Council approves bigger, better capital outlay

By Thomas Wilson

Elizabethton's public safety and public works departments are getting some extra treats in their Christmas stockings.
   The Elizabethton City Council members voted 6-0 Thursday night to secure a 12-year, $1.25 million capital outlay note with Carter County Bank to pay budgeted projects and fund a few additional city needs for the 2004 fiscal year.
   During budget workshops in April, the Council debated issuing a capital outlay of $1 million or $1.25 million provided the higher amount did not translate into a tax increase for city residents.
   "It will not cause a tax increase unless we have something from left field," said Brad Moffitt, the city's director of finance.
   Capital outlay dollars were earmarked to fund estimated costs to demolish the Carter County Memorial Hospital building ($485,000), a pump fire truck ($230,000), a mobile command post for the Elizabethton Police Department ($33,000) and roughly $219,000 in street paving costs.
   The additional $250,000 will be used to secure additional police equipment, provide matching funds for grants awarded to the city fire department and Elizabethton Municipal Airport, and fund additional street projects and asbestos removal from the hospital building. Councilman Pat "Red" Bowers was absent for that vote but arrived later at the meeting. The city will make annual principal payments of $104,166 to service the capital debt.
   Council also voted 7-0 to have the S&ME engineering firm survey the amount of asbestos materials in the hospital building. The building sits on a 5-acre tract of property on West G Street and is owned by Wayne Graybeal of Johnson City. The city paid more than $71,000 to pay delinquent real property taxes owed the city and county governments by Graybeal. The city's ownership became effective in February after the order granting the purchase was approved in Chancery Court. Graybeal has until Feb. 14 to pay the taxes and penalty to reclaim the property.
   Bowers expressed his concern about expenditures incurred by the city for knocking down the hospital. "How much are the taxpayers going to lose?" asked Bowers who wondered if the city could save some money by simply giving the hospital -- and the responsibility of its demolition -- to a third party.
   Mayor Sam LaPorte said the city's actual loss had not been calculated since no determination had been made if the property would be developed by the city or sold outright. Whether the city chose to sell the property or retain it, he said the it was likely the city would take a loss to fell the hospital.
   "Unless you know someone who could pay $100,000 an acre in Elizabethton, there is going to be a loss," LaPorte said.
   Council members also voted 7-0 to increase the city's contribution of a stream bank stabilization project on Buffalo Creek. The city was initially asked to contribute $6,500 to co-fund an estimated $14,900 stabilization project on a portion of the stream bank near the National Little League Field where Buffalo Creek frequently floods. The Boone Watershed Partnership proposed funding the project with $8,500. When bids on the project were received, the lone company bidding on the project, Hayes General Contractors, estimated the project's cost at $32,162. City Manager Charles Stahl said the company had reduced that figure by roughly $7,000 to just over $25,000.
   In other business, the council voted 6-0 approving an ordinance on second reading to rezone three tracts of property and portions of two other tracts on Gap Creek Road from a residential to neighborhood business zone. The council also voted 7-0 to appove an agreement to obtain an easement from Norfolk Southern Railroad to improve water lines in the city of Watauga. The city purchased the easement for $9,400 to construct a water pipeline that will serve Watauga citizens.