Funding county services to be a challenge says Sisk

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The state's on-going budget problems and the county's desperate need for jobs are critical concerns for the county in the next four years, according to Commissioner Harry Sisk.
   "I'd like to be a part of the solutions and see that the people get the services that they deserve," said Sisk, 71, who has served four terms as commissioner from the county's 3rd District.
   He will be seeking his fifth term in the county's Aug. 1 General Election.
   Sisk said the state of Tennessee's ongoing budget battle had negatively affected the county in terms of state-shared revenues and improved funding for education.
   "Our budget has been extremely tight. Not knowing what the state is going to do really affects what we can do," said Sisk, who chairs the commission's budget committee. "If the state money isn't coming in, we have two choices: Reduce services or raise the property tax rate, which is not popular or bearable."
   One long-term business development concern was locating additional land for a new industrial park and funding the infrastructure to accommodate new industrial citizens, he said.
   The former county educator also noted the roles of the Tennessee Technology Center in Elizabethton and Northeast State Technical Community College in developing the workers of tomorrow.
   "Industry looks for a great education system that provides trained employees," said Sisk, who felt the county and city school systems were "second to none."
   Another factor for long-term growth would be the role of the Watauga Regional Water Authority -- the city and county cooperative effort to build a water plant near the Watauga River Industrial Park.
   "This Authority could be one of the best things the county and city could've gotten involved in," he said. "The water table is dropping and the demand is increasing."
   Sisk also said he favored having all county districts to adhere to zoning guidelines.
   "Overall, it would be better for the entire county if it was all zoned," he said. "If the zoning was dismantled, it would allow the city of Elizabethton to have zoning (authority) within a five-mile radius of the city limits under the public growth law."
   The county's 2nd, 4th and 6th Districts opted out of the county property zoning regulations.
   The state's Local Government Planning Advisory Committee in April re-designated the Elizabethton Planning Commission as a regional planning commission giving the city the right to regulate the development of new subdivisions in a portion of the county despite opposition from the county commission.
   "Zoning is a good thing in that it requires some planning and better neighborhoods. The planning commission has done a great job enforcing and checking the subdivisions before they go in," Sisk added.
   He also said the county could be looking at a more involved role in funding the county's volunteer fire departments in the next few years.
   Those decisions would be important to the new county executive and soon-to-be hired county financial director, Sisk noted.
   "A new executive needs to be ethical, people-oriented," he said. "If the financial director is put in place, that will take the executive from the sole financial person, and free up the county executive to do other things such as pursue industrial recruitment for the future."
   Sisk is retired from the Carter County School System. He and his wife, Alice, reside in the Central community.