Carter County Tomorrow to employ services of city planning director
Published 8:45 am Wednesday, September 30, 2015
At Tuesday’s Carter County Tomorrow meeting, the board of directors unanimously approved a contract with the City of Elizabethton for the assistance of Elizabethton Director of Planning and Development Jon Hartman to direct economic development strategies.
“The City of Elizabethton is firmly backing Carter County Tomorrow and sees how it is an asset to our community and has worked towards accomplishing some goals and creating jobs as well as a variety of different community development projects,” said Board Chair Richard Tester. “Seeing the commitment level of the city and working with Jon, we thought it would be a fantastic fit to contract the City of Elizabethton for Jon Hartman’s services.”
His duties will include working with city and county staff to determine needs analysis trends, schedule and coordinating meetings, implement strategies, and develop solutions and analysis.
“My focus is on retaining and growth,” said Hartman, explaining that it would be wise to focus on developing and growing existing businesses rather than on recruiting new ones, until a comprehensive economic strategy has been developed and the funding is determined.
“By no means will my economic development activities be restricted to the city,” said Hartman. “We will work with the county mayor and county officials.”
He gave an update on efforts to get a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district established on West Elk Avenue which would incentivize both commercial and residential improvement projects. He is coordinating a meeting with Kingsport Development Services Director Lynn Tully and with Mark Mamantov, a Knoxville attorney with an extensive background in public finance, to explain and answer questions regarding a TIF district with the Elizabethton City Council, County Commission, housing authority, CCT and others.
Kingsport and Bristol have very successful TIF districts, and Hartman said he and Mamantov believe West Elk Avenue is a perfect site because it is ideal for redeveloping.
CCT was working with Tennessee Economic and Community Development’s Select TN site evaluation program which would review sites and give a checklist for how to prepare them for incoming industries, but it has been put on hold as a result of the lawsuit filed by Carter County against Carter County Tomorrow.
The Workforce Development Complex was one of the sites. Hartman said the state probably does not want to get involved with anything related to the lawsuit. The site reviews were supposed to be finalized and submitted by mid-October.
“Select Tennessee is a very important program for us and Carter County because we have basically zero product available,” said Hartman. “If an industry wanted to move in tomorrow, we would say, ‘Well, sure, let’s find a place to put you first.’ This is kind of a big blow for us, because it puts us that much further behind.”
The lawsuit questions the CCT’s authority regarding the WDC, which is why the state is reluctant to be currently involved.
Building One at the WDC, according to Kim Eggers, is in need of a new roof. It has been patched numerous times and continues to leak in places. The board decided not to fund the $55,950 project in light of the lawsuit.
“I guess we’ll just have to set out buckets,” said Eggers.
Select TN is only one example of the struggles the CCT faces as a result of challenges imposed by the county. The Chamber’s ability to market the area for tourism is severely limited because the revenue from the hotel and motel occupancy fee is being held in an account, inaccessible for use with tourism efforts, though it comprises the majority of funding for promotion and marketing of the area.
Revenue generated from the fee for 2015-2016 is projected to be $92,000, and without it, the Chamber, which has managed tourism since the 1960s, has only a few thousand.
Tourism is a growing industry in Carter County, primarily because of its natural resources. It saw a five percent increase in tax receipts from 2013 to 2014, which equates to $2.17 million coming into the county from tourists. This money goes into the tax pool which funds education, roadways and other public services.
“We need to make commissioners realize that tourism and Carter County Tomorrow are not the same,” said Tonya Stevens, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve shown that we are responsible and are trying to move forward and promote avenues that will be advantageous to our county, but this is hurting the residents of Carter County.”
Funding from the hotel and motel occupancy tax was last received by the Chamber in July from the month of June, so without this funding, the Chamber is facing great challenges in continuing promoting the area.
“It is obvious that we need that hotel motel tax to conduct tourism in this county, and it’s unfortunate that the county commission and Mayor Humphrey have decided to put those dollars on reserve,” said Tester.
Stevens said they are being as fiscally responsible as they can with what they have, but it does obviously affect marketing. “We’re having to be very cautious about what we commit to move forward with.”