City sees development, community involvement and some controversy in 2015

Published 8:48 am Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye A number of local, state and federal officials were on hand in September to cut the ribbon in celebration of the official opening of the newly completed section of the Tweetsie Trail.

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
A number of local, state and federal officials were on hand in September to cut the ribbon in celebration of the official opening of the newly completed section of the Tweetsie Trail.

In 2015, Elizabethton residents witnessed significant developmental improvements and community support, but the year has not passed without controversy.
Major development includes Elizabethton High School’s Citizens Bank Stadium, the completion of the Tweetsie Trail, addition of the new recycling center, replacement of playground equipment at Harmon Park, the construction of the Don Tetrick Pavilion, the EHS band and music room addition and a new softball complex.
The string connecting them all is overwhelming community support — both fiscally and physically.
Director of Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour said over 230 donors contributed a total of about $875,000 — and half a million of that came from the Citizens Bank Tri-Cities Foundation.
“Infrastructure has been a huge focus in trying to increase opportunities for children,” Gardenhour said. “In a lot of ways, the community stepped up financially to help the school system.”
The school system isn’t the only part of the community that received significant support.
The Parks and Recreation Department held numerous new events this year, such as The Tweetsie Celebration and Treasure Hunt, Covered Bridge Jams, the Party in the Park at Kiwanis Park (with Northeast Community Credit Union), Story Time with Santa (with the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library), and the significantly upgraded Douglas Baseball Camp at the Blue Greys field.
Each children’s event brought out more than 100 kids, and the Tweetsie Celebration brought in many more.
“We saw a tremendous amount of usage at it, and that brought so many people into Elizabethton to see what we have to offer downtown,” said Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mains.
A major development improvement completed by the city was the East Side Waterloss Project. Elizabethton Director of Engineering Johann Coetzee said that old water lines in the East Side community were leaking 70 percent of the water coming through them. These lines were completely replaced.
On the economic development front, the Planning Department began an education campaign about the public financing tool known as Tax Increment Financing. Planning and Economic Development Director Jon Hartman said he hopes these efforts will lead to the passing of policy to allow the creation of a TIF district along West Elk Avenue to incentivize developers.
The city also adopted new building code regulations, property maintenance regulations and accessibility code regulations. The city’s sign ordinance is under revision as Planning Commission members and City Council members work towards one that is clear, functional and fair.
Both the public library and the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter acquired new directors this year. Shelter Director Stacey Heiden has worked closely with local organizations to partner for more effective prevention of pet homelessness and hunger.
Library Director Renita Barksdale has added library software and computer classes with grant funding, and in one month alone had more than 100 students in classes. Though she has had some success acquiring grants, Barksdale has petitioned the County to provide additional funding for the library. Currently the county only provides seven percent of the library’s funding, while 90 percent of the library patrons are county residents. This issue will come before the county’s Budget Committee in the coming year.
County funding has also been an issue for Tourism, as the hotel and motel tax money has been withheld by the county since July. This money comprises 75 percent of the Tourism budget, and Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce Director Tonya Stevens is very concerned about how they can continue marketing and other efforts without it.
Likely the biggest controversy of the year was a lawsuit filed by the county in August against Carter County Tomorrow. The complaint states that a lease agreement regarding the Workforce Development Complex is null and void. The county owns the WDC and made a $75,000 settlement offer to lessee CCT, to which no response has been made. The litigation continues into the new year.
In other news for the year:
• In March, Student Resource Officer Michael Sproviero resigned in March after a internal investigation ruled he acted inappropriately with a student by striking her on the backside with an unknown object. Elizabethton Police Department Chief Greg Workman said he resigned rather than being fired by the agency.
• Elizabethton City Schools approved the addition of three classes to its community involvement program: body fitness, swim club and yoga. Interviewing for a yoga instructor continues, but the other two classes have garnered community interest and participation.
• City Schools ranked level five in their values added scores, which Gardenhour said means teachers are doing a fantastic job.

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