Sidewalk

Grant funds should help Erwin move on to the next phase in repaving and repairing town sidewalks.

With 2022 wrapped up, local mayors are looking back at progress and forward to the future as various projects will continue to move ahead in 2023. 

“As far as the current year, January to December, it’s been a very busy year. We received a lot of grant funding – federal and state – that we’ve used to be able to complete a multitude of projects in the current year,” said Unicoi County Mayor Garland Evely. 

“Biggest project we have been working on is an upgrade to our emergency communications,” Every said. “Phase One of that was completed as of this year.”

 The mayor noted that phase one consisted of a new building at both of the county’s tower locations. 

“Phase Two and Three are in the coming year,” he added.

 Evely noted that phase two and three of the communication upgrade will include a new tower at Buffalo Mountain, complete with the installation of digital equipment.

“Right now, we have about 62% coverage for our ambulance and sheriff’s department, but with the upgrades we are doing, we should take that percentage to about 92%,” he said. 

Evely explained that the increase in coverage should help emergency personnel communicate more efficiently.

Evely said that the county also received a $75,000 grant, which helped provide a used ambulance for the EMS. 

“We also upgraded equipment for the emergency management agency in the county,” Evely said. “Out of our American Rescue Plan funds, we have already replaced one of the HVAC systems in the jail and provided new body scanners at two of the existing jails where it has been badly needed for several years. We also completed a parking lot on 107 for tourism that allows people to pull in and park off the road and have access to the Nolichucky River.”

The mayor noted that funding has also been provided for non-profit agencies with their capitol projects.

 “We replaced two units on the HVAC system at the health department and helped the library replace their HVAC system,” Evely said. “We helped the Chamber replace their HVAC system also, and we provided half the funding for the senior center to get a new roof they were badly in need of. The courthouse also received a new boiler.”

Evely said all these projects were funded through the grants received and not actual county tax dollars. 

“One of the most important things I am proud of out of my office is this is the first year there were no findings in our audits,” Evely noted. “It was a very clean audit of the county so I am very proud of my office staff here – they do a super job.”

In the coming year, Evely said renovations at the  county jail are planned, which will include all new plumbing fixtures and upgrades. 

“We have also allocated out of our ARP fund $1 million for our school projects,” he said. “One is new gym at Unicoi Elementary, new tennis courts here in Erwin and major renovations to the track field. 

“We are excited about seeing those projects get done,” he continued. “There will also be major renovations at the Unicoi County Health Department and sewer and waterline improvements countywide.”

Evely said there is a lot going on at one time, but he is excited about what the county government got completed in 2022 and is looking forward to the larger projects in 2023. 

Erwin Mayor Glenn White said that coming out of the pandemic has been a great turning point for Erwin’s municipal government.

“We sealed a waste management agreement with the city and have a five-year contract,” he said.

“We also finished phase one of a paving project that started under Mayor Doris Hensley’s administration,” White said. “What happens now is that when that $1 million loan is paid of in 2025, and if the Board of Mayor and Alderman approves, we will borrow another $1 million and start phase two.”

White also noted that Erwin has also completed its grant cycle for some help with the sidewalks in 2022.

White added that he supported the Economic Development Board with some restructuring that involved the board hiring new recruiters for retail and industry. 

“We’ve also had some movement with our tourism and with our campground which looks like it will turn into something like the Rock Creek Park,” White said. “It looks very professional where people can come camp and enjoy some river activities. We also had a rafting company move in at the old Bear Mountain site. “

The mayor also noted that Erwin sold an 11-acre plot that once housed the old casket plant facility before housing Erwin’s public works. He explained that the plan is to now expand – which he predicted is going to bring in 200 more jobs.

Additionally, White said that Erwin’s increased its funding support for the senior citizens center to $50,000 per year and increased funding to the library by $60,000.

“We also started funding for the ambulance service,” White said. “Revenues for this year are coming in very well at around 11% higher, so we are seeing some growth in the downtown and are really pleased.” White said that it is the goal of Erwin’s BMA to help all local businesses grow in 2023.

White said there is a very good chance the town will also get to buy the armory building, noting that Erwin is currently in discussions with the National Guard to acquired the building. 

“It looks very promising,” he said. “All I can say is that I do think it will happen and want to thank Sen. Steve Southerland, Sen. Rusty Crowe and Rep. Diana Harshbarger for their help with this,” White said. “If we get that, we can do a lot of good there. We can make it a civic location where we can have proms and the Chamber can use it and we will move public works there.”

White also added that he is pleased with the town’s employees and departments. 

“We try to help our employees as much as we can,” White said. “The past administration has done a wonderful job with the benefits. I am really pleased with the salaries with the fire and police departments, but we are going to work on our public works salary. That needs some attention immediately.”

Much like the town of Erwin and the county, the town of Unicoi saw considerable progress in 2022, including the replacement of three bridges along with the renovation of the Unicoi Police Department office, according to Unicoi Mayor Kathy Bullen.

“We also purchased a building on Golf Course Road for an EMS and Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department Annex,” Bullen said. “We should have the ribbon cutting in February.”

The mayor also noted that Unicoi has a new police chief (Nick Hughes) and has created a deputy clerk position.

Additionally, Bullen said that the Town of Unicoi financial audit was clean with no findings for a second year in a row.

The town also completed the renovation of the Clinchfield caboose, which has a new home at the Unicoi Visitors Center.

“We made significant progress on plans to repair Massachusetts Avenue, which is a long-term project that was divided into two phases,” she said. “(Lastly) we committed money to the Northeast Tennessee Regional Recovery Center in Roan Mountain and those services will begin in March.”

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