Blankenship: County needs to focus on water, industry

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Three years ago when JoAnn Blankenship was tapped to fill the unexpired term of her husband as 5th District representative on the Carter County Commission, she was the new kid on the block.
   Fellow commissioners were patient with her and helped bring her along, she said. As a newcomer, Blankenship asked a lot of questions. "I like to ask questions and be involved as I have been these last three years," she said, when asked why she is seeking re-election.
   "I like to make sure the information is available for review and out there so that the constituents have time to respond and have adequate information; and that's what I've tried to do," she said.
   "When people have called me concerning matters I've tried to respond in a timely manner and provide them feedback. It might not be the feedback that they want, but I get the information that's provided to me or give them a source," she said.
   Blankenship has several issues she would like to see pursued during the next term. "I'm very much in favor of this Watauga Regional Water Authority. I think water is an issue already in our county in certain sections and we need to have a joint venture with this with the city.
   "Also, I'd like to see something done as far as the fire departments. The rescue squad is a paid position. We need to look at maybe a funded fire department -- but that's down the road."
   Blankenship said she would like to see an industry come in that would employ a large number of people, but "I'm also appreciative of these small businesses, the ones that employ 25 people. That's 25 families that have an income coming in. If we need to go to a recruiter for the county, that will be something for the commission to look at down the road," she said.
   Times have changed when it comes to luring jobs, she said. "Industry, when they come in, they're going to look at our school systems, that we do have two schools of higher education located within our county boundaries. We need to make that known."
   Access to and from the county also needs to be looked at. "With the new interstate coming through [from Asheville], I've been talking about this road between Milligan and the interstate, trying to get something done down here at Milligan so that we could tie in somehow with the four-lane that goes from Johnson City to Elizabethton and get it to come through Milligan."
   Spot zoning in the county was already approved when Blankenship took office. "I personally favor zoning countywide," she said.
   Blankenship also believes hiring a finance director will help county departments operate more efficiently. "I think it will make everything readily available to anyone who wants to find out any information about the finances by it being a central position.
   "Whenever I first went on the commission they were talking about a financial director at that time. Last year, we voted to hire a financial director, and for that to be put into the budget. But then the monies were so tight that did not occur.
   "It's not like this is something we just now started on. This is something the state, when they have done their audit, has written the county up for because we don't have a centralized financial department," she said.
   Recruiting industry is going to take more than simply involvement on a local level, Blankenship believes. "We have to involve our state representatives. They have to work with us and the state has to work with us. It's not just a one-sided thing," she said, citing state involvement in the recruitment of Bush Hog to Washington County.
   Also, she said, "You've got to have your network built in. We're out of land. We've got to find land and we've got to fund for the infrastructure to support this: the water, the sewer, the roads, the electrical, the telecommunications, all of this," she said.