Lynn Avenue project costs trouble to some council members

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A project to make Lynn Avenue a 5-lane street from the Northern Connector to East Elk Avenue concerns some members of Elizabethton City Council members given future appropriations required by the city.
   The council voted 6-1 Thursday night to approve a resolution with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for preliminary engineering services totaling $51,000. The contract requires the city to contribute matching funds of 20 percent -- roughly $10,200 -- for the project.
   "Where are we going to get the money?" asked Councilwoman Nancy Alsup regarding the 80 percent/20 percent match. Alsup voted against the resolution after questioning the city's future ability to fund the project.
   City Manager Charles Stahl said city officials had discussed the project with TDOT officials two years ago. The state plans for the Northern Connector highway project included constructing a new bridge over the Watauga River. Extending Lynn Avenue to a five-lane street would divert increased traffic and provide a way to turn Connector traffic back into the downtown business district.
   He also said another aspect of the project included the city's plan to refurbish the storm water drainage system and sewer line along Lynn Avenue.
   "In addition to that, you have some storm drainage issues and some sanitary sewer issues as well," said Stahl. "One aspect of the project turns into the other aspect of this project."
   Future costs involved in the project included right-of-way acquisition and engineering costs up to the street's actual reconstruction, Stahl said.
   Stahl also pointed out the project had been studied as draw of traffic from the Northern Connector back into the downtown business district.
   Alsup questioned where the city would find funding in already lean economic times to complete the project in the coming years. Councilman Pat "Red" Bowers also questioned how many outstanding grants the city was part of that required significant matching funds from city coffers.
   Mayor Sam LaPorte said that although he was no fortune teller, he felt the city's fiscal solvency would be adequate in the coming years to address the project's financial demands.
   "Are your concerns about money valid? Absolutely," LaPorte told Bowers. LaPorte also added that he could not guarantee the city would have money available, but he did not expect the nation and state's economic malaise to last for an extended time.
   "We are allowed to request to alter the plan if it is too expensive for us in the coming future," he added. "Although the city doesn't like to do it, we have enough rainy day money to do this out of pocket without violating any financial responsibilities the city has."
   Former city finance director Sidney Cox also addressed the board regarding the recent appointment of Bill Carter to serve the late Diane Morris's term on council. Morris defeated Cox by a mere two votes in the Nov. 5, 2002 city election.
   Alsup and Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley had vociferously supported Cox citing his finish behind Morris as a reflection of who the majority of Elizabethton citizens wanted who voted only three months ago.
   Cox graciously congratulated Carter and expressed his gratitude to Shipley, Alsup and his entire council. However, Cox also took time to ask the council to use "information, education, communication and common sense" and to consider the "will of the people" in making an appointment decision.
   The council approved 7-0 a decision to co-fund a stream bank stabilization project on Buffalo Creek with the Boone Watershed Partnership with a $6,500 appropriation. The project's total cost of $15,000 was initiated to protect the access road to the Elizabethton National Little League Park in the Happy Valley community. In a letter to city administration, the partnership stated it would commit $8,500 and asked the city to contribute the rest.
   In other business, the council approved 7-0 a resolution creating the city's own Industrial Development Board. The council also approved 7-0 a resolution naming six members to the board of terms from two to six years per state law governing such boards. The board's members as appointed are Carmella Price, Russ Swanay, Bob Lipford, Kenny Carter, Manuel Bandarra, Tim Broyles, and Haynes Elliott.