Council amends Cruise-In traffic plan

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A traffic controversy that left some members of the Carter County Car Club and Elizabethton City Council steaming apparently has been resolved following a test run of traffic logistics Saturday night during the downtown Cruise-In automobile show.
   Elizabethton City Council decided to amend an earlier decision for moving traffic flow during the automobile Cruise-In event in downtown Elizabethton during a workshop Tuesday night.
   "We may have to ask for adjustments like you guys may have to ask for adjustments," Mayor Sam LaPorte told Ron McCloud who represented the Car Club at the workshop.
   Council members voted at their June 10 meeting to keep the right lane of East Elk Avenue accessible to motorists through the 400 block to Pine Street. According to the council decision, traffic had the option to turn left or right at the East Elk Avenue/Pine Street intersection.
   Two days later, a brouhaha broke out during the Cruise-In event when some motorists were prevented from entering downtown through East Elk Avenue, including LaPorte and Councilman Richard Sammons. LaPorte and Sammons, along with Council Members Bill Carter and Janie McKinney, had a peppery meeting with Car Club members one week ago after trouble ensued regarding traffic flow in the 400 to 600 blocks of East Elk Avenue during the Cruise-In.
   Event organizers maintained they allowed center lane access to through traffic on East Elk Avenue after the event started. LaPorte agreed that council's decision to open the right lane was unworkable for Car Club members who lost space to park automobiles.
   "If you do that, you are cutting a bunch of their cars out and their music booth as well," he told fellow council members.
   Sponsored by the Car Club and several local businesses, the car show event has been held in downtown Elizabethton every Saturday night since early April. The event draws hundreds of patrons to view vintage automobiles.
   McCloud requested that organizers be allowed to direct traffic from 4:30 p.m. up to 6:30 p.m. Saturday nights to park automobiles on display in downtown. He said the club had practiced letting traffic through during set up times in the past.
   "If someone comes through and says 'We want to go through', we let them go through," McCloud said. He added that Saturday night's event opening the center lane to through traffic and permitting access from East Elk Avenue to Pine Street worked well.
   An Elizabethton police officer directed traffic while automobile display was done. A city police officer is expected to assist organizers when display cars are parked.
   In other business discussed Tuesday, the council opted to dip into the city's unrestricted general fund balance and add to its street paving budget for the 2005 fiscal year. The 2005 budget adopted by council this month appropriated $165,000 for street paving.
   However, the rising cost of petroleum, including that used in asphalt paving, prompted LaPorte to recommend doubling the paving budget to $330,000 in order to avoid massive costs next year. He said rising petroleum costs meant an exponential jump in paving costs next year.
   "We've got reserves; we've got unrestricted reserves," said LaPorte. "It is hard to argue about spending capital on roads and sidewalks."
   Larry Clark of the city's Finance Department said the city's undedicated general fund balance was estimated at $3.2 million for the 2004 budget year. The fund balance has fallen from in excess of $4 million in 2001 to an estimated $3.1 million for the 2005 budget year, according to city figures.
   City Manager Charles Stahl cautioned council members that using money from the city's restricted fund balance could adversely affect the city's bond rating and result in higher interest rates.
   "The good news is, you've been using it for capital, not operations," said Stahl of the unrestricted fund balance depletion.
   Council members prioritized five city streets for resurfacing during the 2005 budget year. The streets and the paving costs as estimated by the city engineer are as follows:
   * Church Street ($58,700)
   * Bemberg Road ($56,000)
   * Jena Beth Drive ($46,000)
   * Hillview Drive ($38,000)
   * Siam Road ($58,000)
   Councilwoman Nancy Alsup also said she wanted a portion of South Lynn Avenue to be paved citing road conditions.