Commission kicks incentives policy to IDB for OK

Published 4:36 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A proposed set of guidelines to develop an incentives package to help attract businesses to locate and expand in Carter County is headed to a committee for consideration following a vote by the County Commission Monday evening.

During the Commission meeting, Budget Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler presented a resolution passed by her committee to the full Commission for approval. The resolution would approve an official incentives policy for the county to utilize in encouraging businesses to locate, remain, and grow within Carter County.

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Earlier this month, the Budget Committee approved the incentives policy, which was developed through a partnership between Carter County’s Industrial Development Board and the Elizabethton Department of Planning and Economic Development.

When the resolution was brought to the floor on Monday, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey stood and objected to its consideration, saying the resolution had not followed the proper channels because it was not approved by the Industrial Development Board before being brought to the full Commission. Members of the Elizabethton City Council previously approved the policy.

Culler invited City of Elizabethton Planning and Economic Development Director Jon Hartman and Industrial Development Board Chairman Phil Isaacs to step to the podium and help explain the incentives policy to the full Commission and why they felt it should be approved.

“We looked at this and saw this as a working document to allow us to work with the City from the same guidelines,” Isaacs said, adding it was a partnership opportunity for the city and county to work together. “This is a very conservative policy compared to the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreements we’ve done in the past.”

Hartman said the policy will serve as a tool to help those working to bring business and industry to Carter County as well as encouraging existing businesses to expand their operations.

“It sets a maximum standard that we cannot exceed without it going before the County Commission and City Council for approval,” Hartman said.

By adopting the policy, Hartman and Isaacs said those working in economic development will have a set of specific things they can offer to interested businesses without having to come to the two governing bodies for approval on every small incentive.

“This is a starting position and guidelines for what we can offer,” Isaacs said.

If a major project comes along, Hartman said a full incentives package would be negotiated and brought to County Commission and City Council for approval. The guidelines defined in the incentives policy are more geared toward existing business expansion and smaller operations locating here.

Some members of the Commission questioned if economic development efforts would be hurt if adopting the policy was delayed one month to allow the full Industrial Development Board to review and approve the policy.

“I don’t believe so,” Isaacs said. “It would be nice to go ahead and get it on the books so we have something to go by. This would be a tool for city and county economic development.”

Commissioner Charles VonCannon criticized the incentives policy, saying “the wording is screwball.” VonCannon made a motion to send the policy to the Industrial Development Board for review and approval and also to have County Attorney Josh Hardin look at the policy. Commissioner Ronnie Trivett provided the second for the motion.

The motion to send the policy to the Board passed by a margin of 21-3. Commissioners Willie Campbell, Buford Peters, Dr. Robert Acuff, Nancy Brown, Mike Hill, Bradley Johnson, Trivett, VonCannon, Isaiah Grindstaff, L.C. Tester, Danny Ward, Ross Garland, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, Culler, Ray Lyons, Scott Simerly, Robert Carroll, Kelly Collins, and Cody McQueen voted in favor of the motion. Commissioners Al Meehan, John Lewis, and Larry “Doc” Miller voted against the motion.

In other business, the Commission voted in a 20-4 decision to allow the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter to reserve funds left over in this year’s budget to go toward needed repair work on the HVAC system at the shelter. The four commissioners who opposed the motion were Grindstaff, Miller, Carroll, and McQueen.

The Commission also approved a request by Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford to allow his department to place any excess revenue collected from the housing of federal prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service into a reserve account to be used to pay deputies for overtime, buy back employee comp time, and to upgrade and improve the communications infrastructure at the Sheriff’s Department. The reserve would be for any money collected above the $900,000 prisoner board bill threshold the county requires the Sheriff’s Department to meet annually to fund their budget.

The Commission voted 22-1-1 to approve the request by the Sheriff. Carroll voted against the request, while Grindstaff, who is a Sheriff’s Department employee, abstained from voting on the matter.