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For or against? Public speaks out on proposed sanitation fee

Matthew Lane • Jun 6, 2016 at 10:02 PM

KINGSPORT - Is there a sense of urgency for the One Kingsport initiatives, and will their implementation help the Model City make a quantum leap forward? Or is the proposed funding method, which includes a new sanitation fee, a sleazy move and a broken promise to recently annexed residents?

Depends on who you ask.

These comments and more were offered to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday during a marathon work session, where more than 100 people showed up to hear about Kingsport's 2017 budget, the One Kingsport initiatives and its proposed funding plan.

The BMA has to approved the 2017 budget before July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year. First reading on the budget is tonight with a second vote expected to take place in two weeks.

City Manager Jeff Fleming has presented the BMA with a balanced budget that includes no property tax increase, slight increases to the water and sewer rate and the addition of 22 new positions. In addition to the normal budget and the topic of debate among city leaders and the community is the funding for many first-year One Kingsport initiatives.

The initiatives include beautification efforts, policy changes, master planning efforts and initial steps on bigger projects such as a large outdoor venue, upgrading Bays Mountain Park and creating maker space downtown.

Up for debate is the funding mechanism for One Kingsport, the creation of a $12.75 sanitation fee and a roll back of the property tax rate by 3 cents. Such a plan would essentially free up $1.3 million in the general fund and create a dedicated funding stream for One Kingsport.

Mayor John Clark on Monday described the One Kingsport initiatives as an investment strategy for the city and that he supports creating another funding stream for these investments.

“The One Kingsport summit and movement is all about change, and change is hard for many of us. I don't like change or surprise, but change continues to occur in the Tri-Cities,” Clark said. “How will we manage change? Will we manage it ourselves, or will change manage us? I for one want to control change and our destiny.”

Clark said progress in Kingsport has been slow and incremental over the past 16 years, while other cities have been investing more to achieve a higher quality of life.

“The only way to combat this is to invest more, find ways to create demand for our great city,” Clark said. “Our answer is the One Kingsport movement.”

During public comments on Monday, four former Kingsport aldermen (Pat Shull, Ken Marsh, Larry Munsey and Nathan Vaughn) along with former juvenile court judge Steven Jones spoke against the creation of a sanitation fee. At the same time, five members of the community, including a Chamber of Commerce official and a PEAK member, spoke in support.

“The city annexed a whole bunch of folks and used garbage collection as a selling point,” Shull said. “This would break faith with those folks who are new citizens.”

The most distressing aspect of the whole plan is it sets up a dedicated funding stream for “discretionary” One Kingsport projects, Shull added.

Marsh described the One Kingsport projects as Kingsport's version of Obamacare.

“I'm not in favor of the garbage fee, nor are thousands of people in Kingsport. It's a basic service of Kingsport. It's double taxation, and it's sleazy,” said Marsh, describing the concept of One Kingsport as a “really great idea” but that the funding as it's currently fashioned is “a pig in a poke” with no buy-in from the private sector.

Aundrea Wilcox, executive director of the Kingsport Office of Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship, told the BMA the chamber supports the funding plan for One Kingsport.

“Incremental gains mean we just get a little bit better over a long period of time,” Wilcox said. “If we want real and sustainable economic development, we need a quantum leap at this time. We have to take bold steps and do something different to achieve sizable gains and progressive economic development.”

The third former alderman to speak on Monday was Munsey, who encouraged the BMA to re-evaluate the plan and seek out more public/private partnerships for the funding of the One Kingsport initiatives.

“In my mind, the proposal would benefit large companies and large property owners but be a detriment to the people who rent, who own modest houses and seniors and those on fixed incomes,” Munsey said. “These are the most vulnerable people in our society. It's our responsibility to speak up for those who feel they can't speak up.”

Like the current BMA, Vaughn said the board he served on 15 years ago faced the same issue as today.

“I like the concept of One Kingsport, but when you're trying to eat and keep the lights on, you're not interested in making a whole lot of investments,” Vaughn said of the ones who would be most affected by a garbage fee. “This summit was long overdue. I just don't think the right thing to do is increasing taxes.”

Matt Storey, a member of Kingsport's young professional group (PEAK) and an employee of Eastman Chemical Co., said Kingsport is a great place to live but that the city needs to foster further development to keep the Model City that way.

“I believe there needs to be a sense of urgency for these types of investments,” Storey said. “My peers are looking for that sense of urgency.”

John Perdue, who served on one of the One Kingsport work groups, said he views Kingsport in a crossroads.

“While no one wants taxes to be raised, they're going to go up either way. We can choose to flourish or perish,” Perdue said.

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