By Richard Rourk
The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen met via Zoom on Monday, June 15, to discuss many items including a second reading of the town’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget.
The 2020-21 budget passed on the second reading on Monday and includes an expenditure total of $2,855,317, leaving a shortfall of $273,597.
“We will cover the shortfall with our fund balance. Currently our fund balance is around $1 million,” Town of Unicoi City Recorder Debbie Kessler said. “There was never any discussion about applying a property tax to the citizens of Unicoi. We will use funds from our fund balance to make up for the expected shortfall.”
The 2020-21 budget does include an updated request and approval for a local museum. Following a motion by Vice Mayor Doug Hopson, the BMA voted unanimously to provide $2,500 for the Unicoi County Heritage Museum for the upcoming budget year.
According to Town of Unicoi Attorney Lois Shults-Davis, the request from the museum was originally made in March 2020.
“The letter is dated March 30, but we did not receive it until May, and then an official request on June 12,” Shults-Davis said. “I understand that the intent was for both the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi to receive the request at the same time.”
Unicoi County Alderwoman Kathy Bullen expressed concern about the timing of the request and the overall request process for budget purposes.
“My concern isn’t with the Unicoi County Heritage Museum, my concern is that other agencies may follow,” Bullen said. “I think the process of request from non-profit organizations and donations needs to be streamlined for budgeting purposes.”
During the public portion of the budget, there were no comments from citizens who tuned in via Zoom.
Following the public forum, the BMA voted unanimously to approve the 2020-21 budget.
“I’m pleased with this budget,” Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said following the June 15 meeting. “We are in a good place and we will be OK.”
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The BMA then shifted its focus to a proposed asphalt plant in Unicoi.
Recently, Summers Taylor purchased the land that was home to the Construction Asphalt Paving Services (CAPS) plant. Summers Taylor President Grant Summers was on hand to discuss the future of the plant during a brief public discussion period on Monday.
“There has been some confusion and misconceptions out there, but we will only operate as one plant, we will be tearing down the CAPS plant and rebuilding on the same spot with updated equipment,” Summers said. “The plant that we are intending to build is newer and with better emissions and can produce more than the previous plant.”
Town of Unicoi resident Court Lewis expressed concern about the information that the citizens have heard recently.
“We are hoping to have an open forum to discuss this in the near future,” Lewis said. “I hope this is something that is possible.”
Summers acknowledged that he is willing to have a public discussion about the potential new asphalt plant.
“I’m open to the idea,” Summers said. “I’d be happy to meet. I’m a member of this community and understand the concern.”
According to Lynch, a public meeting could be held in the future.
“We will see when we can get this public meeting up and running,” Lynch said.
Lynch was pleased with the brief discussion between Summers and the concerned citizens.
“We certainly encourage everyone to get together and talk this thing over and I’m very thankful that Mr. Summers was here to relay some information,” Lynch said following the June 15 meeting. “It’s also great to hear from the citizens tonight – there’s two sides to every story, so it’s all good.”
As of The Erwin Record’s deadline, no public meeting has been scheduled.
In closing, the town presented the Unicoi County Ruritan Club with a plaque to honor its 70th anniversary. Unicoi County Ruritan President Ken Kisiel accepted the honor via Zoom.
“We are so thankful for all of the citizens that support us and I would like to thank the town for all of the festivals and events they hold,” Kisiel said.
The Town of Unicoi BMA is scheduled to meet again on July 20.