Shipley wants to do 'whatever it takes' to help city

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Sam Shipley says his decision to seek re-election to the Elizabethton City Council was based on his desire to continue serving the public.
   "I am very willing to do what it takes," said Shipley, Mayor Pro Tem of Elizabethton. "I have no agendas to get rid of people or be self-serving toward myself. I am just trying to preserve this city as it is."
   Shipley, 55, is one of eight candidates running for a seat on the City Council. He led the ticket in total votes when he was elected to Council in 1998.
   A graduate of Elizabethton High School, Shipley served with the U.S. Army in both Vietnam and Germany. He graduated from East Tennessee State University with a bachelor's degree in Sociology. Shipley has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for the past 27 years.
   He is vice chairman of the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission, Chairman of the Carter County Rescue Squad Board of Directors, and a member of the Economic Development Commission.
   Shipley said the state sliced the city's state-shared revenues, which resulted in a lowering of the total city budget by 13 percent. The city's water/sewer budget was reduced by 33 percent.
   "That stops a lot of luxuries like updating equipment, police cruisers, and capital purchases," said Shipley. "That may take a year or two to bounce back. All we can hope for is that nothing major happens."
   For Elizabethton and Carter County to successfully expand the community's employment base, new industrial land needs to be procured, said Shipley.
   "There is interest right now in the Frank Schaffer property by companies that looks promising," said Shipley. "Land is limited, so we need to come up with more land to draw people in here."
   He added that he was aware of three to four industries that wanted tracts of land between 50 to 100 acres within Carter County. If those industries were going to desire that much land, large payrolls would be coming with them, Shipley said.
   "The old days of North American and Bemberg -- in terms of high volume employment -- is just about a thing of the past," said Shipley. "These large places will not be the employment base in the thousands, but in the hundreds each."
   The city's recent annexations of property in west Carter County brought in new properties and hundreds of county residents into Elizabethton's corporate boundaries.
   Shipley stated annexation growth was slow, but the city's existing utility and public safety services would likely require expansion in the next few years to accommodate a growing population.
   "A lot of the services are already there, however, those areas are growing so the infrastructure is going to have to be expanded," he said.
   The county's far west end could further be influenced by the future completion of Interstate 26. The state of North Carolina has tentatively scheduled completion of their section of I-26 construction for 2004.
   Shipley said the new residential growth and a smidgen of industrial and commercial growth were not out of the question once the Interstate was completed.
   "It depends on the marketing ... if you have someone who is energetic in their marketing and recruitment," he said.
   "As the city boundaries expand, it is only common that's going to expand your tax base," he said.
   Shipley also said City Manager Charles Stahl had done an "outstanding job" guiding the city's fortunes.
   "He came from a background in city management and city government and he can steer Elizabethton from mistakes that other cities may be facing," he said.
   Tennessee Department of Transportation officials conducted a public hearing Oct. 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.
   Once the highway is finished, the city should also expect traffic improvement -- but new challenges as well as to the city's public safety and transportation logistics.
   Shipley said the Carter County Rescue Squad recently purchased two new crash trucks in preparation for the increased volume of traffic. "With the increase in traffic it isn't going to be just the automobile, it is going to be semis and tractor-trailers," Shipley noted. "A lot of cities wait until the event happens until they react. You have to be ready."
   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.
   "If by default it does come back to the city and county, then it will have to come down," said Shipley of the hospital. "That will be an unfortunate burden, but it is a prime piece of property that could be used for other functions."
   The City Council's role reaches far beyond simply meeting once a month to rubber stamp proposals, said Shipley.
   "You need to put a lot of research in the decisions you make," he said. "Hopefully, it is done in a progressive and educational manner and things have to be looked into to do it."