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BMA Candidate Series Day One: Kingsport's streets

Matthew Lane • Apr 26, 2019 at 9:08 AM

KINGSPORT — Everyone hates potholes, especially the ones you hit every day on your drive to work. It makes you frustrated, it makes you angry and it makes you wonder when the city is ever going to get around to fixing them.

Two years ago, Kingsport implemented a garbage collection fee with a portion of the funds going toward street resurfacing, essentially quadrupling the amount of money spent every year on improving and repairing the streets of the Model City.

In the first of a five-part series, the Times-News asked candidates running for mayor and alderman in the upcoming city election their thoughts about the condition of Kingsport’s streets and whether more money should be allocated for road repairs. Here are their replies:

CHRIS BULLE

Infrastructure literally makes a city. The current year’s budget allocated a hefty amount of taxpayer dollars to the city’s streets. If I become alderman and the budget comes around, I would like to advocate for more money to fix our streets. Potholes are important and as a candidate I’ve been asked about them a couple times already. However, there are other parts of street maintenance that can be addressed such as repairing water lines and electrical work. It’s not a “sexy” opinion for a candidate, but I think it’s important.

It is natural to always want things done faster, but spending more money does not always get a project done quicker. We need to make sure when problems with the streets are fixed they stay that way, and that takes time.

JOE CARR

We can’t call ourselves the Model City when our streets are the model of inadequacy. Fixing the roads must be a top priority because infrastructure is a cornerstone of modern society in the same vein as clean water and indoor plumbing. Some of these potholes are so egregious that they have busted people’s tires and are a threat to motorcyclists and cyclists alike. The budget for road repairs absolutely needs to be increased, because we are not fixing them fast enough. You can help by downloading the YourGov app on your phone and reporting any potholes in your area. One of the big problems with asphalt roads is the need to keep fixing them every couple of years, and we need to look into alternative forms of pavement that are being developed with plastic and bitumen.

DARRELL DUNCAN

In 2017 a sustainable paving program was created to pave more city roads — five times more in fact, and all paid in cash. This coming year the amount set aside for this program will be more than $2.1 million. In 2019 more than 20 miles will be paved. We will see a significant difference in our roads without more money being allocated to this fund. I, along with many of our citizens, have frustrations when driving through potholes or places that need repairs, so I would urge all citizens to use the KingsportTN.gov website to report poor road conditions for immediate repairs, typically within 48 hours. This information helps our city’s engineers and planners address road conditions quickly and efficiently.

CHARLES HONAKER

Kingsport’s streets need a lot of work. It’s been a little over 10 years since they have been addressed. Most of Lynn Garden streets have been repaved. I’m not so sure more money needs to be allocated as I am a true believer in doing the repairs correctly. I have followed our pothole repair truck around and watched the repairs being done; most repairs don’t last a week. Some don’t make it through the night.

DENNIS MABB

The streets have been bad for some time now and we need to allocate money for our streets.

CHRIS MILLS

The streets are improving slowly. There is still much to be done that increased funding would help. More money could always be allocated, but at what cost to other quality of life projects? I believe the city is doing better than they have in the past. One issue I do have is streets that are graded in preparation for repaving and then sit weeks before the job is completed. I do not understand this phenomenon.

MIKE MCINTIRE

I have long been a proponent for increased funding for road maintenance. Shortly after my election to the BMA eight years ago, I realized that street paving had been underfunded for many years. Most asphalt streets were being repaved on a 40-50 year cycle instead of the 20-25 year cycle necessary to maintain acceptable conditions. Without raising taxes, it took several years to find a sustainable funding stream to continually provide the $2 million-plus a year necessary to maintain good roads. All of our streets were evaluated by a strange looking vehicle that determined not only the surface condition but the conditions under the surface. Over 400 miles of city streets were scored. A Sustainable Paving Program was developed and implemented three years ago. The program maximizes the use of available dollars to get the most miles of road repaired and paved each year. It focuses on a limited number of areas annually. But please remember, many of our roads did not get into their poor condition overnight and it will take several more years to get all of them into decent condition.

TOMMY OLTERMAN

I voted to increase the funding for our streets. Prior to joining the BMA, the funding level was $600,000 per year for paving. Now we have increased the budget to $2.45 million. That will enable us to pave 20 miles per year. I realize this is merely a “drop in the bucket” as to what is actually needed in Kingsport. Therefore I would vote for additional funding for our roads if the opportunity arises.

JAMES PHILLIPS

The streets of Kingsport were neglected for decades, and I fully support what Kingsport is doing to change that. The new sustainable paving plan, which you can read about at pavekingsport.com, was put in place in 2017 and I believe it is financially responsible.

The amount of money put into the city’s paving program has gone from about $500,000 to almost $3 million a year. This is a huge increase and sets us on a path to repave every road in the city. Any additional money to pave would probably demand an increase in taxes and that is not something I could support at this time. A $2,500,000 increase is sufficient at this time. A surplus at the end of a fiscal year might allow us some additional funding, but I would be careful about that because this is the citizens’ money and we must treat it as such.

PAT SHULL

The Model City has a pothole problem. In fact, 42 percent of our streets were recently rated in “poor” or worse condition. Another 19% were only rated “fair.” Sadly, our streets are only a symptom of a deeper problem. Many people are disillusioned by the disconnect city leaders display when they value discretionary projects like a second baseball stadium at a cost of at least $12 million over maintaining streets and infrastructure. Do we really need a sidewalk on Stone Drive? I’m running for mayor to provide principled, practical leadership because I believe priorities are a precondition for progress. At 100 years old, Kingsport is looking tired, largely due to aging infrastructure, a big turn-off for prospective new citizens and businesses. The city of Kingsport’s total debt has more than doubled since 2005 and now stands at $253 million. The city’s budget, not counting schools, is $170 million, so that’s like having a household debt-to-income ratio of 149%, and Kingsport’s taxpayers are now putting $26 million a year into debt payments, which could have been used to keep up our roads. We’ve got to get back to basics in city government. I will lower our debt and make safe streets a top priority.

NATHAN VAUGHN

One of the most frequently raised questions I hear relates to the condition of our roads. Maintenance, of any kind, is one of the last items we prioritize when setting a budget. When money is tight maintenance is one of the first items cut from the budget. Once behind it becomes difficult to catch up and soon it is out of control. Our roads are not out of control, but we must establish road maintenance as a priority to avoid this condition. It is my understanding that the city realizes this problem exists and has significantly increased its road maintenance budget in the coming years.

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