City Council facing tough decisions in weeks ahead

By Bob Robinson

Star Staff

   City Finance Director Bradley Moffitt told Elizabethton City Council last night that some tough decisions will need to be made in the coming weeks on debt service retirement and depreciation in the face of state-mandated expenditures and revenue shortfalls.
   Council authorized Moffitt to hold discussions with Morgan Keegan & Co. of Nashville, financial advisors, to determine options available to the City.
   Council is expected to hold a budget workshop the end of April to discuss ways to offset state mandates to spend $2.5 million to improve water quality at the Big Springs source.
   Moffitt told Council the City is short $500,000 in paying for improvements to the Big Springs water source.
   He said the City also faces loss of revenue with the closing of the Alcoa Extrusions plant on Stateline Road in June.
   In 2001, Alcoa's City taxes, real and personal property, totaled $154,674. Alcoa's 2001 real and personal property taxes in Carter County total $148,128.
   In 2001, Alcoa paid approximately $180,000 in water and sewer fees to the City and $918,872 to the Elizabethton Electric System.
   The recently-completed Wastewater Treatment Plant, the largest public works project in the City's history, has also added to the debt service retirement woes.
   Moffitt said depreciation, which totals $1 million in the 2001-2002 fiscal year, will increase to $1.4 million in 2002-2003, while state-shared revenue is frozen by the state legislature during the same period.
   On use of a variable interest rate to refinance water and sewer debt service, Mayor Sam LaPorte told Moffitt he did not support a variable interest rate over a 30-year period because it was "too dangerous" and that he was "unwilling to gamble with taxpayer's dollars."
   Cutting the budget and extending debt service from 20 to 28 years are other options on the table.
   In other action, Council:
   * Waived the $38 fee to adopt a dog or cat during the Month of April at the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter, 253 Sycamore Shoals Rd., to encourage adoptions in a high birthing month. In April last year, 110 dogs and 73 cats were not adopted and put to sleep;
   * Presented a resolution to Jane Crowe, who is retiring from the water department with 34 years service, the longest tenure of any city employee. "The City has been my life and I love it," Ms. Crowe said in accepting the resolution from Mayor LaPorte;
   * Approved temporary street closings for activities associated with the Covered Bridge Celebration, June 5-9, sponsored by the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce;
   * Approved the expenditure of $20,000 to install flashing traffic lights at Bemberg Road and West E Street to reduce speed of vehicular traffic in the area of Elizabethton High School;
   * Approved the expenditure of $3,835 for emergency repairs to a truck used for storm catch basin and drain line maintenance;
   * Approved the expenditure of $2,000 to participate in the Tennessee Municipal League Risk Management Pool "Safety Partners' Loss Control Matching Grant Program;
   * Approved purchases and expenditures, totaling $23,318, for diesel fuel and gasoline for the City garage and water purchased form the City of Johnson City;
   * Adopted on second reading an ordinance to close an alleyway between Holston and Cedar and East K and East L Streets;
   * Adopted on second reading an ordinance to transfer the Elizabethton Bicentennial Fund account balance, totaling $15,265, to the Watauga Historical Association for use by the Historic Train Committee; and,
   * Approved a resolution authorizing the City to provide a construction easement for the repair and rehabilitation of the Elk Avenue Bridge.
   Several citizens also appeared before Council, including:
   * Paul Tolley to request use of Edwards Island by the Carter County Amateur Radio Club June 29-30 for field testing;
   * Jerry White, 2301 Eagle Drive, Golf Course Acres, who expressed concerns with a high, double street curb in front of his residence;
   * Bob Bedford, West C Street, who expressed concerns with illegal parking; and,
   * Susan Peters of K Street, a volunteer at the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter who said she recently moved here from Massachusetts, asked Council members to look into needed improvements to animal shelter facilities.