By Kendal Groner
On March 23 and 24, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen held its yearly strategic planning work session where they discussed potential plans and projects for this year, many of which focus on strengthening communications and improving the aesthetics of the town.
“Once we get into our budget workshop, we’ll see what we can afford to do this year and what we can do in phases, as well as what needs to be put on a 10-year plan,” said Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley. “The thing that took the most time in our discussion was revitalizing Fishery Park, there’s so much maintenance that needs to be done on the park.”
Hensley said the project could become very expensive, and they are looking into repurposing some of the areas at the park, which was originally constructed in the 1980s. Since it was built, the town has been doing what Hensley described as “patchwork” at the park; however, those have become recurring costs almost each season.
Any repurposing or renovations that are done at Fishery Park will focus on the tennis courts, men’s baseball fields, women’s softball fields, and drainage problems the park has been having.
“We thought it would be best if we just take a look at it and kind of redid the whole thing to make it more usable long term,” Hensley said. “At the end of our discussion we decided we would hire an engineer to do a study of Fishery Park and then make a recommendation of what is best.”
The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen is gathering information on cost estimates to complete the work at Fishery Park.
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There was also discussion about starting a Vacant Building Enforcement Program to address problems with dilapidated buildings in downtown Erwin. A fee would be attached to any building left vacant for over a year.
“In looking at the dilapidated areas too, we kind of expanded into the residential areas and we are getting an inventory of those areas that have become dilapidated and need some attention,” said Hensley. “There’s not many in Erwin because our taxpayers really take care of their property and take pride in it, but there’s just a few homes that have set empty for several years and need some attention.”
She said once they get an inventory of those locations, they will get a price estimate of what it will take to clean up those areas.
To continue improving the aesthetics downtown, Hensley said they want to maintain the landscaping work they have done at the Erwin exits.
“We proposed to contract with a landscape company to handle our landscaping,” she said. “Instead of using our street department personnel to do all of the landscaping work, we thought it would be better just to contract that out.”
Another potential project to improve the aesthetics of the downtown area is the installation of a bike trail with a trailhead inside the Town of Erwin.
“There’s been a lot of requests for a bike trail, and I know biking is really popular in this area,” said Hensley.
The board is currently compiling request for proposal quotes from contractors in order to complete a sidewalk program that will fill in empty segments and extend them into residential areas.
“This is something I think we can give back to the property owners, and hopefully once we get them in shape and in good repair they will be able to maintain them,” said Hensley.
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In order to encourage more communication with taxpayers, Hensley said town officials are looking to start a quarterly newsletter along with publishing a monthly newspaper article highlighting activities and work being done in the town.
“That’s something we felt was important,” Hensley said.
The Town of Erwin is also looking to hire Jamie Rice, president of the young professional group RISE Erwin, as a full-time communications director.
“We will probably give her a new title once she goes full time because she has a lot to do,” Hensley said. “We also went over her budget and some of her goals for the year.”
In addition to developing a marketing plan for the town, some of Rice’s goals for the year include becoming a Main Street Community, developing a new website for the town, growing the farmers market, recruiting a new business downtown, and having more hiker friendly features such as signage and shuttle services.
Encouraging involvement from the youth in the area is another important initiative for Hensley, and she says she would like to meet with the student council at the Unicoi County High School on a quarterly basis.
“I would like to familiarize them with local government and also get them excited about doing events and projects inside the town,” she said.
Other items of importance the Town of Erwin will focus on this year include updating the personnel handbook and health care plans, resurfacing Harris Hollow Road and Temple Hill Road, and working to implement parts of a retail strategic plan, a tourism strategic plan, and a comprehensive land use plan.
Some of the town’s immediate needs include a new fire truck, police cars, and new trucks for the street department.