Bowers high on transportation projects in city

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Pat "Red" Bowers says he is proud of the city of Elizabethton and hopes to continue to be an advocate for the citizens if re-elected to City Council.
   "I've lived in Elizabethton all my life," said Bowers, who is one of eight candidates running for a seat on the Council. "I have never thought about living anywhere else."
   A City Council member since 1993, Bowers, 72, sold automobiles for over 50 years in Elizabethton. He was appointed to the City Council in 1993 and won full terms to the Council in 1994 and 1998.
   Bowers said the city has maintained an excellent level of services. He also says there has been notable progress in many areas by eliminating unnecessary expenses. He says he was very pleased that there has not been an increase in the city property tax rate since 1992.
   During that same time, the city has upgraded city schools and police and fire departments, says Bowers.
   "Forty percent of our city streets have been surfaced, and the Mill Street resurfacing and storm drain improvement system has been completed," said Bowers.
   The city's recent annexations of property in west Carter County has brought in new properties and hundreds of county residents into Elizabethton's corporate boundaries.
   "About the only way a city can grow is to annex, and when you annex you obligate yourself to those citizens for police protection and fire protection," said Bowers.
   Bowers added that there has been growth in the city's population. The city has annexed a strategic area, which will help enhance future growth, he says.
   "We've seen some growth in our population. Plus we've created a code enforcement officer that was badly need."
   Tennessee Department of Transportation officials conducted a public hearing October 8 on the Northern Connector -- the 4.1 mile, $28 million five-lane highway project that will divert traffic from West Elk Avenue to the north side of the Watauga River.
   Bowers felt the Connector's creation would decrease the traffic on Elk Avenue and Broad Street, particularly the amount of vehicles traveling to and from the Stoney Creek area. He also felt the additional traffic could boost economic growth for the city.
   "The Northern Connector will improve industrial growth I believe," Bowers stated. "Maybe no way soon but I believe it will be a plus to the city as a whole."
   Bowers also said the efforts to construct a new Bristol (Highway) bridge would be provided by the Connector project.
   "Our Economic Development Commission is asking for a bridge from the Connector to behind the old Bemberg plant to the Cherokee Industrial Park to help people get into the shopping centers and merchants downtown," Bowers said.
   At a public auction held in September, the city and county purchased the old hospital building, which has incurred delinquent property taxes. The owner has a one year grace period to pay off the property taxes plus a 10 percent penalty to reclaim the property.
   "I don't see within a year it happening because it is such a big job," he said. "If one government or the other was to take sole ownership, getting the paperwork with the environmentalists over the asbestos and then getting the contract in here would take a while.
   "I just feel like it would take a little longer than a year to get it completely done."
   He was also optimistic about the possible completion of Interstate 26 through the county's far west end during the next four years. The state of North Carolina has tentatively scheduled completion of their section of I-26 construction for 2004.
   "Anything that close it is going to be a help," said Bowers. "Not only will you get your tourists, it might encourage some other person to come into your city and start up a business. Maybe not a big business, but a business of some sort."
   The city's administration has done a stellar job during his years on the Council, added Bowers.
   "Our city manager is doing a great job," said Bowers. "I feel with all my heart that the city is being managed in the most business and professional way it possibly could be."
   Bowers said the city's past problems with water supply would likely be alleviated when the Watauga Regional Water Authority ultimately tapped the Watauga River to provide water supply for the city and county's utility districts.
   Bowers is married and has two sons, one granddaughter and one great-grandson. He said there is much that remains to be accomplished as citizens strive to make this a better community.
   "I've worked hard for the taxpayers of this town and I've tried to put them first," he said. "I've tried to be there when there's a problem. If I've proven myself, they know it."