Tourism update, trail donation discussed during Commission meeting

Published 4:52 pm Friday, April 23, 2021

The Carter County Commission recently met in their regularly scheduled April meeting once again via Zoom with each commission committee given the opportunity to provide updates from their meetings.

The Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce was also present to share some important tourism information with the commission. The presentation wasn’t so much on how much fun the tourist has but on their financial impact on the community.

Tourism Coordinator Luke Freeman presented a snapshot to the commission about how tourism has changed the landscape for the average taxpayer in the county.

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Using the 2019 year, Freeman showed that Carter County ranked #40 out of 95 counties by EI. There was $42.17 million in direct tourism expenditures that created 218 jobs and produced $6.59 million in payroll.

The impact was also felt on the tax side as it created $2.60 million in local tax revenue and $2.59 million in state tax revenue.

On an average day in the same year, tourists spent $115,543.97 in daily expenditures, produced $18,047.25 in daily payroll, created $7,135.85 daily in local tax revenues, and $7,083.81 in state tax revenues.

Freeman put that in simple terms for local taxpayers as due to the taxes generated by tourist activity in the county, each household pays $219.98 less in local and state taxes ($110.39 in local taxes and $109.59 less in state taxes).

During the nominating committee portion of the meeting, the Commissioners selected Steve Stephenson to Planning Commission for District 2 and Robert Burrough for District 3.

Burrough received 17 votes to Jerry Pearman’s 7 for the seat.

The Commission also voted to accept a donation from Ken Gouge who offered a section of the old Tweetsie Railroad right of way between Mill Pond Road in Valley Forge and Railroad Street in Hampton.

With the donation, the Tweetsie Trail would be extended to Hampton adding four and a half miles to the trail and give access to the watershed trails.

The only contentious point in the discussion was the bridge that crosses the river which is in bad shape with some commissioners voicing concerns about taking on the liability.

Twenty-eight acres of land came with the gift to the county.

Commissioner Randall Jenkins shared with the commissioners that the bridge in question had two sections out of it but there was room to walk around it as he even shared how he took his son around the bridge when he was five years old.

Commissioner Mike Hill of District 2 brought to the Commission’s attention engineering had been done on the entirety of the Tweetsie Trail to the North Carolina line and that plan still exists somewhere in zoning and planning which included remediation for the bridge that would carry bicycle travel over the river.

Commissioner Hill also said there are grants in existence that can be used. Hill said that forward-looking that once the trail reaches the North Carolina line that there are counterparts on the other side of the state line who want to carry the trail forward and in the future possibly covering Avery, Watauga, and Ashe County.

The Commission voted to accept the donation and the bridge will be blocked on both ends to prevent anyone from attempting to cross until the appropriate remediation is done.

During the Commissioner comment portion of the meeting, Commissioner Aaron Frazier of the 7th District requested to put forth a motion to empower the County Mayor to negotiate on behalf of the County Commission with the joint economic development board to begin the structuring of and budgeting for an economic community development director and a potential subordinate.

The motion failed the Commission vote 13-10 to which Commissioner Frazier responded by saying, “I am not doing anything else to get economic development in this county — you are on your own.”

District 2 Commissioner Julie Guinn gave an explanation as to why she voted no on the motion.

“My no came from not the idea of getting economic development but if you go through any place in Carter County right now, what do you see on their signs and in their windows,” Guinn said. “Can anybody tell me that?

“Now hiring — help wanted signs. How many people are going to come here and start up a business when they cannot fill help? My business has this problem and every place I know has this problem.

“I am absolutely not knocking economic development because I think there is room for that but I think our biggest pandemic is the fact everybody is lazy and nobody wants to work because the jobs are out there — high paying jobs, low paying jobs, good jobs, and nobody wants to work. That is my biggest concern with that and I just wanted to put that out there.”