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Looking ahead: Mayors share plans during panel

What 2015 holds for Unicoi County’s three governments was the topic of a panel discussion between the county’s three mayors – County Mayor Greg Lynch, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley and Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch – on Friday, Jan. 9, at the Unicoi Tourist Information Center.
This was the fourth panel discussion of the mayors mediated by Jim Buchanan. Buchanan first asked the mayors to outline issues and projects facing their respective towns this year.
Johnny Lynch said the Town of Unicoi is awaiting grant fund for the proposed Mountain Harvest Kitchen which will be located next to the Unicoi Tourist Information Center.
“We are ready to go,” Lynch said. “We are waiting on a Rural Business Enterprise Grant through Rural Development.”
Lynch described the kitchen as a business incubator that will allow entrepreneurs from across Northeast Tennessee to prepare and package their food items in the licensed kitchen. The entrepreneurs will then be able to sell their products in local grocery stores.
Johnny Lynch also said the town is awaiting the opening of a new Dollar General Store. He said the company has broken ground on the store and it is scheduled to open in June.
Addressing flooding issues and infrastructural needs in the town will also be addressed by the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen this year, Lynch said.
“We have a lot of low-lying areas in Unicoi,” he added. “We do have our flood problems.”
Doris Hensley said in 2015 the Town of Erwin is ready for construction of a skate park located on Nolichucky Avenue in downtown Erwin to begin as soon as plans to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements are complete.
She also said construction of the third phase of the town’s downtown revitalization project is set to begin. The completion of the project should alleviate the nuisance flooding that has plagued the downtown area for decades, Hensley also said.
“Equipment will be moving in next week,” Hensley said.
The town is also preparing to have a corridor study and will apply for Community Transportation Planning Grant funds from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to fund 90 percent of the project, according to the mayor.
“The study will go from Jackson Love to the Harris Hollow exit,” Hensley said.
Resurfacing of South Industrial Drive, Love Street and Carolina Avenue should also take place this year, according to Hensley.
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Addressing Unicoi County’s shrinking property tax base is an issue facing the county government this year, Mayor Greg Lynch said.
“It creates problems,” Lynch said of the shrinking tax base. “Any additional costs associated with running a governrment is placed directly on taxpayers. … We are going to start taking a closer look at (property) assessments. …”
Lynch also said the county will be examining jail operations this year.
“We have two jails – a male jail and a female jail,” he added. “The male jail is next to the courthouse and the female jail is on Jackson Love Highway. …
“The sheriff is having staffing problems. We are spending $1.2 million to operate two jails. … The state will be doing a feasibility study to see if we can combine the two jails, which would probably be at the Jackson Love area. Possibly, the amount of money we would save by not having to operate two jails could pay for a 25-year capital outlay note.”
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All three mayors discussed the importance of the planned Rocky Fork State Park to each community.
“Rocky Fork is a vital part of the success of the towns and the county,” Hensley said.
Greg Lynch said the county will “have to put some skin in the game” in order to make the park a reality.
“The state has told us we need to put a waterline in from Clear Branch to the Rocky Fork area,” he added. “We are working on grants and different things to make that a reality. Not only would that help with the state park, but it would help some of the residents in the south end.”
State Sen. Rusty Crowe, who was in attendance at the meeting, said it would be important for the three governments to work together to apply for grant funds for the construction of the waterline. He also said he would contact state officials and ask for guidance on what local government officials need to do moving forward.
“I hope we can work together and make this happen,” Johnny Lynch said.
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Johnny Lynch closed the meeting reading a prepared statement regarding cooperation between the entities and encouraging citizens to move forward with a “positive” attitude.
“… We need to get back on course, get away from distractions and start making things happen. We (three mayors) are friends, we all get along. We are competitive. There’s nothing wrong with that. …
“This past year had many rough moments for all of us in many different ways,” Lynch continued. “For instance, the passing of several of our fine citizens and leaders, the problems of our nation and the world.
“On a local note, a year filled with negativism created in part by social media comments, individuals obsessed with digging to find the bad in everyone and everything and small cells of individuals who seem to thrive on creating and spreading the poison, while depicting themsevles as some sort of heroes for the sake of personal, political or social gain,” Lynch said. “Imagine what we could accomplish if we would put this negativity to rest and focus our energy on positive ideas. Too much drama, too much negative, too much sadness. Let’s turn it around. Let’s stay focused. Let’s try hard to work together and let’s try to show genuine support for each other. …”