City Council discusses police department, Twins at capital spending workshop

Published 6:48 pm Thursday, March 16, 2017

Budget season is upon the City of Elizabethton.
City officials met inside the council chambers at City Hall Thursday afternoon to discuss a variety of capital projects before their first official budget workshop, which is scheduled to take place April 17. Thursday’s workshop, according to City Manager Jerome Kitchens, was a way to address different capital projects with councilmen prior to the start of the official budget sessions.
Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander addressed officials about the current status of the Elizabethton Twins’ status following up talks last week with Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter.
Alexander alluded to the fact a letter was presented to Minnesota asking for some type of commitment for upcoming years during Friday of last week. During a talk with St. Peter last week, Alexander added the president said he was unable to make a type of a commitment prior to the deadline in place by the city.
The hope of city officials was to have some type of feedback by Minnesota prior to Thursday’s capital project meeting to have an idea of what direction they need to head toward for renovations at Joe O’Brien Field.
It was disappointing to not have a commitment prior to the workshop, Alexander said, commending the work of the Elizabethton Twins Task Force for coming up with a proposal to provide to Minnesota. The initial proposed spearheaded the organization to make a one-year commitment to continue play at Joe O’Brien Field throughout the 2017 season, but uncertainty is still lingering.
Elizabethton Twins Task Force members compiled a proposal of $3.2 million, which was approved by City Council in November to be used as the initial push to begin negotiations. The proposal included Minnesota contributing one-third of the cost, and the city and private donors making up the other two-thirds worth of funding.
“We’ve done everything we could do,” Alexander said.
Discussions then picked up about what the focus should be moving forward without hearing any information from Minnesota. The idea of courting a new minor league baseball team, following some preliminary renovations, was mentioned but the mayor stated that due to the current contract in place, the city would be unable to talk with any other baseball organizations until September.
Councilman Wes Frazier added that some types of renovations could occur in the meantime, including renovating the clubhouse situation on the field to benefit the Elizabethton High School baseball team and for either the Twins, if they continue to stay, or for a new minor league affiliate.
Richard Barker stated the support is still going strong for the Twins locally and the hope is to get possible renovations done at Joe O’Brien to benefit the high school, along with either the Twins or a possible new team.
“I don’t want us to lose the momentum,” Barker said, adding that Thursday’s talks could possible have the Twins come up with a decision in the near future.
Mike Mains, who serves as Parks and Recreation Director along with being the Elizabethton Twins General Manager, said the general admission tickets for Joe O’Brien has been moved to $5 and that plans are in the works to build on the revenue for the endeavor.
Kitchens added the city typically breaks even with the Twins but that it isn’t a burden due to the low operational costs.
While nothing concrete was stated, the idea was passed along for an engineer to look at a scaled back version from the $3.2 million proposal.
The Twins project was one of two highly discussed items by officials.
Kitchens asked Elizabethton Police Chief Jason Shaw to talk to city members in regards to the possibility of work being done to help benefit the police department.
Preliminary ideas looked at the city police department moving to the Elizabethton Municipal Airport, which is no longer of the table. One idea that was tossed around was housing city and fire departments in one building.
When asked about needs at the department, Shaw stated communications and records are the biggest needs but having employees under one roof would be ideal.
Currently the Elizabethton Police Department uses two areas, the department itself and the basement of the library.
Shaw added he’s been working alongside 911 and the Carter County Sheriff’s Office to help offset some cost of having each entity using the same type of communications.
Kitchens used the recent Gatlinburg fires as an example of a successful communication line being needed to communicate with emergency personnel.
Paul Bellamy, who chairs the Regional Planning Commission, praised the efforts of the chief but stated his concerns for the health and wellbeing of employees are the current facility, adding “time is of the essence” in regards to those working inside the current buildings.
Other concerns were addressed by Johan Coetzee, with the city water department, about the building’s deterioration and sewage problems.
Other items discussed included the Elizabethton City Schools System providing information about the Harold McCormick property and possible renovations at T.A. Dugger. While adding the system can wait for bonds in two years, Director of Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour added the system would like to go ahead and get started on some phase one work, including eliminating the grandstands near the football field, with excess money and grant opportunities.
Two major paving projects, other parks & rec projects – including Covered Bridge Park lighting – was also talked about during the two-hour meeting.
City officials are expected to receive a preliminary budget on April 1.

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