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Unicoi County Commission hears citizen complaint, rejects EDB proposal

By Kendal Groner

A disgruntled Unicoi County resident aired his concerns to the Unicoi County Commission at their Monday, Oct. 23, meeting. Jeff Metcalf approached commissioners regarding an incident at the Hoover dump site that occurred last Wednesday.

After having the wooden door that he had cut up into four pieces rejected from the dump site, Metcalf claims a female worker hurled obscenities at him and yelled at him to leave the property.

“If something can’t be done about what’s going on down (at the dump), and I don’t want to repeat what was said because of the ladies in here, but the way that I was talked to for no reason whatsoever, I never even got hateful with the lady … for her to say what she said, and if you, the leaders of our county can’t do something about it then the way I see it is it’s time for you all to step down and make way for somebody who can.”

Metcalf felt that the woman with whom he experienced an altercation at the Hoover dump site should be terminated immediately. County Commissioner Gene Wilson said this is one of many complaints they have received regarding the site, which is currently under contract with the county for $350 a month.

“We’ve got a problem, we know that,” he said. “You’re not the only one that has brought this to our attention.”

After the incident occurred last week, Metcalf said he informed both the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and Mayor Greg Lynch. Metcalf grew increasingly agitated during Monday’s meeting as he questioned the mayor and commissioners as to why the woman was still employed at the dump site.

“Mr. Metcalf, our conversation was fairly civil, and then you come in here and started throwing it on me, this is a rule passed by the county commission and they’re trying to enforce the rule, and we’ve had some problems with it, I told you the same thing,” said Lynch. “Once we allow just a little bit of stuff, then they’ll bring all sorts of stuff. We’re going through this at every dump site.”

According to the Criminal Provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the treatment, disposal or storage or hazardous waste that is in violation of a permit was punishable by fines of up to $50,000. The Hoover dump site is not allowed to receive building materials, but the site has been known to accept wooden doors intact if they can be resold. However, because Metcalf had broken down his door it could not be accepted. 

“This isn’t about building materials though, it’s about how you talk to other people,” said County Commissioner Kenneth Garland.

After Jeff Metcalf spoke to the commissioners, his wife, Lisa Metcalf, approached the board to further discuss the incident which she witnessed.

“I was so embarrassed I thought I would die,” she told the commissioners. “I’m sorry for what I’m about to say … I’ve never said something like that to nobody in my life. Here she came stomping saying ‘get him the hell out of here, tell him to go the hell on. Tell him to shut his (expletive) and go on’. It’s a shame and it’s a disgrace, no morals, no modesty anymore.”

Glenn White, chairman of the Sanitation Committee, assured the Metcalf’s that the committee would have a meeting and discuss the issue.

“Something will be done about this. I promise this will be addressed,” he said. “We’ll take care of this.”

• • •

Tyler Engle, Executive Director of the Unicoi County Economic Development Board, discussed the economic strategic plan for 2017 and proposed a resolution to adopt a capital investment program for the Town of Erwin.

“What this program will enable us to do is it will give some authority to the industrial bond board and allow them to bring projects in and automatically give incentives to those projects that the county commission has approved through this document,” Engle said.

The criteria for the program, which Engle outlined during the meeting, proposes a minimum threshold that requires it to be an industrial project which could include a distribution facility, a corporate office and headquarters or any other high priority project that is designated by the commission.

Eligibility criteria for the program would also require a company to invest at least half-a-million dollars in new taxable investments, they must create at least 10 new full time positions paying at least 140 percent of the minimum wage, must offer medical benefits to employees and they must demonstrate compliance with and payment of all municipal county and state taxes due for properties owned and operated in Erwin and Unicoi County.

“They have to demonstrate that this pilot agreement is a pivotal part of their plan to achieve their economic development project,” he said. “There is a pretty rigorous scoring rubric.”

Under this program, no program over a 10 year abatement of property tax would be allowed. The whole value would not be abated, but rather just the added value to the property.

“If I go out and buy a property at $100,000, it will still only be taxed at $100,000,” Engle said. “It’s only the value that’s additional, so if I say build a big building and put a bunch of machinery in there that makes it worth $10 million, then I’m still paying on that $100,000.”

Engle discussed how Johnson City has had great success using a capital investment program such as this. County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice questioned whether or not a business would have to appear before the commission once an offer was made.

“According to this, if it’s below the threshold it does not,” Engle said. “This is just to take some things off your docket and make things easier for you all. If you wish to have it come back, that’s fine too. This is just to speed up the process.”

According to Engle, the state of Tennessee requires that incentives be provided to businesses up front. While the majority of surrounding cities have a capital investment program, this would be the first time a program such as this was implemented in the Town of Erwin.

“We’re not Washington County though Tyler,” said Garland. “We don’t have 100 extra acres to work with.”

Engle agreed with Garland that they may not have the same amount of space as Washington County, but he said he felt there are still plenty of viable locations for companies. He said this plan would put Unicoi and Erwin on equal footing with areas like Washington County and allow them to be effectively competitive.

“This would be a new tool for them to use,” said Lynch. “A lot of times people who are looking for businesses and setting up small industries, they’re wanting to move fairly fast for whatever reason that may be. This just gives them a very basic threshold.

“It’s a toolbox for them to use. I would like for you all to feel comfortable with them executing this plan at their discretion.”

Garland was still concerned that if the plan was approved it would force the board to relinquish more control than he was comfortable with. Engle again responded that if a request from a company exceeded the amount outlined in the plan it would still come back before the commission.

County Commissioner Loren Thomas made a motion to approve the Economic Development Board’s capital investment program as outlined in a resolution provided by Engle. The motion was seconded by county commissioner Todd Wilcox, but the motion failed having only received three “yes” votes – by Thomas, Wilcox and Commissioner Jason Harris. Voting against the motion were Garland, Rice, White and Wilson.

“Just keep coming back each month Mr. Engle,” said Thomas.

• • •

In other business, an interlocal agreement between Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and the Town of Erwin to allow the city to utilize prisoners for local service projects was pulled from the docket. According to the mayor this was pulled because of a timing issue.

The following appointments were also made:

• Marie Rice was re-appointed to a three year term with the Hospital Board – Co-terminus with County Commission Service;

• Anita Lazere was appointed as a civil service board member in a three year term to replace Jim Bowman;

• Kevin Hensley was re-appointed to the Unicoi County Planning Commission until June 2018;

• James McLellan was re-appointed to the Unicoi County Planning Commission until June 2019;

• Lee Bennett was re-appointed to the Unicoi County Planning Commission until June 2020.