide support for the Christmas shopping tours that reach a lot of children.”

Brown welcomed attendees at the breakfast before Matthew Laws and Macy Miller from Unicoi County Middle School gave an invocation and Pledge of Allegiance followed by the National Anthem.

After breakfast was provided by volunteers, Carolyn McAmis, United Way board member, showed the 2018 fundraising campaign video followed by the keynote speaker, Joel Duling, president of Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places around the country .. .and the common thing I see is people in need. From the single parent that’s trying to raise their kids and has to choose between food and paying the electric bill, kids who don’t have what they need for school, broken families, and families affected by drug use .. .all of those things are out there across the country,” Duling said. “United way is really one of the things I’ve been involved with that helps in so many ways.”

The Unicoi United Way has a goal for 2018 of $120,000. The organization will be fundraising from now until Dec. 7 afterwhich they will have a victory luncheon if fundraising goals are met.

“We need every dollar of that,” said David Erickson, United Way vice president. “I think it’s important as we go forward that we get out and mention Unicoi County United Way. We’re one of the few United Ways that distributes a large portion of that dollar back into the community. We are a great organization and just about everyone here is a volunteer.”

The Unicoi County United Way is always happy to receive additional volunteers or donations. For more information, contact the Unicoi United way via phone, 743 5111, or via email, unitedwayunicoicounty@gmail.com.

“The great thing about Unicoi United Way is it provides funding from birth to senior adults. We’re able to touch so many people at so many different stages of their lives. It’s an amazing thing that we can do in a small community,” said Brown.

Erwin BMA approves bid for Linear Trail tunnel

By Kendal Groner

Since 2006, there has been discussion about building a tunnel under Harris Hollow Road that links part of the existing Linear Park Trail to Fishery Park. The tunnel would create a shared use path and provide recreational access for bicyclists and pedestrians to access current segments of the trail.

In their Monday, Oct. 9, meeting the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously voted to accept a bid from Summers-Taylor Construction in the amount of $996,965.15 to construct the tunnel.

The board received a total of four bids for the Harris Hollow Tunnel Project. Adams Contracting placed a bid at $1,593,885.75; Thomas Construction placed a bid at $1,164,985.95; Inline Construction placed a bid at $1,235,503.50; and Summers-Taylor placed a bid at $996,965.15.

“Even with all of the new monies and the low bidder, the end result is that if the project goes to the exact cost, it is still above the original 20 percent match on our part of $28,876.75, and that nearly $29,000 is the responsibility of the town,” said Glenn Rosenoff, City Recorder.

The town budgeted $1,077,088 for this project; however, additional fees for engineering upped the total cost to $1,127,965 – or $28,876.75 more than budgeted.

Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley questioned whether there was anything in the bid that could be negotiated or left out to try and reduce costs.

“At this point, where we are in the project, it brings up issues because you are a public entity and you begin to negotiate with the contractor either before or even after you award the bid, it can be claimed as unfair bidding practices,” said Jonathan Shipley, project manager. “With that being said, there are some avenues that could possibly reduce the cost to the town. However, I don’t think there is enough funding in there to bring the project back within budget. In the event the town would like to pursue some other avenues, the project would probably need to be rebid again.”

Funds from the Tennessee Department of Transportation totaling $885,271 will be used for the trail extension project. The town will have to provide a 20 percent match.

Mayor Hensley inquired how long the construction would last and Shipley reported that the construction project is for 180 calendar days.

Alderman Mark Lafever asked Shipley if inclement weather could possibly affect the construction in the coming months.

“Due to the nature of the project being mostly excavation, more than likely the majority of construction early on should revolve around the tunnel itself under Harris Hollow,” Shipley said. “They should be able to continue with excavation during some minor wet weather occurrences. As far as paving and fine grating, which wouldn’t occur until the end of the contract, there shouldn’t be any major delays expected.”

Half of Harris Hollow Road could be shut down at any time during construction, but one side of the road will remain open. Only minor traffic obstructions would be expected.

“I think that what we budgeted for overall with capital projects this fiscal year, I think we will be able to meet the needs for this project and be okay. I’m optimistic we will have sufficient funds for this,” said Rosenoff.

Rosenoff recommended to the board that they move forward with construction and select one of the bids.

“I think there’s a lot of folks that want to see that link between the park and trail also, I know we’ve been talking about it for a long time,” said Lafever. “Everyone has been talking about how good it’s going to be, especially once we start working on the park. Because pricing and costs aren’t going to go down, I’m going to go ahead and make a motion to accept the low bid from Summers-Taylor.”

Lafever made a motion, seconded by Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz to accept the low bid by Summers-Taylor. The motion unanimously passed.

• • •

The board also approved an ordinance to rezone property located on Ohio Avenue from R-1 (low density) residential district to R-1A (single family) residential district. The Erwin Planning Commission heard the first reading on Sept. 27 and recommended the rezoning.

The corner lot to be rezoned has an old historic home that realtor-developer Andy Baxter is looking at renovating. He is also looking at adding another craftsman style home to the property. The classification of the Ohio Avenue property as an R-1 district permits single family residences, whereas the R-1A district will allow for two family dwellings.

The board also approved an ordinance to rezone certain properties located on Carolina Avenue, Pond Street, Broyles Avenue and Kentucky Street from B-1 neighborhood business district and R-3 (high density) residential district to B-2 arterial business district. According to Rosenoff the rezoning was at the request of both property owners and the B-2 zoning classification will allow for things such as offices to be considered acceptable amenities.

• • •

In other business, the board also approved a resolution supporting the national park system and appointed Ron Tracy to fill a vacancy on the Unicoi County Public Library Board of Trustees.

Habitat for Humanity seeking volunteers for home build

Construction continues on Grove Avenue in Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

The Habitat for Humanity of Unicoi County is in need of volunteers to assist with their most recent home building project. After finishing their first home building project in 2002, this will make the affiliate’s fourth home they have constructed for a family in need.

The location for the newest home under construction is 611 Grove Ave., directly behind the Fire Department. The groundwork for the project was started in May, and the home is expected to be finished in the next few months. However, the local nonprofit is seeking additional support to complete the project in a timely manner.

The home will be benefiting Monica Tipton, a single mother from Erwin, who works as a resident assistant at Governor’s Bend Retirement and Assisted Living. Tipton lives with her son Brayden Tipton, 4, and applied for assistance from Habitat for Humanity back in 2015.

“I knew that they helped low income families get on their feet, and I figured I’d give it a shot,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to just go through a bank and get a home loan.”

Tipton had applied with Habitat for Humanity one other time, but she did not make it all the way through the application process the first time. Contrary to what one may expect, the application process may take a while.

“It’s not a free house, that’s a misconception,” said Brian Poston, volunteer coordinator. “All recipients have to qualify, meaning they don’t have any debt, they have to have held a job for awhile, and live inside of Unicoi County. It’s really just a leg up for some families.”

Recipients are still responsible for the mortgage and paying property taxes. Tipton says that she is excited to start paying on something that will be her own.

“It’s a privilege for us to be chosen for this, it’s going to be a good change that my son and I are both excited for,” she said. “He’s so ready to be in there.”

According to Rene Taylor, a member of the construction team, skilled contractors have been working through the week on tasks like electrical, plumbing and flooring work. Around four to five volunteers have been coming out each Saturday, but as the home nears completion more assistance is needed.

“We are at a point where we would like to have more volunteers, and you don’t have to be experienced or have your own tools,” he said. “We provide everything you need, but if you are experienced and have your own tools then by all means feel free to bring them.”

Due to the Habitat for Humanity of Unicoi County’s small size, every hour of assistance and every dollar donated is crucial to completing projects such as this. The local affiliate has  no paid staff, and aside from a few small administrative costs, every donation goes towards building a home.

“Unicoi County is considered a very small affiliate, we have less than $20,000 in revenue each year,” said Melissa Tipton, Treasurer of the Board for Habitat for Humanity of Unicoi County. “It takes us a while to raise the $100,000 to build a home, but we try to set a goal of building a house every year or two.”

The majority of funds that the local affiliate receives comes from local businesses, other organizations and support from churches in the area. United Way, the Erwin Kiwanis Club, the Town of Erwin, the Town of Unicoi, NN Inc., and Centenary United Methodist Church are all covenant partners that assist Habitat for Humanity of Unicoi County.

Tipton and other members on the Board would like to see the number of volunteers each Saturday increase to eight to ten people, and hopefully closer to 15 to 20 volunteers as they get closer to the end of construction. An on-site foreman and skilled workers will be present each week to help train those with little or no construction experience.

Local churches typically donate lunch for volunteers, although for those unable to help with construction, they can contribute by providing lunches or running errands. Volunteers are also needed to help with ‘Brushes with Kindness’, where smaller home maintenance projects such as painting or outside repairs are performed for families in need.

“I think everyone really deserves a chance at homeownership, and some people just need a little help with that,” Poston said. “It’s nice to see a young lady and her son get the opportunity to own a house.”

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to stop by Brian Poston’s local State Farm Insurance Office at 1072 N. Main Ave., or give him a call at 956-4606. For families wanting applications to receive a home build or a ‘Brush with Kindness’, call the Habitat for Humanity of Unicoi County Office at 330-6357. Donations can be mailed to 203 N. Elm Ave., Erwin.

Town of Erwin receives $315K grant to begin own ambulance service

By Kendal Groner

After receiving a $315,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, the Town of Erwin can now push forward with efforts to establish its own ambulance service.

For well over a year, MedicOne, the county’s ambulance service provider, has seen inadequate staffing, long wait times, and simply not enough ambulances to respond to emergency calls. This has left MedicOne in direct violation of its contract with Unicoi County.

“There are times when we only have one ambulance in the city, and sometimes we don’t even have one available at all,” said Doris Hensley, Town of Erwin mayor. “Oftentimes we have to contact another county to see if they can help assist.”

The Unicoi County Ambulance Study Task Force was created in August of last year to address some of these concerns. Under the leadership of Jimmy Erwin, MedicOne’s operations manager for Unicoi County, the county has been working to increase its number of available paramedics and ambulances.

“MedicOne has been in violation of their contract since day one,” Hensley said. “This is either from a lack of vehicles, lack of personnel, or the vehicles are not properly equipped. I have had reports that some patients have had to wait as long as four hours before getting help. That’s just unacceptable.”

According to the MedicOne contract, four ambulances must be stationed in the county, but when Erwin was hired only two were available. MedicOne is now in compliance with the required number of ambulances, but staffing remains an issue.

“Police officers have had to answer emergency calls,” said Hensley. “They do have emergency training, but they haven’t had the medical training needed to respond to these calls. The most they can do is keep someone comfortable until they can see a medical professional.”

While the $315,000 grant will make a large dent in the funds needed to start a new ambulance service for the Town of Erwin, it will not cover all of the costs. It is estimated that it will take $460,400 to fully fund the project.

“We hope that the Hospital Foundation will provide the rest of the funding, and if not then the city will have to take it out of their fund balance to start it up,” Hensley said. “We think it will be self-supporting once it is up and running.”

There will be a lengthy process of finding a location to house the emergency services, getting the required certifications and licenses and hiring the needed paramedics and EMTs. According to Hensley, it could take another year before a new ambulance service is completely up and running.

• • •

The grant funds were announced in a press release sent from the offices of State Sen. Rusty Crowe and State Rep. John Holsclaw on Friday, Sept. 22.

“Having access to ambulance services can be a matter of life or death,” said  Crowe, who strongly supported the grant application. “I am pleased that this grant will support emergency response efforts. The improvements this grant will make are significant. It reflects a greater investment in the infrastructure of our community, making it a safer place to live and work.”

According to the press release, the CDBG grant will be used to purchase and equip two Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances that would primarily serve Town of Erwin residents.

“Only 38 percent of applications for grants were awarded this year,” added Crowe and Holsclaw. “It is very competitive. We are very pleased that these funds have been awarded.”

Senator Crowe and Representative Holsclaw praised the work of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley and her staff, the Town of Erwin aldermen, County Mayor Greg Lynch and other locally-elected officials. They also expressed appreciation to Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development for their work in securing the funds.

Relay raises almost $45K

Pictured from left, Congressman Phil Roe, Renea Jones-Rogers and Roe’s wife, Clarinda Roe, support cancer research and funding at the Sept. 16 Unicoi County Relay For Life event. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Community members took to the Unicoi County High School Track this Saturday at the annual Relay For Life fundraiser to ‘Give Cancer the Boot’.

This event, which benefits the American Cancer Society, seeks to raise crucial funds each year that go towards cancer research as well as treatment and prevention programs. With enthusiastic participants and a fun western theme, Relay For Life team members were able to raise almost $45,000, according to Renea Jones-Rogers, the chairwoman for Unicoi County Relay For Life.

Rogers became involved with Relay For Life in 2006 after a close cousin was diagnosed with cancer. The following year her son, Nick Rogers, was unexpectedly diagnosed with non-Hodgkins T-cell Lymphoma.

“When you have a cancer diagnosis it just rocks your world,” said Rogers. “It just changes your whole outlook and the big thing is you just want to get involved and give back.”

Following her son’s diagnosis she has been on the leadership team since 2010 and has chaired the event for the last three years.

“This is a way for me to support others and offer a shoulder to lean on while raising dollars to find a cure,” she said. “If we can just make a dollar more than we had, then we’re making a difference.”

This year’s events featured a kids zone with inflatables, performances by the UCHS bluegrass band and ETSU cloggers, a Glo Run, and many more fun activities held at each team’s booth.

One standout booth was a brightly colored snow cone stand run by team Anders in support of 2-year-old Lillian Anders who was diagnosed at birth with stage 4 Neuroblastoma affecting her adrenals, liver, bones and skin. Lillian’s three siblings prepared snow cones for attendees as dozens flocked to the booth in the hot weather.

“She’s a survivor, but not everyone has been lucky enough to survive,” said Kristin Anders, Lillian’s mother. “But people see her and it gives them a reason to come here and participate even if they are grieving.”

As the events began to wind down for the afternoon, participants and supporters gathered around the stage to listen to the heartfelt stories told by those who had battled cancer.

Christy Vance, a two-time cancer survivor, spoke about her difficult journey with a rare cancer known as adenoid cystic carcinoma. In 1999 Vance underwent surgery for a tumor in the roof of her mouth before she was first diagnosed.

She wasn’t able to make it through all of her radiation treatments due to a severe toxic reaction. She went another 12 years before an MRI showed another tumor at her right nasal pharynx which required her to have two extensive surgeries.

“Upon going in for surgery, God had performed a miracle; the tumor was gone,” Vance said. “However, the cancer later spread to my eustachian tube, 90 percent of my jaw muscle, all of my sinuses and the B2 nerve in my face.”

After undergoing over 30 radiation treatments and with tremendous support from her husband and family, Vance has been cancer free for the last five and a half years.

“I hope anyone out there that has had cancer or is going through cancer remembers that God is always with you and he will always be by your side no matter how grim or how dark the days are,” she said.

Congressman Phil Roe, a former doctor who delivered Rogers’ son Nick, was among those who spoke during the survivor’s speech. The congressman was a strong supporter of the 21st Century Cures Act, under which there has been a $740 million increase in cancer funding and research. He is also a co-sponsor for the 2017 Patient Choice and Quality Care Act that would increase the availability of information and services to patients and families with life-limiting illnesses.

After being a caretaker for his former wife that he lost to cancer, and receiving a diagnosis with prostate cancer himself, his involvement in the cause has become much more personal.

“I am six weeks post operation and I am tickled to be here,” Roe said. “Anything I can do to promote early check ups, and to explain to people that there’s hope out there and to not look at cancer as being a final step, but just a step in their life is really important to me.”

During the survivor’s speech Roe said that he felt that it was important for a public figure like himself to come forward and speak on the importance of pre-cancer screenings and early treatment.

“There isn’t a person anywhere that hasn’t had a close personal friend, a spouse, a loved one, or a brother or sister that has been affected by cancer,” he said.

Following the survivor’s speech, the annual survivor’s lap around the track took place. The UCHS marching band led survivors as they made their victory lap afterwhich a caregiver lap and fight back lap were made later in the evening.

If you are interested in supporting additional Relay For Life efforts, the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital team sponsor will be hosting Relaying for a Cure Golf Tournament at the Erwin Elks Lodge on Oct. 14. Please contact Lisa Buchanan at 743-1203 for more information.

Community honors first responders

By Brad Hicks

Representatives from local first responder agencies were recognized during the inaugural Patriot Day service. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

Hundreds of Unicoi Countians gathered on Monday, Sept. 11, to give a collective “thank you” to the local men and women who face dangerous situations daily to ensure the safety of the county’s citizenry.

A ceremony to honor Unicoi County’s first responders was held Monday in the Unicoi County High School auditorium. The evening featured music, recognitions, proclamations, prayers, and a special message from Randy Kington, a Marine Corps veteran paralyzed during the Vietnam War.

During the inaugural Patriot Day service, local first responders in attendance were asked to stand to receive a round of applause. The agencies recognized were the Erwin Police Department, Erwin Fire Department, Limestone Cove Volunteer Fire Department, MedicOne Medical Response, Southside Volunteer Fire Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Unaka Mountain Search & Rescue, Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, Unicoi County 911, and Unicoi County Emergency Management.

The leaders of each of the recognized agencies were called to the auditorium stage where each received a copy of a proclamation presented during Monday’s ceremony by State Sen. Rusty Crowe and a U.S. Flag that had flow over the state capitol in Nashville.

The proclamation, which was previously passed by state legislators, in part read: “Outstanding in the line of duty, Unicoi County first responders are citizens of whom the Volunteer State is most proud, and they should be recognized for their professionalism and compassion in the face of danger.”

“Let’s never forget the sacrifices that our first responders and our military have made for us and will continue to make,” Crowe said. “The way the world is today, we’re going to need them more than ever.”

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch also presented a county proclamation to name Sept. 11, 2017, as “First Responders Day” in Unicoi County.

“I encourage all members of our communities to observe this occasion by praying for the safety and well-being of those men and women of our county and our country who are proud to call themselves first responders and remember them each day,” Lynch said.

Kington, a Tennessee native who fought during Vietnam during 1965-66, discussed what he considers the three “difference makers” in his life – his country, his wife Patty, who he met in a Memphis veterans’ hospital several months after the March 21, 1966, gunshot that left him paralyzed from the chest down, and God.

“I can think of no better topic to talk about tonight than to make a difference, to be a difference maker,” Kington said. “Next to the hand of God, the greatness of this community, the greatness of America, has always rested upon the sacrifices of so many difference makers. Those sacrifices, each and every one of them, were made for you and me. And because for over 241 years firemen, policemen, emergency workers, military men and women have been willing to make a difference, no matter what it costs, tonight, each one of us here is safe and secure.”

A special recognition was devoted to the surviving members of the Erwin Nine, a group of nine Erwin natives who joined the Air Corps during World War II and were all assigned to different planes, yet ended up in the same German prison camp. Each of the men returned home following his liberation.

Cases containing a new Erwin Nine logo, recently designed by Johnnie Watson, were presented to Erwin Nine member George Hatcher and representatives of the families of Dick Franklin, who is currently at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center, and Stan Norris, who is believed to be alive and residing in Alabama.

One of the cases was also presented to Lynch for display in the Unicoi County Courthouse.

Music during Monday’s ceremony was provided by soloists Larry Pate, Alan Foster and Jonathan Huff, as well as the Community Choir. Songs performed included “God Bless America,” “Star-Spangled Banner,” “God Bless the U.S.A,” and “Let Freedom Ring.”

Monday’s first-ever Patriot Day service was sponsored by churches across Unicoi County and made possible by scores of area businesses, organizations and individuals.

NFS celebrates years without lost time injury

NFS President Joel Duling speaks during last week’s ceremony. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

By Brad Hicks

Forty-three months.

More than 1,300 days.

Five million hours.

These durations all represent the same thing – the period Nuclear Fuel Services has gone without a lost time injury.

The Erwin-based company recognized the achievement of 5 million safe work hours during a ceremony held Tuesday, Sept. 5, at NFS. The event featured a catered meal and safety fair for NFS employees, as well as the presentation of plaques and proclamations by state officials and officials with BWX Technologies, Inc., NFS’ parent company.

NFS achieved 5 million hours without a lost time injury in early June. The company has not experienced a lost time injury since November 2013.

“This is quite an accomplishment for any industry, particularly our industry,” NFS President Joel Duling said to those present for last week’s ceremony. “We’ve got processes and procedures and things that are in place, but it’s more than just the administrative controls and the engineering controls that go into our plant. It’s really every single person who’s sitting here today that makes this a true accomplishment.”

NFS Transportation and Waste Management Director John Nagy provided additional perspective to the 5 million work hour accomplishment.

“This represents the equivalent of an individual working 2,500 years without missing any time due to a work injury,” Nagy said.

TOSHA Administrator Steve Hawkins said NFS’ injury and illness rate is 96 percent below the industry average. Going by this rate, Hawkins said NFS could have expected to see approximately 30 injuries in the millions of work hours since its last lost time injury.

“We have no idea of the magnitude of those 30 injuries that NFS aborted by the work that you’ve done right here,” Hawkins said.

BWX Technologies Environment, Safety and Health manager Mark Elliott said safety is an “enabler of business success,” adding the NFS’ recent history supports this belief. He said as safety at the plant has improved and injuries have become less frequent, quality, cost and schedule goals have flourished resulting in record profits and increased opportunities for employment within the community.

“To achieve this level of safety performance, it is evident that every employee has agreed to become a part of something important,” Elliott said. “They’ve each committed to create a habit of excellence, and good habits create good safety culture. Good safety culture creates reliable organizations. NFS is a health safety culture and one of the best-performing organizations in BWXT.”

State Sen. Rusty Crowe was on hand to present a proclamation passed by state legislators commemorating NFS’ accomplishment. Crowe said the Erwin company’s leaders and its more than 1,000 employees strive to protect others at the plant, the public and the environment.

“Recently, NFS reached a significant milestone. No serious work-related injuries were reported after employees completed more than 43 months, 5 million safe hours, of high-consequence work vital to national security and nuclear nonproliferation,” the proclamation presented by Crowe read in part. “This achievement speaks volumes about NFS’ ongoing commitment to Tennessee and the company, and its employees should be recognized on this special occasion.”

Duling said NFS’ priorities are safety, quality, schedule and cost. He said the main objective at NFS is to ensure workers return safely to their families at the end of their shifts.

“I’m confident when I say NFS is a community of safety and a safety culture,” Duling said. “As a team, I look forward to us continuing the safe habits that mark today’s celebration.”

The achievement is made even greater when the plant’s operations are taken into consideration, Duling said. He said three shifts work five days per week, with maintenance activities taking place over weekends. This, Duling said, means someone is working at the plant 24 hours a day seven days a week.

“When you look at that, for 43 months working around the clock at this plant, that’s a pretty significant accomplishment,” Duling said.

Duling also said this is the first time in NFS’ history the company has reached this type of milestone, as the last safe work hour milestone was somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 million hours. He credited NFS’ employees for making the new mark possible.

“This is the employees that make this happen,” Duling said. “We’ve got the engineering controls and we’ve got our processes and procedures, but it takes the people to implement those and to have questions and to ask and make them better and keep things going in a positive direction.”

NFS, a subsidiary of BWX Technologies, Inc., manufactures nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy’s fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines. NFS also processes highly enriched uranium in one of only two Category 1 nuclear facilities in the U.S.

Unicoi County Commission OKs budget without tax increase

By Brad Hicks

The streak continues as 2017-18 marks the sixth consecutive fiscal year Unicoi County has maintained the same property tax rate.

This was made official on Monday, Aug. 28, when the Unicoi County Commission approved the county’s operating budget and fixture of the county’s property tax rate for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Both items were approved by a 7-2 vote, with Commissioners Loren Thomas and John Mosley voting against both measures.

Unicoi County’s property tax rate for 2017-18 is $2.6838 per $100 of assessed value, the amount the rate has remained at since the 2012-13 fiscal year.

“We’ve gotten quite  a lot done in that time, building a jail and different things like that, so I think it’s been due to the fact that officeholders manage well and the County Commission has pretty well worked together to make this happen, and I think everybody has been good stewards,” Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said following Monday’s meeting.

The property tax rate does represent an increase over the $2.6282 state-certified tax rate provided to the county by the state as part of the 2017 reappraisal. The certified tax rate, provided after reappraisal cycles and based upon updated property values, is described as the property tax rate needed to bring in the same amount of property tax revenue a government brought in the prior year.

Governments are required to consider acceptance of the certified tax rate, which the Unicoi Commission did during its July 24 meeting, but governing bodies are not bound to the provided amount when setting a jurisdiction’s actual property tax rate. During that July 24 meeting, the Commission also voted to authorize the publication of a notice announcing the county’s intent to exceed the certified tax rate with the fixture of the actual property tax rate.

The certified tax rate was discussed during the July 12 meeting of the Unicoi County Commission’s Budget & Finance Committee, which began meeting in May to develop the county’s overall budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The consensus among commissioners present for that July meeting was that the county’s 2017-18 property tax rate should remain at $2.6838.

The move to maintain the current property tax rate rather than fixing the amount at the state-certified rate will generate more property tax revenue for Unicoi County. Each penny on the county’s property tax rate is expected to generate $31,106 in revenue in 2017-18, and increase over the $30,342 each property tax penny generated in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

State law requires that a public hearing be held if a government intends to exceed the certified tax rate. This hearing was held during Monday’s meeting of the Unicoi County Commission and, while no members of the public spoke during the hearing, Thomas made his feelings known on the county’s proposed 2017-18 tax rate.

Thomas said because the state provided a certified tax rate of $2.6282, a move to keep the rate at $2.6838 would amount to a roughly 5.5-cent property tax increase for 2017-18.

“If we leave it the same, we’re basically raising taxes on everybody in the county because of the reappraisal,” Thomas said.

This would especially impact those living within Erwin’s limits, Thomas said, as Erwin’s municipal property tax will increase from a rate of $1.41 in 2016-17 to $1.447 in the 2017-18 fiscal year. Thomas said the reappraisal resulted in higher property values for at least one person with whom he spoke. He said this citizen saw her value increase from $68,000 during the last cycle to $79,000 in the latest reappraisal, meaning this constituent would be paying more property taxes.

Mosley said he spoke with 16 families about their property values. He said 14 of those saw their properties values increase in the most recent reappraisal, meaning they will be seeing higher property tax bills under the county’s current rate.

Commissioner Kenneth Garland, however, argued that exceeding the state-certified tax rate would not be the equivalent of a property tax increase since the rate would be the same as the prior fiscal year.

“We’re not raising taxes,” Garland said. “The state is raising it on some people.”

Commissioner Todd Wilcox pointed out that setting the county’s property tax rate at the state-certified rate would require the budget to be readjusted, as such as move would result in the loss of around $173,000 in projected property tax revenue since the budget was based on the $2.6838 rate.

The Tennessee Comptroller has asked local governments across the state to pass their budget’s prior to Sept. 1. Unicoi County Finance Director Phyllis Bennett said if the County Commission failed to pass the budget during Monday’s meeting, Unicoi County would be at a “standstill,” as the county no longer operates on a continuing budget.

“So it would have to shut down,” Bennett said.

A move by Thomas to set the county’s 2017-18 property tax rate at the state-certified rate of $2.6282 failed with only Thomas and Mosley voting in favor. Garland’s motion to set the rate at $2.6838, which was seconded by Commissioner Jason Harris, was approved 7-2.

After the county’s property tax rate was approved, the Commission approved the county’s 2017-18 budget.

The county’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget, which was approved upon second and final reading during Monday’s meeting, reflects total anticipated revenue of $7,349,995 against $7,349834 in total projected expenditures. If these figures hold throughout the year, Unicoi County would end the year with a $161 surplus.

“Our county is in pretty sound financial shape without having to increase the tax rate,” said Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice.

The county’s fund balance was not utilized in order to balance its 2017-18 budget, and Unicoi County is projected to end the fiscal year with a fund balance of a little more than $1.1 million. This is below the approximately $1.5 million fund balance the state has recommended that Unicoi County maintain, but Rice previously said it is the largest fund balance county officials can recall. It is nearly double the $569,000 fund balance projected for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

“I’d like to thank the officeholders for managing their budgets well,” Rice said. “I thank also the mayor’s staff, especially our bookkeeper Phyllis Bennett for her countless hours making our budget work and putting all this together. Last year, we received a clean audit from the Comptroller’s office for the first time in years. We should all be proud of that accomplishment.”

Per the budget, approximately $4.087 million of the projected revenue is anticipated to come from county property taxes. This includes more than $3.721 million from the collection of current property taxes and around $267,000 from prior year collections.

Local option taxes, which include the county’s hotel/motel tax, litigation tax, business tax, mixed drink tax and mineral severance tax, are projected to generate $189,500 in 2017-18. Revenue from licenses and permits is expected to come in at $21,000, and money generated from fines, forfeitures and penalties is projected to slightly exceed $95,600.

Fees received from various county offices makes up $923,000 of the projected revenue, and state revenues, which includes the local income tax, beer tax, grant funding and the housing of state inmate in the county’s jail facilities, is projected at more than $1.31 million.

On the expenditures side, costs associated with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department are expected to exceed $1.777 million in 2017-18. This does not include costs associated with the operation of the county’s two jail facilities.

Not included within the UCSD’s budget is $35,000 the department had previously requested for a new vehicle. During the Budget & Finance Committee’s July 12 meeting, commissioners present agreed to cut the $35,000 from the sheriff’s department’s budget.

This matter was not discussed as the County Commission on Monday voted to approve the tax rate and 2017-18 budget, but the topic was broached when the Commission considered several budget amendment requests. Among those requests was one from the UCSD to move around $29,300 out of the general fund for the purchase of a vehicle.

The UCSD was able to place this money into the general fund through the sale of surplus equipment it previously acquired at no cost. However, Garland said picking up the equipment and bringing it back to Unicoi County still came at a cost to taxpayers.

Rice, however, said the UCSD is in “dire need” of a vehicle and allowing the department access to the funding it placed in the general fund through the surplus equipment sales would help the sheriff’s department meet this need.

The budget amendments were approved by an 8-1 vote with Garland casting the dissenting vote.

Expenditures associated with the Unicoi County Jail are projected at approximately $783,200 for 2017-18. Costs related to the Unicoi County Jail Annex are projected at around $521,400.

Other 2017-18 county expenditures include $52,236 for costs associated with the Unicoi County Commission, $272,458 for the operation of the county mayor’s office, and $27,000 to pay the county attorney for his services.

Around $185,700 has been budgeted for the Unicoi County Election Commission in 2017-18, around $194,900 for the Register of Deeds, more than $130,300 for county buildings, nearly $256,000 for the Unicoi County Property Assessor’s office, and around $188,500 for the Unicoi County Trustee’s office.

Approximately $266,700 has been budgeted for the office of Unicoi County Clerk in the new fiscal year. Expenditures for Unicoi County Circuit Court are projected at more than $470,300, costs for the county’s General Sessions Court are budgeted at around $119,500, Chancery Court expenses are projected at around $159,900, and costs related to the county’s Juvenile Court are projected at around $52,600.

The budget also includes more than $64,000 for civil defense, more than $39,900 for the county’s coroner/medical examiner, around $81,700 for the local health center, around $158,600 for rabies and animal control, and $132,000 to pay the county’s annual subsidy to MedicOne Medical Response, the county’s current ambulance services provider.

Along with funding provided to local nonprofit agencies and organizations, the county’s 2017-18 budget also includes bonuses that will be paid to county employees during the 2017-18 fiscal year. Full-time employees will receive a bonus of $800, while the county’s part-time employees will receive a $250 bonus. These bonus payments account for more than $60,000 in expenditures.

“This year, we were able to give our full-time employees an $800 bonus. We also had some employees that received salary increases. Our insurance premium costs for the employees also were lowered this year,” Rice said, also commending the Unicoi County Board of Education for balancing the local schools system’s more than $21 million 2017-18 fiscal year budget.

The Unicoi County Commission approved the first reading of the budget during a special-called meeting held Aug. 7.

Town of Unicoi mayor, alderman spar over agenda

By Brad Hicks

Town of Unicoi Alderman Roger Cooper’s allegation that Mayor Johnny Lynch prevented him from placing an item on the agenda of the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen led to the passage of a new policy during the Monday, Aug. 21, meeting of the panel.

Per this new policy, aldermen wishing to have an item placed on the agenda must make the request prior to the Tuesday before the BMA meets. Members of the public wishing to have an item placed on the board’s agenda may contact a member of the board who will then make the request on their behalf.

The discussion that led to the adoption of the new policy was initiated when Cooper said he had requested that a discussion about the town’s previously-passed Mountain Harvest Kitchen policy be placed on the agenda. Lynch denied that request, Cooper said.

This, Cooper said, led to a series of emails between him, Town Recorder Mike Housewright and Town Attorney Lois Shults-Davis. Cooper said he was advised the mayor controlled the agenda.

“I read the charter and didn’t take it that way,” Cooper said.

Cooper also said after discussing the matter with consultants from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, he sent Shults-Davis emails to inquire whether the town’s charter allows the mayor to keep items off the agenda.

“Again, I did not get that answer,” Cooper said. “This is something that came up. I had no intentions of changing the kitchen policy. It’s way beyond that. It’s about our town government and do the people have a right to put things on the agenda. And it turned into a disaster.”

Lynch responded by stating a discussion regarding the Mountain Harvest Kitchen was already on the Aug. 21 agenda under the “Reports of Officers & Committees,” at which time Cooper could have brought up any discussion he wished to regarding the kitchen.

“We have gone for 22 years under this same system,” Lynch said. “We have never had a problem like we’re talking about until you come along and said this. Nobody has ever been turned down on putting anything on the agenda. The only time anyone’s ever been turned down on putting something on the agenda is if they were too late … The only time there’s ever been an issue over that is when someone was late asking for it and, at that time, you still could come in and amend the agenda. We’ve done that before. I have never turned anyone down.”

Shults-Davis was not present for Monday’s meeting, but Unicoi County General Sessions Court Judge David Shults acted in her stead. Prior to Monday’s meeting, Shults-Davis provided language read by Shults that, under the charter, the mayor could set the agenda for special-called meetings but she could find no rules in the charter beyond that. Shults also read several recommendations provided by Shults-Davis to address the issue. Shunts-Davis wrote the town could adopt a policy that would allow the mayor to set the BMA’s regular agenda, allow it to be set by the town recorder with or without the input of aldermen, or allow anyone to place an item on the agenda.

“Here’s the way we’ve always done it – the city recorder sets the agenda,” Lynch said. “Then, when he gets the agenda together, and we did this just the other day, we do it every time, we sit down before he advertises it and we go over it. He goes over it with me to approve it, to make sure we didn’t leave anything out. That’s what we’ve always done in the past.”

“We do need a policy and it needs to represent all of the people of the town, and the only way that can happen is to be open so that aldermen can ask for items to be put on the agenda,” Cooper said.

Alderwoman Kathy Bullen said the issue boiled down to whether a member of the BMA has the right to place an item on the agenda. While others on the board said this has not previously posed a problem, Bullen hinted at past difficulty in having items placed on the agenda.

“Practice has played out differently,” she said.

This led to a strong response from Lynch, who said he and other town officials were “tired of being attacked.”

“You’ve got me heated up, people. That’s what you like to do but listen to this – I’m tired of being accused of fraud.” he said. “…You sit here in these meetings and try to make the public think that we’re out here to take advantage of everyone. We are not here to do that. We have not done that. The record shows it. You have not been turned down for putting something on the agenda unless it was too late.”

A motion for the new policy was made by Vice-Mayor Doug Hopson and seconded by Cooper. It was approved unanimously.

• • •

In other business, the board approved the first reading of an ordinance to amend the town’s zoning regulations stipulating that soil stabilization occur before a certificate of occupancy is issued by the town’s building inspector.

Per the amendment, exposed areas must be stabilized by seeding and straying and/or sodding prior to the issuance of the certificate.

“In the event that exposed areas cannot be stabilized in the manner described due to weather or other circumstances, the property owner shall bond the work at a set rate of $0.10 per square foot on surface requiring stabilization,” the amendment states. “In such event, all stabilization shall be completed within 60 days or the bond will be called unless an extension is granted by the Building Inspector. The bond shall be released upon satisfactory inspection of stabilization work by the Building Inspector. If a certificate of occupancy is refused, the building inspector shall state such refusal in writing with the cause. No land or building hereafter erected or altered in this use, shall be used until such a certificate of occupancy has been granted.”

Housewright said the building inspectors of most municipalities engage in this practice already, but the Town of Unicoi’s inspector was concerned that currently zoning language was inadequate to cover the town in the event of a legal challenge.

The amendment would take effect upon approval of its second and final reading.

Citizens urged to join Neighborhood Watch program

By Keeli Parkey

Sheriff Mike Hensley wants Unicoi County’s citizens to watch out for one another.

“Recently, we had a rash of car burglaries in the Marbleton area, as well as in Unicoi,” Hensley told The Erwin Record. “With more people coming in because of the interstate and other activities in surrounding counties we have decided it is real important to enhance the Neighborhood Watch program. “Basically, what it is, is neighbors watching after each other. It’s not set up for people to patrol; it’s for neighbors to watch after each other. It is also a good tool for us to be able to meet with the public, let them know what we are doing and what is going on in the community they live in.”

Hensley said his department will be scheduling monthly meetings for four districts in the county to discuss the implementation of community policing practices and to recruit concerned citizens for the purpose of first hand communication with deputies to address the concerns for the communities in these districts.

“If we are working on a case and we are looking for a specific vehicle or person, through this program, we can share that with the public and they can call us and let us know if they see anything,” he added. “When you’re doing a criminal investigation, the least little thing might be what we are looking for to solve the crime. The more eyes we have out there, the better off we will be.”

The first community watch district will be south Unicoi County. All territory south of the Nolichucky River will be considered as such, according to Hensley. From the Nolichucky River to the southern border of the Town of Unicoi will be the second community watch district. The Town of Unicoi and north of Unicoi will be considered the third community watch district. Everything above Scioto Road (Limestone Cove) will be the fourth community watch district.

These meetings will be held on Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. Below is a schedule for meeting locations and times:

• 1st Community Watch District will meet at the Temple Hill Neighborhood Watch and community center on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.

• 2nd Community Watch District will meet at Calvary Baptist Church Fellowship Hall on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.

• 3rd Community Watch District will meet at the Unicoi Church of God fellowship hall on the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.

• 4th Community Watch District will meet at the Limestone Cove Community Center on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.

“Getting people involved is the big thing,” Hensley said. “It’s also about good communication with law enforcement. Patrol is one of the biggest deterrents in crime. We have to have help, so we decided to enhance the program. We are asking citizens to be vigilant and attend the meetings.”

Call the UCSD at 743-1864 for more information.

Mountain Harvest Kitchen opens

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch is joined by other local officials as he cuts the ceremonial ribbon for the grand opening of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

By Brad Hicks

It took a dash of visioning, a pinch of persistence, a smidgen of patience and just the right mix of dedicated people to create the Town of Unicoi’s long-awaited Mountain Harvest Kitchen, a venture town officials feel will be a key ingredient in each user’s recipe for success.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony for the town’s recently-completed community kitchen was held on Friday, Aug. 11, and it won’t be long before clients of the 4,000 square-foot facility begin churning out confections and canned goods that may find themselves on store shelves and at farmers markets.

“Words can’t explain how thrilled I am to be here, standing here in front of this building today,” Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said as he addressed those attending Friday’s event.

The Mountain Harvest Kitchen project was first envisioned around a decade ago. Town officials have viewed the project as not only a shared-use processing kitchen but also as a business incubator, as users will be able to sell the food prepared and produce canned within the facility.

The kitchen contains industrial-sized equipment for baking, dehydrating, vegetable processing and canning, as well as walk-in cooler/freezer and dry storage space.

“It’s inspiring to see where hard work and dedication can take a small idea when somebody truly believes in it,” said Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee Manning. “We are pleased to be opening our doors today in support of a vibrant and growing food community.”

According to the Town of Unicoi, kitchen clients will be provided with technical support, financial and marketing counseling, regulatory guidance and food safety training tailored to unique food ideas. The facility will also host seminars and demonstrations on topics relating to food safety, food preservation, cooking techniques and nutrition.

“The Mountain Harvest Kitchen allows companies and individuals to test their ideas with very little capital investment of their own,” Manning said. “We also want to serve as your home for culinary, nutritional and business education. Whether you’re the next hottest food truck or jam maker, we are here to support you in your endeavors. We want to see your products on the shelves and we want to help you get there.”

To help get the project off the ground, the Mountain Harvest Kitchen Committee was formed, and the group worked for several years to plan and develop the facility. In 2014, the Town of Unicoi purchased the building that would come to serve as the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. A groundbreaking for the kitchen was held in July 2015.

In September 2016, the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen accepted a nearly $685,000 bid from the Kingsport-based Armstrong Construction to to complete construction on the second and final phase of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

The bulk of the approximately $1.2 million Mountain Harvest Kitchen project was funded through federally-administered grant monies received by the Town of Unicoi, including funding totaling more than $900,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Representatives from agencies involved with the project were present for Friday’s ceremony, and Lynch expressed his appreciation for their efforts, as well as the work of other officials and volunteers, for helping to bring the Mountain Harvest Kitchen to fruition.

“You folks out there, you volunteers and you folks in these positions, are the ones that have made this thing happen, and I’m sure it’s going to be a success and I want you to be proud of it,” Lynch said.

Several of these agency representatives and others spoke during Friday’s ceremony to discuss their role in the project and its potential impact on the community. Among these speakers was former Tennessee Economic and Community Development (TNECD) commissioner and current gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd.

More than a year ago, Boyd, then serving as the TNECD commissioner, visited the Mountain Harvest Kitchen to get a peek at the then-incomplete facility and learn more about how it would serve the community. An impressed Boyd has since discussed the project on multiple occasions, including during the Governor’s Conference held in Nashville this past fall. 

“We were so inspired that, for the last year, every place I would go, I would talk about Unicoi and about the vision you have for this kitchen,” Boyd said. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. I’m so excited.”

Boyd added the kitchen will provide an opportunity to provide healthy food to the community, offer a place for local farmers to sell and promote their produce, and allow small businesses to create their products in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-certified facility for sale in area stores.

The Mountain Harvest Kitchen will also provide a point of community pride, Boyd said. He said the project could serve as a model that other communities across the state will look to follow.

“You have a right to be proud because this is something that truly is inspirational, not just for this community and for this region, but, I think, for the entire state,” Boyd said. 

Several of the speakers commended the efforts of those who helped make the Mountain Harvest Kitchen possible. ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl said the undertaking was an investment that will help grow the community and provide for the future.

“I’m so happy to be here with a whole host of folks who have struggled and worked and have put the interests of their county ahead of their own and have really put their foot to the pedal and have driven this project to where we are today,” Gohl said. “I’m looking forward over the next several years to seeing what comes out of this kitchen and seeing the opportunities it provides to other folks and to other entrepreneurs who have an opportunity that they didn’t have before.”

Tennessee Commissioner of Tourist Development Kevin Triplett said the kitchen will add to the area’s quality of life, an essential element when trying to attract businesses.

“Every project, every building, has a cornerstone, what sets the tone for the rest of the project or the building,” Triplett said. “The first step and the cornerstone to success is commitment, and the number of people who showed up here today to celebrate this opening is a sign of that.”

“The people who actually made this happen are Johnny Lynch and his supporting group who had the dream 10 years ago, and it’s been 10 years, it’s been a long journey, but, if you stay with it, if you want it hard enough and you have the right people … this is what you can accomplish,” said USDA Rural Development Area Director Mary Short.

Several who spoke during Friday’s event touched on the economic impact the Mountain Harvest Kitchen could have on the area. Bill Forrester, director of industrial development & housing for the First Tennessee Development District, said a facility like the Mountain Harvest Kitchen is an “economic engine,” as it could lead to the small business development and the creation of jobs.

Citing a statistic from the National Business Incubator Association, Forrester said 87 percent of companies that begin in an incubator setting are successful.

“So I think that truly shows the value of a facility like this and how important it is that we support it,” he said.

Forrester added funding from the $353,000 POWER Initiative grant the Town of Unicoi received in October will be used by the kitchen for entrepreneurial training.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe was on hand to present a proclamation from the state legislature commemorating the opening of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. That proclamation, in part, read that the kitchen “supports the development and growth of local businesses, and it is sure to reap economic and social dividends for the community as a whole.”

“We are very proud in Nashville of this project,” Crowe said. “What a catalyst it is for generating jobs and good health.”

Manning said the Town of Unicoi is now taking appointments for the training necessary to utilize the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. She said canners and others have already expressed interest in getting inside and getting work.

“Mostly, we’ve had business people interested, a couple of startups in the baking area that are looking to get in here,” Manning said. “We also have a couple of sauce manufacturers working with us that are interested.

“We’re expecting good things, tasty things.”

The Mountain Harvest Kitchen wasn’t the only project displayed Friday. A relief carving depicting buffalo was unveiled. The carving, completed by artist Joe Pilkenton, who previously worked on the Kingsport Carousel, will now be on display at the Town of Unicoi Tourist Information Center.

The Town of Unicoi in June 2016 received a $7,010 Creative Placemaking Grant through the Tennessee Arts Commission for its Unicoi Buffalo Project. The centerpiece of that project was the carving unveiled Friday.

Pilkenton worked on the carving for more than a year, completing most of the work at the Tourist Information Center.

Those wishing to schedule appointments for training at the Mountain Harvest Kitchen may contact Manning at 330-9650 or via email at lmanning@unicoitn.net or the Town of Unicoi at 743-7162.

Erwin BMA approves 4-cent property tax hike

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman approved the 2017-18 fiscal year budget during a meeting on Monday, Aug. 28. Pictured, from left, Alderman Gary Chandler, Alderman Mark Lafever, Alderman Virgil Moore, Mayor Doris Hensley, City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, Alderwoman Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz and Alderman Gary Edwards. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

By Brad Hicks

Erwin residents will see a nearly 4-cent increase on their municipal property tax rate in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, Aug. 28, unanimously approved the second and final reading of the town’s budget for the new fiscal year, a measure that included the fixture of the town’s 2017-18 property tax rate at $1.447 per $100 of assessed value on real estate and personal property.

This rate is 3.7 cents higher than the $1.41 municipal property tax rate for the 2016-17 fiscal year. It is also 5 cents more than the $1.397 state-certified tax rate provided to the town as part of the 2017 reappraisal in Unicoi County.

The certified tax rate is provided by the state after reappraisal cycles and updated property values. This rate is essentially the property tax rate needed for a government to bring in the same property tax revenue it did the prior year.

Although the certified tax rate is provided by the state, governments may deviate from the amount when setting a municipality’s actual property tax rate. The need for the town to exceed the certified tax rate was discussed by the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen during budget workshops held on July 27 and July 31.

During the July 27 meeting, members of the BMA learned that the town’s projected 2017-18 expenditures were expected to exceed anticipated revenues by approximately $39,000. This meant that a tax increase of 3.06 cents over the state-certified rate would be needed to erase the shortfall as each penny on the town’s property tax rate will generate $12,764 in tax revenue during 2017-18.

The board during the July 31 workshop was presented with and discussed two options – the one that included the more-than-3-cent increase over the certified tax rate and another that included a 5-cent increase over the state-provided rate.

Both options included the financing of more than $1 million on two capital outlay notes to save the town approximately $170,000, with these savings going toward the purchase of several new police cars, fire department equipment, and a truck for the town’s public works department.

However, the 3-cent option did not include funding to cover the maintenance of beautification projects completed along the town’s portion of Interstate 26, the maintenance of the skate park and adjacent playground, and funding for computer and office equipment upgrades.

The maintenance and equipment costs raised the anticipated $39,000 shortfall to approximately $64,000, meaning a 5-cent increase over the certified tax rate would be needed to balance the budget.

The consensus among BMA members during the July 31 workshop was to move forward with the option including the 5-cent increase over the certified tax rate.

Erwin’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget reflects $6,664,083 in total projected revenue against $6,727,872 in expenditures.

Approximately $3.683 million of the town’s 2017-18 revenue is anticipated to come from local taxes. This includes $1,787 million from current property tax collections and $55,000 from the collection of delinquent property taxes. Local sales tax revenue is projected at $880,000 and revenue from business taxes is projected at $72,000.

Payments in lieu of taxes from local utilities providers and the housing authority, which are included in the local taxes revenues, are projected to total more than $640,000.

The town’s wholesale beer tax revenue for 2017-18 is projected at $180,000, the mixed drink tax revenue at $3,000, and the package stores & tax revenue at $12,000.

Intergovernmental revenues for 2017-18 are projected at approximately $621,400. Most of this is made up of state sales tax revenue, which is projected to come in at around $494,000. Licenses and permits, which includes building and plumbing permits, is expected to generate $53,300, and municipal fines, fees and court costs are expected to bring in $26,000.

Revenue related to the town’s receipt of state and federal grant funding is projected at more than $1.5 million.

Other revenues, which includes interest income and the rental income the town receives for the U.S. Post Office located next to Erwin Town Hall, is projected at around $764,900. This category also includes $250,000 under a line item called “sale of asset,” which represents the amount the town hopes to receive from the sale of the former Morgan Insulation property currently under the town’s ownership.

Erwin’s 2017-18 budget also calls for the transfer of $50,000 from the town’s fund balance to help balance the budget.

Legislative costs, which include the salaries of the BMA’s members, are projected to make up around $29,400 of the town’s 2017-18 expenditures. Costs associated with the city attorney and municipal judge are projected at approximately $33,000.

Anticipated expenditures under the central staff agencies category, which includes the salaries and benefits of employees at Erwin Town Hall, as well as equipment, supplies and training expenses, are around $353,000.

Costs associated with the town’s communications specialist position are projected at more than $78,300. This includes the position’s $31,200 salary, more than $10,000 for marketing and around $26,300 to go toward town-sponsored festivals and events.

Planning and zoning expenditures are projected at more than $66,500 for 2017-18. Expenses associated with the town’s buildings department, which includes town hall utilities and maintenance costs, are projected at nearly $104,800.

The total 2017-18 budget for the Erwin Police Department is approximately $1.120 million. This includes approximately $705,000 for departmental salaries and around $152,000 for departmental health insurance. These projected expenditures also include $14,000 for operating supplies, $2,500 for education and training, $28,000 for gas, oil and tires, and $8,000 for machinery and equipment.

Total expenditures for the Erwin Fire Department are expected to come in at around $666,3000 in 2017-18. These costs include around $370,500 for salaries and $67,400 for departmental health insurance. Also included in these projected expenditures are $2,500 for education and training, $68,000 for fire hydrant rentals, $4,200 for equipment repair and maintenance, $6,000 for station repair and maintenance, $3,000 for gas, oil and tires, and $5,000 for machinery and equipment.

Total expenditures for the town’s Public Works Department are estimated at approximately $832,000. These include more than $366,600 for departmental salaries and $93,000 for health insurance, as well as $28,000 for operating supplies, $30,000 for equipment maintenance and repairs, $28,000 for gas, oil and tires, and $22,500 for machinery and equipment.

Municipal sanitation costs are projected at $176,000 for 2017-18.

Welfare and social services expenditures, which are made up of the town’s contributions to local nonprofit agencies and organizations, are projected at $176,148 for 2017-18, and parks and recreation expenditures are projected at around $302,500. The town’s debt services is projected at around $1.169 million.

The town’s 2017-18 expenditures also include more than $2,037,868 for capital projects. Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff previously said while the town receives grant funding for the majority of its capital projects, these grants require a match from the town.

Rosenoff said included in the town’s 2017-18 capital projects list are the tunnel to be constructed under Harris Hollow Road, Surface Transportation paving and striping projects, work on a spillway bridge along the Erwin Linear Trail, and the utilization of Tennessee Valley Authority InvestPrep funding the town received last year to demolish the former Morgan Insulation property in order to ready the site for industrial development.

Erwin’s 2017-18 budget also includes 3 percent pay raises for its employees.

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen during its Aug. 14 meeting approved the first reading of the town’s budget and the fixture of the municipality’s property tax rate.

Flower power: Brummett uses love of outdoors to beautify community

Larry “Bud” Brummett waters the petunias he planted and placed in baskets on the Bill L. Bogart Memorial Bridge along Second Street in Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keith Whitson)

By Brad Hicks

Larry Brummett does a little bit of everything around Erwin Town Hall but, when the weather is nice, one would be hard-pressed to find the unassuming man known as “Bud” working indoors.

The aspect of Brummett’s job that he takes the most pride in is making certain that downtown Erwin is as beautiful and inviting as possible. It is there that Brummett’s green thumb is on full display, as the Unicoi County native works to ensure the flowers in baskets hanging from downtown light posts and from the sides of the Bill L. Bogart Memorial Bridge along Second Street are in full bloom.

Brummett, who received the nickname “Bud” from his older sister Sharon when he was a boy, was hired by the Town of Erwin around two-and-a-half years ago to complete maintenance and custodial tasks around Erwin Town Hall.

“I like working here at Town Hall,” Brummett said. “It’s a very good place to work.”

But most traveling through Erwin have seen Brummett working outside while applying his plant prowess. Along with his duties at Town Hall, it is Brummett’s responsibility to keep up with the plants hanging throughout downtown and along the bridge. This includes fertilizing, pruning and watering the flowers.

“If it’s real hot, I can come in and work,” Brummett said. “If it’s nice outside, I can go outside and work. I’ve got the option that most people’s not got.”

Brummett said he takes time each day to care for the flowers, as the response for the plants has been overwhelmingly positive among locals.

“Everybody loves them,” he said. “…They stop on the road. As a matter of fact, they’ll hold traffic up and say, ‘Them are beautiful.’”

The baskets hanging from the downtown light poles contain coleus, lantana and sweet potato vine. These, Brummett said, were planted by students from Unicoi County High School. The baskets along the bridge contain petunias, which were planted and placed along the bridge by Brummett himself.

“Every year, they’ll try to have a little bit of something different in them,” Brummett said of the flower baskets.

When it came time to beautify the Bill L. Bogart Memorial Bridge, a heavily-traveled entrance to and exit from Erwin’s downtown, Brummett relied on the resources and skills provided by a previous employer.

Brummett worked at Indian Creek Nursery for around 30 years prior to signing on with the Town of Erwin.

During his tenure with the greenhouse, Brummett did maintenance work around the nursery and drove the delivery truck. He also got to try his hand at growing while there.

The flowers contained within the baskets along the bridge were acquired from Indian Creek Nursery, Brummett said.

Brummett said he is not tied to any type of schedule when it comes to the flowers, as checking up on the plants and maintaining them is left at his discretion.

“That’s what I love about being here,” he said. “I can look out the window and see if they’re wilting, and I know to go water. I ain’t gotta go ask nobody. (Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff) and (Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley), I guess, trust me with my work.”

The flowers, Brummett said, are taken down before the first frost, as the lower temperatures would kill the annual plants.

Temperatures on the morning Brummett sat down inside Town Hall to speak with The Erwin Record were pleasant. With the perfect chance to work outside presenting itself and the flowers under his care on his mind, Brummett leapt from his chair at the conclusion of the interview and hurried to his truck.

“I’m going to work now,” he said. “The baskets on the bridge, they’re wilting a little bit.”

Erwin BMA considering property tax increase

By Brad Hicks

After weeks of crunching the numbers, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen has set a date for when it will consider final approval of the town’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget – a budget that could include a nearly 4-cent property tax increase.

The board on Monday, July 31, held what will likely be its final budget workshop before the new budget’s first reading to give the figures one last look and to discuss a couple of budgetary options, one that would include a more-than-3-cent increase over the town’s certified tax rate and the other that would include a 5-cent increase to that rate.

The board had also met on Thursday, July 27, and BMA members learned during that workshop that projected expenditures for 2017-18 were expected to exceed anticipated revenues by a little more than $39,000, meaning a tax increase of 3.06 cents over the certified tax rate would be needed in the new fiscal year to close the budgetary gap as each penny on the town’s property tax rate generates $12,764. 

This option included the refinancing of more than $1 million on a pair of capital outlay notes to save the town approximately $170,000. These savings would be used to purchase several new police cars, fire department equipment and a truck for the town’s public works department. Also included in the budget under this option was a 3 percent salary increase for municipal employees. However, this option did not include funding to cover the maintenance of the beautification projects that have been completed along Interstate 26, maintenance of the town’s skatepark and the adjacent playground, and new computer and office equipment for Erwin Town Hall.

Board members were presented with a new option during Monday’s workshop that would include everything within the first option, along with the maintenance of interstate beautification projects, maintenance of the skatepark and nearby playground, and funding for computer and office equipment upgrades. 

This second option would include a 5-cent property tax on the certified tax rate to offset the approximately $64,000 gap between expenditures and revenues.

The certified tax rate is described as the property tax rate to bring in the same amount of property tax revenue a government brought in the prior year. These rates must be set after reappraisal cycles, which occur every five years in Unicoi County and are based upon updated property values. This year marked a reappraisal year for Unicoi County.

The 2017 certified tax rate for the Town of Erwin is $1.397 per $100 of assessed value, which is slightly lower than the town’s actual property tax rate of $1.41 for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Governments are not bound to the provided certified tax rate when setting the jurisdiction’s actual property tax rate.

Although the final reading of the budget and the town’s property tax rate must be approved by the Erwin BMA during a regular meeting before becoming official, the consensus among the board’s members during Monday’s meeting was to proceed with the second option that includes the 5-cent property tax increase.

If effected, this 5-cent increase would be added to the $1.397 certified tax rate rather than the town’s actual current property tax rate. This would bring the town’s property tax rate to $1.447, meaning the actual increase in the town’s rate for 2017-18 would be 3.7 cents.

The BMA is set to consider the first reading of the town’s 2017-18 budget on Aug. 14. It will consider the second and final reading during its Aug. 28, and a public hearing on the budget will be held on that date.

Erwin’s proposed 2017-18 budget reflects $6,664,083 in total revenue against $6,727,872 in expenditures.

Approximately $3.683 million of the projected revenue is anticipated to come from local taxes. This includes $1.787 from current property tax collections and $55,000 from the collection of delinquent property taxes. Local sales tax revenue is projected at $880,000, and business taxes revenue is projected at $72,000 for 2017-18.

Also included in the local taxes revenues are payments in lieu of taxes from local utilities providers and the housing authority. These revenues total more than $640,000.

The town’s wholesale beer tax revenue for 2017-18 is projected at $180,000, the mixed drink tax revenue at $3,000, and the package stores & tax revenue $12,000.

Total intergovernmental revenues for 2017-18 are projected at nearly $621,400. The bulk of this is made up of state sales tax revenue, which is projected to come in at nearly $494,000 in the new fiscal year.

Licenses and permits, which includes building and plumbing permits, is expected to generate $53,300 in revenue in 2017-18, and municipal fines, fee and court costs are anticipated to bring in $26,000.

Revenue associated with the town’s receipt of state and federal grants is projected at more than $1.5 million for the new fiscal year.

Other revenues, which includes interest income and the rental income the town receives for the U.S. Post Office adjacent to Erwin Town Hall, is projected at $764,943. This also includes $250,000 under a line called “sale of asset,” which represents the amount the town hopes to receive from the sale of the former Morgan Insulation property currently under its ownership.

The proposed budget calls for the transfer of $50,000 from the town’s fund balance to help balance the budget.

On the expenditures side, legislative costs, which include the salaries of the BMA’s members, are projected at nearly $29,400 for 2017-18. The costs associated with the city attorney and municipal judge are projected at approximately $33,000.

Projected expenditures under the central staff agencies, which includes the salaries and benefits of employees at Erwin Town Hall, as well as equipment, supplies and training expenses, are around $353,500.

Expenditures for the town’s communications specialist position are projected at more than $78,300. This includes the communications specialist’s $31,200 salary, more than $10,200 for marketing and $26,325 that is to go toward town events and festivals.

Planning and zoning expenses are projected at more than $66,500 for 2017-18. Costs associated with the town’s buildings department, which includes town hall utilities and maintenance expenses, are projected at nearly $104,800.

The total 2017-18 budget for the Erwin Police Department is estimated at around $1,120,200. This includes nearly $705,000 for departmental salaries and approximately $152,000 for departmental health insurance. These projected expenditures also include $14,000 for operating supplies, $2,500 for education and training, $28,000 for gas, oil and tires, and $8,000 for machinery and equipment.

Expenditures for the Erwin Fire Department are expected to come in at approximately $666,300 in the new fiscal year. These costs include around $370,500 for salaries and $67,400 for departmental health insurance. Also included in the projected expenditures are $2,500 for education and training, $68,000 for fire hydrant rentals, $4,200 for equipment repair and maintenance, $6,000 for station repair and maintenance, $3,000 for gas, oil and tires, and $5,000 for machinery and equipment.

Total costs associated with the town’s Public Works Department are estimated at approximately $832,300 for 2017-18. This includes more than $366,600 for departmental salaries and $93,000 for health insurance, as well as $28,000 for operating supplies, $30,000 for equipment maintenance and repairs, $28,000 for gas, oil and tires, and $22,500 for machinery and equipment.

Municipal sanitation costs are projected at $176,000 for 2017-18.

Welfare and social services expenditures, which are made up of the town’s contributions to local nonprofit agencies and organizations, are projected at $176,148 for the new year, and parks and recreation expenditures are projected at around $302,500. The town’s debt service is projected at $1,168,925.

The town’s 2017-18 expenditures also include more than $2,037,868 for capital projects. Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said while the town receives grant funding for the majority of its capital projects, these grants require a match from the town. Rosenoff said included in the town’s 2017-18 capital projects list are the tunnel to be constructed under Harris Hollow Road, Surface Transportation paving and striping projects, work on a spillway bridge located along the Erwin Linear Trail near Indian Creek, and utilization of the Tennessee Valley Authority InvestPrep funding the town received last year to demolish the former Morgan Insulation property to ready the site for industrial development, as well as roadscape and beautification projects.

Planners OK site plan for new hospital

By Brad Hicks

The process of bringing a new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital to Erwin took another step forward last week, as local officials lent their approval to a document detailing how the facility will be situated on the property previously selected for its construction.

During a special-called meeting held Thursday, July 13, the Erwin Planning Commission unanimously approved the site plan for the new hospital, which will be located along Temple Hill Road.

Bill Alton, Mountain States Health Alliance vice president of facilities and construction, told the commission prior to its vote that the replacement hospital will measure around 40,000 square feet with medical offices attached for outpatient services. The hospital itself will have a total of 20 beds – 10 for the facility’s emergency department and 10 for inpatient services.

“I think it’s going to be a nice facility with the stone and things that are on it,” Alton said to the commission following its vote. “It’s really going to have a nice presence out there on that location.”

Alton added MSHA officials completed their due diligence before submitting the site plan to the Erwin Planning Commission for its consideration.

“We’ve worked with the city, and I think they’ve had an opportunity to review our drawings, layout and the elevations that the facility will be at,” Alton said. “We’ve looked at all of the regulatory mandates. I think we meet all of those for a healthcare facility. Our intent is to meet all regulatory requirements and mandates from the city.”

Alton said MSHA officials also worked with Erwin Utilities to ensure that adequate sewer and alterations to provide the utilities necessary for the facility were addressed in the site plan drawings.

MSHA’s acquisition of UCMH, which for 60 years had operated as a publicly-owned community hospital, became official in November 2013 after months of discussion and review. A caveat of MSHA’s acquisition agreement was the construction of a new hospital within Erwin’s municipal limits. A visioning committee tasked with determining the size of the new facility and the scope of the services it would offer was formed and began meeting after the acquisition was made official.

In July 2015, MSHA closed on its purchase of the little more than 40 acres just off the Jackson Love Highway Exit that will serve as the site of the new hospital.

In December 2016, the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency granted a Certificate of Need to MSHA for the new UCMH. A Certificate of Need is a state permit for the establishment or modification of a health care institution, facility, or service at a designated location, according to MSHA.

The acquisition of the Certificate of Need cleared the way for MSHA to proceed with bringing a replacement UCMH to Unicoi County.

The architect for the UCMH replacement project is Earl Swensson Associates, and the construction firm previously selected is Layton Construction. Representatives from both firms were present for last week’s meeting of the Erwin Planning Commission.

MSHA has announced that a groundbreaking ceremony for the new hospital will be held on July 26 beginning at 11 a.m. at 2030 Temple Hill Road.

MSHA officials expect construction work to begin soon after the groundbreaking and projects that the new UCMH will open its doors in the fall of 2018.

“We’re just excited that you’re here and going to break ground,” Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said to Alton just before the commission’s vote.

Along with a 24-hour emergency department and inpatient acute-care services, the new facility will offer patients the same services offered by the current UCMH. Alton said these services include outpatient diagnostics, adding the diagnostic equipment at the new UCMH will be among some of the best with the MSHA system.

“This community will get some really top-notch healthcare going forward out of that facility,” Alton said. “You get great care now, but I think the ability to diagnose the health issues for the people that show up there will be even better.”

If the facility is to expand in the future, this growth will be submitted in a separate set of plans to be put before the Erwin Planning Commission, Alton said.

Roland Bailey, who chairs the Erwin Planning Commission and previously chaired the UCMH Board of Control, commended the work of UCMH Administrator Eric Carroll, who was present for last week’s meeting, as well as the staff at UCMH. He also said MSHA has raised the quality of local health care since acquiring UCMH nearly four years ago, adding the new facility will be a “crown jewel” of Unicoi County.

“Thank you guys for being here,” Bailey said to Alton and other MSHA officials present. “This has been a long time coming.”

Alton said MSHA shares the excitement of local officials.

“It’s going to be a great facility,” Alton said to the commission. “It will serve this community … We’re planning to grow, and some of you know where the growth is going to be that we have planned for that facility, so it’s very expandable. It’s going to be, I think, a great asset to this community.”

Community invited to attend groundbreaking for new UCMH

By Brad Hicks

Over the nearly four years since Mountain States Health Alliance acquired Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, most of the work needed to bring a new hospital to Unicoi County has occurred behind the scenes in boardrooms and offices.

The time has now come for officials to roll up their sleeves and turn some earth.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new UCMH will be held July 26 beginning at 11 a.m. at 2030 Temple Hill Road, the site of the new hospital.

UCMH Administrator Eric Carroll said the groundbreaking ceremony marks the changeover in the new hospital process from the intangible to the physical.

“When we actually break the ground, when we have the equipment onsite, it becomes, certainly, more real for the community and really shows that we’re actually moving forward with what we said we had planned to do,” Carroll said.

Carroll said the public is invited and encouraged to attend the groundbreaking event.

“We feel like it’s not just a celebration for us as a hospital, it’s a celebration for the entire community,” Carroll said.

Carroll said it is not yet known just how soon construction on the new UCMH will get underway following the groundbreaking ceremony, but he expects this work to begin shortly after the event. The first phase of the construction, Carroll said, involves the site preparation work necessary for the construction of the new hospital on the grounds.

MSHA officials project that the new UCMH will open its doors in the fall of 2018.

The replacement UCMH will have 20 beds in all, 10 for the facility’s emergency department and 10 for inpatient services, Carroll said. Along with a 24-hour emergency department and inpatient acute-care services, the new facility will offer patients the same services offered by the current UCMH.

“We plan to use a lot of new equipment, a lot of upgraded equipment, but as far as the services, they’re going to be the same,” Carroll said, adding these services include diagnostic imaging and laboratory services.

The facility will also have a community education area and medical office spaces.

MSHA’s acquisition of UCMH, which for 60 years had operated as a publicly-owned community hospital, became official in November 2013 after months of discussion and review. A caveat of MSHA’s acquisition agreement was the construction of a new hospital within Erwin’s municipal limits. A visioning committee tasked with determining the size of the new facility and the scope of the services it would offer was formed and began meeting after the acquisition was made official.

Plans call for the construction of the new hospital on more than 40 acres of land located just off the Jackson Love Highway Exit.

In December 2016, the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency granted a Certificate of Need to MSHA for the new UCMH. A Certificate of Need is a state permit for the establishment or modification of a health care institution, facility, or service at a designated location, according to MSHA.

This step essentially cleared the way for MSHA to proceed with the process of bringing a new UCMH to Unicoi County.

“That was certainly a major milestone in really finalizing that the project was going to move forward was to get that Certificate of Need approved by the state,” Carroll said.

The architect for the UCMH replacement project is Earl Swensson Associates, and the construction firm previously selected is Layton Construction.

Invitations for the groundbreaking ceremony went out to local and state officials last week, and the medical staff at UCMH has been invited to attend, Carroll said. Carroll also said both UCMH staff and members of the community are eagerly awaiting the completion of construction and the opening of the new hospital.

“Everyone that I’ve been in contact with is eager and excited and anxious for us to get started on the project,” Carroll said. “…(The groundbreaking) makes it real. We’ve had a lot of talk for a long time in preparation for this moment. When that project actually starts then all of that actually becomes a reality for everybody involved.”

Officials feel the new UCMH will have a positive impact on health care in Unicoi County and the surrounding areas.

“I think one of our board members actually said it very well at the Certificate of Need hearing – ‘We have a lot of great things in Unicoi County, but having a full-service hospital is really one of the crown jewels of the community and seeing that a brand new healthcare facility is going to be built is something that is not only great for health care in the region but is also very marketable for everybody in the community. It’s a great thing for everybody,’” Carroll said.

The groundbreaking will be followed by entertainment and lunch.

Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP by July 21 by contacting MSHA at unicoihospital@msha.com.

Taste Test: Community gets chance to visit new Mountain Harvest Kitchen

Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee Manning is seen with some of the equipment that will soon be utilized by kitchen users. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

By Brad Hicks

The official grand opening is still a little more than a month away, but future users of the Town of Unicoi’s long-awaited Mountain Harvest Kitchen had a chance last week to get a sneak peek of the facility.

Several open house sessions were held at the kitchen over June 26-28. Throughout the three-day period, chefs, food truck operators, community members and others stopped by to get an idea of how the kitchen will look when work is finalized and to receive information on how the project will benefit its users.

“We’ve met a lot of potential people who want to start using the space who are already making products and want a bigger space or that are just kind of figuring it out and seeing if they can benefit from the space,” said Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee Manning.

Most of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen’s equipment has arrived and been set up and, although none of the equipment has been installed to allow for operation just yet, open house visitors were able to view the mixers, ovens, ranges, dehydrators and other items that will make the kitchen’s apparatuses.

Other equipment, such as a 60-gallon steam kettle and a tilting skillet, has not yet arrived but additional equipment is expected to come in around the time of the facility’s grand opening.

“It’s always a work in progress, so we’re looking at bringing in some more equipment,” Manning said. “What we have now, this is really serviceable for lots of different clients. Like we could do caterers, food trucks, bakers, those are all options at the moment, and I think that we’ll be better able to serve certain clients when we have other pieces of equipment.”

Also already in place are the community kitchen’s walk-in cooler/freezer, research and development lab, storage area and receiving area.

Interest in the Mountain Harvest Kitchen was high throughout the course of the open houses, according to Brunhilde Tober-Myer, a member of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen Committee, the group that has worked for several years to plan and develop the kitchen project. Tober-Myer said around 100 people visiting the kitchen signed the guest book as they entered. There were perhaps several dozen more who stopped by and did not sign the book, Tober-Myer said.

Several years before the kitchen project truly got off the ground, the Town of Unicoi conducted surveys around local farmers markets, asking sellers if they would utilize a facility such as the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. This survey was conducted around the time a law was enacted in the state essentially requiring processed foods sold at farmers markets to come from licensed and inspected facilities.

“They were so excited,” Tober-Myer said of those who completed the survey. “We got so many positive responses at that time. Then they’d ask us, ‘When is it going to be (open)?’ They were so disappointed that it took this long, but it took this long, A, for the planning and, B, you’ve got to have the planning done before you can apply for grant money.”

Both Tober-Myer and Manning said the Mountain Harvest Kitchen will be a certified facility, meaning those who use the kitchen to prepare or process foods may sell their fare on the open market.

“What people process in here, they can take to the farmers market and sale,” Tober-Myer said. “If they do enough numbers, then they can go to Food City. Food City would love to put this stuff on the shelves since it’s locally made.”

“Really that’s the benefit is providing a certified space and the equipment to people, which is a huge, huge startup cost that a lot of new businesses can’t justify taking on,” Manning added. “Secondly, there’s the guidance in navigating through regulations. That’s a really tricky process, and so we’re going to be able to help people get on track to get going.”

Tober-Myer said those visiting were impressed how the facility has taken shape. Tober-Myer, who has been involved with the project since it’s infancy, shared that sentiment.

“It turned out so good, so good,” Tober-Myer said.

Tober-Myer said a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Mountain Harvest Kitchen is planned for Aug. 11. The kitchen is expected to open to the public following this event.

The Mountain Harvest Kitchen project was first envisioned around a decade ago. Town of Unicoi officials have viewed the project not only as a shared-use processing kitchen but also as a business incubator, as users will be able to to see the food prepared and produce canned within the facility.

In 2014, the town purchased the building that would eventually serve as the Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

In September, the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen accepted the nearly $685,000 bid from the Kingsport-based Armstrong Construction to complete construction on the second and final phase of the kitchen project. This phase included the necessary additions and alterations needed to convert the 4,000 square-foot structure to a commercial-grade kitchen.

The renovation work began in October and was completed in May.

The bulk of the project has been funded through federally-administered grant monies received by the Town of Unicoi.

Entrepreneurial training opportunities, as well as demonstrations and other classes, will also be offered to kitchen users. Manning, who was hired to serve as the kitchen’s director in April and began work in mid-May, said some such classes have already been held at the Town of Unicoi’s Tourist Information Center, which is located adjacent to the Mountain Harvest Kitchen along Unicoi Village Place.

Manning said once the kitchen is up and running, she anticipates that the facility will not only benefit those in the community but the region as a whole.

“It’s a pretty unique concept, so I think it’ll get used by a wide group of people,” Manning said.

Commission yet to decide on amount county will pay toward employee insurance

By Brad Hicks

The Unicoi County Commission on Monday, June 26, did not take action on increasing the amount the county contributes toward the monthly health insurance rates of its employees, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the current contribution will remain static.

As was the case during its May meeting, the County Commission was set on Monday to reconsider the county’s contribution to employees’ monthly health insurance premiums. Currently, the county contributes $520 per month for each of its employees.

An increase to this contribution has been discussed by county officials but not yet acted upon. During its May 12 meeting, the County’s Commission’s Employee Benefits/Salary/Policy Committee talked about the possibility of raising the $520 cap by 15 percent, which would bring the county’s monthly premium contribution to $596 per employee. The committee recommended the full County Commission’s approval of the measure, as it was felt the contribution bump would help offset an expected increase in employee health insurance costs from the provider.

The County Commission last month opted to hold off on upping the contribution as budgetary information, such as the amount of revenue each penny on the county’s property tax rate would generate for the 2017-18 fiscal year, was not yet known. By Monday’s meeting, this information was still unavailable.

Rather than acting upon a contribution increase, the County Commission on Monday instead voted to have the Budget & Finance Committee discuss the contribution matter during its July 12 meeting, as the penny’s value on the property tax and expected revenues for 2017-18 are expected to be known by that date.

However, the Commission did take action on another insurance-related item. Panel members present voted unanimously to place $50 monthly, from the county’s insurance contribution, into a health savings account for county employees on the high-deductible plan option.

Around 15 employees would be impacted by the move.

In May, the County Commission opted that United Healthcare serve as the county’s insurance provider for 2017-18, as its previous provider, BlueCross BlueShield, had eliminated one of its three plan options prior to that meeting. United Healthcare is offering three plan options to county employees.

Under United Healthcare’s high-deductible plan, the monthly premium for employees would be a little more than $432. With the county’s $520 contribution applied, this premium would be covered leaving a difference of a little more than $87.

Per the Commission’s Monday vote, $50 of this $87 difference would be placed into a health savings account for each employee on the plan option. With the move, the county would save around $37 per month per employee on the high-deductible plan.

The majority of Monday’s meeting focused not on county employee insurance, but oversight of the county’s waste convenience sites during the upcoming fiscal year.

The Commission was set to award contracts for the operations of the convenience sites. Contracts for the operations of the sites located in the Higgins Creek and Limestone Cove areas were approved with little discussion. The contract for operations of the Higgins Creek site was awarded to Teresa Jones, who submitted a bid of $405 per month to operate the center. The contract for Limestone Cove station was awarded to Shane Church, who placed a bid of $350 per month.

These votes followed the recommendations of the County Commission’s Solid Waste Committee, which met prior to the full County Commission on Monday

It was the consideration of the contract award for what is known as the Hoover site, located along North Industrial Drive in Erwin, that caused the most controversy.

Four bidders submitted proposals to operate the Hoover site, including current operator Eddie Effler. But Commissioner Kenneth Garland, who chairs the Solid Waste Committee, has previously and again on Monday expressed his displeasure over the appearance of the site. Garland during the County Commission’s January meeting described the site’s conditions as “pitiful,” adding the station is “messy” even by a dump site’s standards as refuse is scattered about the property.

It took some time and several votes before the Hoover site contract was awarded to new operators Jerry and Linda Lewis, who submitted a bid of $350 a month to oversee the station’s operations.

Two commissioners – Todd Wilcox and Bridget Peters – were absent from Monday’s meeting. Despite this, five votes, the majority of the full nine-member County Commission, was needed from commissioners present to award the contract to one of the bidders. After one round of votes, none of the four bidders received the required five votes.

After a lengthy and at times heated discussion, Commissioner Gene Wilson moved that the contract be awarded to Effler, despite this proposed measure failing earlier in the meeting. But County Attorney Doug Shults informed the panel that for a measure which previously failed to again be brought up for consideration, a commissioner who voted against the proposal upon its first consideration must be the one to change course and move for its approval.

Wilson voted in favor of awarding the contract to Effler during the first consideration.

This prompted Wilson to withdraw his motion and instead move that Effler’s contract be extended by one month and the matter of the Hoover site contract be considered again during the County Commission’s July meeting. This measure also failed to garner the necessary five votes.

To break the stalemate, Wilson eventually moved that the contract be awarded to the Lewises. This measure was seconded by Commissioner John Mosley. This measure received five affirmative votes, with Wilson voting against his own motion and Jason Harris casting the other dissenting vote.

Unicoi County officials continue budget talks

By Brad Hicks

While they have a general notion, members of the Unicoi County Commission’s Budget & Finance Committee had hoped by the panel’s Monday meeting to have more concrete information on the revenue generated by each penny on the county’s property tax rate.

But, as officials have learned since they last met in mid-May, the figure they need may not be known until after the official start of the new fiscal year.

This matter, along with several other budgetary topics, was discussed during the committee’s June 19 meeting.

Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice, who serves on the Budget & Finance Committee, said she spoke with Unicoi County Assessor of Property Teresa Kinsler the week prior to the meeting and was advised it could be this Thursday before the county’s Board of Equalization completes its work in what is a reappraisal year. After property values have been set at the conclusion of this process, officials can begin work to determine the penny’s worth on the property tax rate.

“Sometime after the first of July we should have those numbers,” Rice said.

Although the definitive figure may not be available until after July 1, the start of the 2017-18 fiscal year, Rice said she understands the value of the penny should remain flat from its amount during the 2016-17 fiscal year. In 2016-17, each penny on Unicoi County’s property tax rate generated $30,342 in revenue.

Still, because the exact value of what the penny will bring in during 2017-18 is not yet known, the committee, which has been meeting since early May to develop the county’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget, opted to hold off on delving further into budgetary matters.

“We were hoping when we met today we’d have the penny and maybe we’d be able to do a little bit more in this session, but we don’t,” Rice said. “Perhaps in our next meeting, sometime after Fourth of July weekend, we’ll try to go over that with (Kinsler).”

Despite this, one outstanding funding matter and a new one were discussed.

During its prior meeting held on May 16, the committee reviewed funding requests submitted by the county’s nonprofit agencies and organizations. One request receiving much of the committee’s attention during that meeting was the request from the Unicoi County Family YMCA.

The YMCA received a $2,375 contribution from the county during the 2016-17 fiscal year. The agency is seeking a $12,000 county contribution in 2017-18.

The committee on May 16 opted to take no action on the YMCA’s funding request. Instead, county officials wanted to review a current financial statement from the YMCA and discussed the possibility of having agency leadership address the request before the Budget & Finance Committee prior to making a decision regarding the county’s contribution.

Rice said the YMCA is seeking the additional funding to offer a “health program” to county employees  which would provide these employees with access to the facility.

Action was again deferred during Monday’s meeting, but county commissioners present agreed they would like to meet with local YMCA officials at a later date to get a better idea of what the nearly $10,000 additional funds would be used for if provided.

Commissioner Gene Wilson also suggested the panel take a look at the contribution the county provides for the Unicoi County Veterans’ Services Program. This program, which is headed by former county commissioner Bill Hensley, aims to help local veterans secure benefits and other assistance.

The county’s Veterans’ Services Program is seeking $7,950 in 2017-18, the same amount it received from the county in the prior fiscal year.

Wilson said he would like to see the county’s contribution toward the program cut as local veterans are receiving more help through avenues that do not receive county funding. He added an office that was supposed to be setup for the program has yet to be established.

“I think that ought to go back to the taxpayers, because there have been people who have called me and they can’t get no help,” Wilson said of the funding contribution.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch recommended that the committee meet with Hensley before making a decision on the contribution request. The committee opted to follow this recommendation and will ask Hensley to be present during its next meeting in July.

Even though the penny’s value has not yet been determined, Unicoi County Finance Director Phyllis Bennett, has already begun work on the revenue projections for the 2017-18. Through May, the county has received revenue in the amount of $6,544,283. Using this figure, Bennett presented a proposed revenue for the 2017-18 fiscal year of $7,154,125. However, Bennett cautioned commissioners that this projection could change over time as more solid budgetary information arrives.

Rice said by the Budget & Finance Committee’s next meeting, officials should have the value of the penny on the property tax rate, a better idea of the county’s revenues and Unicoi County’s starting fund balance for the 2017-18 fiscal year. She said she would like to see the Unicoi County Commission by the end of July consider the first reading of the county’s overall budget for the new fiscal year.

The Budget & Finance Committee is set to next meet on Wednesday, July 12, at 1 p.m.

The Budget & Finance Committee did hear from one county entity during Monday’s meeting. Unicoi County Director of Schools John English and members of the Unicoi County Board of Education were on hand to present the Unicoi County Schools general purpose budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The schools system’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $21,930,101, a reduction of approximately more than $1.8 million from the system’s 2016-17 budget of $23,804,277.

English said the schools system realized another reduction in its Basic Education Program, or BEP, funding from the state due to declining enrollment.

“We’re about 26 kids to the negative this year, for this year’s BEP funding,” English said.

BEP is the formula used to figure out how much revenue the state will provide to a school system each year, as well as the revenue local governments need to provide as a match. Student enrollment, also known as average daily membership, is the primary determiner of funds.

The school system’s total BEP allocation for the 2016-17 fiscal year was $12,810,000. According to the estimated allocation provided to the school system in May, the total allocation for 2017-18 would be $12,834,000. While the projection for the upcoming year is slightly greater, English explained this would actually result in a loss of BEP.

Schools systems equate BEP funding to the number of positions the money represents. In 2016-17, the amount Unicoi County Schools received was equal to 158.13 positions. Because of a state mandatory salary increase for 2017-18, the allocation for the upcoming year is equal to 153.42 positions.

English said this would represent a loss of 4.71 positions. If an average salary of $44,024 per position is calculated, the BEP loss for 2017-18 comes out to $207,353.

This marks consecutive years the local schools system has lost positions due to cuts in BEP funding. But he said school officials have worked to address position losses through attrition and personnel shifts.

“As we’re losing funding due to lack of enrollment, we’re taking a hard look at our personnel,” English said. “This summer and last summer, what we’ve done is as we’ve had retirements or folks leaving, we’ve just absorbed positions and kind of shifted some people instead of filling them, so we’re continuing toward that. I think over the last two summers, we’re at 11 positions now. We’ve lost 17 but we’ve absorbed about 11 that we’ve had people leaving and just not filled it, kind of shifted some people within. So we’re trying to attack our loss of BEP that way.”

The system’s budget also includes several additions totaling $549,176. Along with a 2 percent salary increase for employees across the system, these include additional pay based on experience and a 7 percent aggregate increase in health insurance costs for employees.

The school system, which is on the state’s health insurance plan, currently covers the entire premiums for employees on single coverage and this amount plus 45 percent for those on family plans. Because of increases in insurance costs and declining revenues, the school board intends to revisit the insurance matter prior to October’s open enrollment.

“Right now, we pay 100 percent of our singles and we’d certainly love to keep doing that, but it’s just getting to a place where, as the rates are going up and our funding’s going down, it’s hard to sustain that,” English said.

The school system is also projecting costs to its federal ESEA, federal IDEA and federal Carl Perkins funding totaling more than $110,000.

English said 83 percent of the schools system’s budget is made up of personnel expenditures. The total salaries for 2017-18, which include more than $2 million for benefits such as Social Security and nearly $2.5 million for medical insurance, is $18,346,194.

Remaining expenditures, English said, are made up of items such as supplies, fuel and utilities.

English said the estimated fund balance to end the 2016-17 school year is $3,520,418. He said $447,564 from the system’s unassigned fund balance was required to balance this 2017-18 budget, adding the projected fund balance to close out the upcoming fiscal year is $2,131,631.

But, English said, the exact numbers needed to paint a more exact picture of the budget, such as final state allocation totals, have not yet arrived. This, he said, could impact how the school board approaches the insurance matter.

The Unicoi County Board of Education approved the schools system’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget on May 30.

English also briefly discussed several capital projects on the horizon that may affect future school system budgets. He said he intends to look at replacing the more-than-20-year-old heating and air units found in each classroom at the current Love Chapel Elementary School, formerly Unicoi County Intermediate School. English also said the stands at Gentry Stadium are “outdated” and potentially hazardous, adding he plans on getting estimates on what it would cost to correct this issue. He also said some work may be needed in the future at Unicoi Elementary School.

911 board on hunt for new dispatch system

By Brad Hicks

Two companies wish to provide the computer-aided dispatch system for Unicoi County 911 center, and representatives from each were in town on Monday to make their pitch to the Unicoi County Emergency Communications District Board.

The board met at 3 p.m. on Monday, June 19, at which time bids submitted for the new computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, system were opened. The companies submitting bids were the Knoxville-based GeoConex and the Wilmington, N.C.-based Zuercher Technologies.

These bids were set to be opened during the board’s May 15 meeting, but concerns over whether adequate notice was provided to the public ahead of that meeting delayed the opening of the bids until Monday.

Daniel Yarnell with GeoConex told the board his company, founded around 15 years ago, works with 60 to 70 percent of the counties in Tennessee, as well as entities throughout the Southeast.

“I have to tell you all, it’s exciting for our company for me to be here today because we’ve been wanting to do business with you guys for a long time, and the opportunity has finally presented itself for you all to be looking at a proposal from our company,” Yarnell said to the board.

The GeoConex proposal provides a base price of $108,381. This amount, Yarnell said, includes an option that would allow dispatchers to conduct National Crime Information Center queries through the CAD. If the Emergency Communications District Board forwent this option, it would bring the base price down to $97,556, Yarnell said.

Yarnell said the GeoConex proposal includes workstations, monitors, the server necessary for the CAD system and other hardware. He said the server and workstations would come with a five-year warranty, and that the proposal includes onsite training.

Yarnell said the yearly maintenance cost to the Unicoi County Emergency Communications District Board would be a little more than $8,580, plus an additional $1,600 if the board moves to include the NCIC option. Yarnell said there would be no charge for the first year of maintenance. GeoConex would also provide updates to the system and software through maintenance, Yarnell said.

Yarnell said it would take around four to eight weeks to complete data conversion and hardware installation for the GeoConex system.

David Jones with Zuercher Technologies told the board his company, which works primarily with small- to medium-sized counties and cities, was founded more than 14 years ago and has between 275 to 300 customers across 40 states.

“In that time, we’ve never failed a project and we’ve never had our CAD system replaced, ever,” Jones said. “So our reputation, our track record, is very important to us, and I don’t think there’s another vendor out there with that track record.”

The standard cost presented in the Zuercher Technologies proposal is $87,635. The proposal includes $50,121 in options and add-ons, including the NCIC queries through CAD, that the board could elect to include with the system.

Jones said the Zuercher proposal includes the physical server needed to run the CAD, the operating system software and the database needed for its operation. The proposal also includes a “testing/training server” which would allow dispatchers to familiarize themselves with features of the Zuercher software updates which occur every three months, Jones said. The proposal also includes mapping and the GIS services behind it, Jones said.

Jones said the yearly maintenance cost through Zuercher would be around $12,000 to $15,000. Like Yarnell, Jones said the first year of maintenance would be included in the contract. Jones added Zuercher takes “100 percent responsibility” for its software, server, operating system and database.

“What that means to our customers is that we monitor your system in real-time, and we’ll know before you do if there’s any issues and, if there are, it’s our responsibility to fix it,” Jones said, adding his company also conducts system backups for its customers. 

Jones said it could take anywhere from two to six months from the time the contract with Zuercher is signed before the CAD system it provides goes live.

Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert Adams suggested that board members take time to study the two proposals before making a decision. Adams motion to that effect was unanimously approved by the board, and the panel will consider acceptance of one of the proposals during its July meeting.

The need for a new CAD system has been a topic of discussion for several months. During the Emergency Communications District Board’s January meeting, Emergency Communications District Board Chairman Bill Hensley appointed Adams and Unicoi County 911 Director Travis Chandler to research possible replacement systems. During its March meeting, the board voted to put out a request for proposal to obtain bids from companies interested in providing a new system.

Adams said in March that Unicoi County 911 is experiencing compatibility issues with its current CAD system, adding the system was outdated when it was purchased several years ago when the local 911 center was relocated to the county’s Jail Annex. He said only one other district in the state uses the same system as Unicoi County.

The board on Monday also approved its budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The budget reflects a proposed $507,766 in total revenues and losses against $477,860 in total operating expenses.

The board also voted to put $12,000 toward new fencing, gating and guard rails at the 911 center. Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said he previously acquired price quotes for this work, with the estimates provided being in the $22,000 to $24,000 range. Per the board’s vote, the board’s money will be provided to the county which, upon consideration by the Unicoi County Commission, is to pay for the remainder of the work. If the work is not completed, the $12,000 will be returned to the Emergency Communications District Board.

The goal of the undertaking would be to increase safety and security for the center, which is located in the same building as the Unicoi County Jail Annex and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department’s administrative offices.

Also discussed by the board was a reduction in the number of paid holidays Unicoi County 911 employees will receive going forward. Currently, employees receive 13 paid holiday, but county 911 officials are discussing the removal of Columbus Day, Election Day and the Unicoi County Apple Festival from the list. The board opted to have local attorney Jim Pate draw up a policy for the board’s consideration at a future meeting.