County Commission votes to join 3-county partnership in split vote
Published 10:56 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016
In a split vote following what at sometimes became a heated debate, members of the Carter County Commission voted to join a three-county economic development partnership venture with Washington and Unicoi Counties.
The vote to join the partnership came following a presentation by Washington County Economic Development Council CEO Mitch Miller regarding a proposal by the WCEDC to form a regional partnership for economic development. Miller was joined by Wayne Burns of Convergent Non-Profit Solutions, a consulting firm the WCEDC contracted with to assist in the formation of the regional partnership.
“At the end of the day we have to be equal partners,” Miller said, adding residents in Carter County often travel to Washington County to work or vice versa. “We want to bring jobs here because we know it will benefit all of us.”
“We need Carter County at the table,” he added. “This is vitally important.”
Barnes said the regional approach to economic development is now considered the “best practices” approach and he cited successes being made in larger city areas such as Roanoke, Va., as well as a successful partnership between four rural counties in Kentucky.
The idea of a regional partnership has been in the works for around two years, Miller said, adding he had spoken with leaders both at the City of Elizabethton and with Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey.
While Miller said talks have been going on for some time, some members of the Commission said they have only heard about the proposed partnership in the last week or so.
Several members of the Commission had questions regarding the proposal —including who would sit on the overseeing board, how much money the venture would cost the county, and what types of benefits the county could expect to see from its financial support of the partnership — while others said they felt there was not enough information available to reach a decision on Monday after only hearing the presentation that night.
As the questions continued, at least one commissioner took issue with continued queries. Commissioner Charles VonCannon said some of his fellow commissioners “want to be obnoxious” by asking for a detailed plan from the WCEDC.
“We don’t need to have a detailed plan, we need jobs,” VonCannon said, adding he felt the regional partnership was the best move the county could make to bring in more jobs. “Let’s quit being obnoxious and listen to the experts.”
Commissioner Cody McQueen asked Elizabethton Director of Planning and Economic Development Jon Hartman, who was in attendance to stand and give his thoughts on the matter.
“I see this as a step forward, a step in the right direction, a step that can really boost Carter County,” Hartman said. “The stance we are taking on this is we are 100 percent on board.”
Hartman said he believed the regional approach would be the proper way to go with economic development.
“We function as one economy and we function as one metropolitan area,” Hartman said, adding there are a lot of people who live in Johnson City but drive into Elizabethton to work. “Businesses don’t see political lines.
Burns and Miller said the funding level the partnership would like to see would be a combined $100,000 from Carter County and the City of Elizabethton. Hartman said the city budget has not been finalized yet but he anticipates the city to allocate between $30,000 and $40,000 for economic development through the partnership.
Currently, the proposed 2016-17 fiscal year budget for the county includes $40,000 earmarked for economic development.
After the presentation and question session was brought to an end, McQueen made a motion to approve Carter County’s membership in the partnership and to designated the $40,000 in economic development funding for the partnership. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Randall Jenkins.
The motion ultimately passed on a vote of 13-9 with Commissioners Nancy Brown, Ronnie Trivett, VonCannon, Ross Garland, Timothy Holdren, Jenkins, John Lewis, Sonja Culler, Ray Lyons, Scott Simerly, Robert Carroll, Kelly Collins and McQueen voting in favor. Commissioners Willie Campbell, Buford Peters, Dr. Robert Acuff, Mike Hill, Al Meehan, Bradley Johnson, Danny Ward, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz and Larry Miller opposing joining the partnership.