Tennessee’s first lady visits Rocky Fork

Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee poses for a photo with Renea Jones-Rogers during Lee’s visit to Rocky Fork State Park on Monday, Sept. 9. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Maria Lee, the first lady of Tennessee, was in Unicoi County on Monday, Sept. 9, to help volunteer during a stream cleanup day at Rocky Fork State Park.

Lee was in the Valley Beautiful promoting her Tennessee Serves initiative, which encourages Tennesseans to serve one another and volunteer in their communities with a special focus on distressed counties.

“It is basically a three-part program that is us serving by example, highlighting nonprofits and organizations that are serving their communities and hopefully mobilizing others to get out and help as well,” Lee said.

Through Tennessee Serves, Lee also issues monthly service challenges to motivate Tennesseans to serve in various ways. This month, Tennessee State Parks partnered with Lee to host Tennessee Serves volunteer events in parks across the state.

“Last month’s challenge was focused on seniors,” Lee said. “This month is focused on Tennessee State Parks by helping keep them clean and beautifying them, especially as the weather changes and more are frequenting the parks more often.”

Lee is adamant about serving the community.

“Serving in general is important to me; it’s better to give than receive,” Lee said. “Preserving the ecosystems here at Rocky Fork, beautifying and keeping the waterways clean, it just makes a great spot for people to come and enjoy.”

The Friends of Rocky Fork State Park were on hand to support the volunteers.

“We have some water, bagged lunches and light snacks and we are just taking care of people’s needs,” Friends of Rocky Fork State Park member and Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice said. “We try to help out the park and the rangers anyway we can.”

According to Rocky Fork State Park Manager Jesse Germeraad, there was roughly two dozen people assisting in the cleanup.

“Counting First Lady Lee, we had between 20-25 volunteers helping in the cleanup today,” Germeraad said.

Following the day of cleanup at Rocky Fork State Park, Lee then traveled to Newport to serve at Empower Cocke County, a local nonprofit that facilitates positive life change through faith- based skill-building and workforce development training, before heading back home to Nashville.

New Wings & Strings event get approval

The Town of Erwin Board of Mayor & Aldermen gave their approval to the new Wings & Strings event planned for Nov. 1. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The third time will hopefully be the charm for the band 49 Winchester, this according to the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, which held their monthly meeting on Monday, Sept. 9.

The band has been scheduled to perform two other times in downtown Erwin and due to weather, had to cancel. They are now scheduled to perform on Friday, Nov. 1, during the First Annual Wings and Strings event on Union Street. This event became official after the BMA voted unanimously to approve the event and to approve the closure of Union Street on Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

In addition to a concert by 49 Winchester, there will be a chicken wing competition.

“There is going to be a wing sauce competition. NOLI owner Jason Howze will be preparing the wings, and we will have several participants making a gallon of wing sauce and those buying tickets will be able to taste and vote,” Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice said.

During an Erwin Beer Board meeting that followed Monday’s BMA, it was decided that Union Street Taproom owner Tara Baker, the wife of Alderman Michael Baker, would be allowed to have a beer tent on Nov. 1 for the Wings and Strings event from 5-10 p.m. on Union Street.

“I am requesting permission to serve beer in a designated area on Union Street during the Wings and Strings event.. We can provide wristbands if needed,” Baker said.

Town of Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson acknowledged that although the wristbands would help, they are not required.

“This group has held events like this in the past and it has not been a problem. They control the area very well,” Tilson said.

The board voted unanimously to allow the sale of beer by Union Street Taproom in a designated area on Union Street on Nov. 1, between the hours of 5-10 p.m. Baker abstained from voting.

• • •

In other business, the BMA voted unanimously to approve the rezoning of land located at 310 Eighth St. in Erwin. The rezoning was originally approved during the Aug. 28, Town of Erwin Planning Commission meeting.

The request was made by the landowner to change the zoning from a R1, which is a low density residential to R1-A which is for single-family residences. According to Erwin Building Inspector Brian Tapp at the Aug. 28 meeting, the move would allow the landowner to build three new single-family homes.

“That is a very large corner lot, so I think that would be beneficial to have up to three new houses available,” Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said during the BMA meeting on Sept 9. This was the first reading of the rezoning. There will be a public hearing on the matter followed by a second and final reading of the request on Sept. 23, at 5:30 p.m.

Residents urged to complete 2020 census

Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley is encouraging all county residents to complete the 2020 census next year. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

With just a few months remaining before the calendar turns to 2020, Town of Erwin officials are preparing for the upcoming census.

The United States census count happens every 10 years and in the spring of 2020, the next installment of the census count will begin.

Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley recently sat down with The Erwin Record to discuss the importance of the U.S. census and what it means for the area municipalities.

“The importance of the census is for redistricting and to get an account of everyone in the county and that means money,” Hensley said. “That’s where we get our sales tax and our tax rate. For every person that is missed and not counted, the county loses about $1,900 a year. The census is where we get our population numbers for grants, federal and state money and it helps us set our tax rate so we can prepare to keep the tax rate down.”

According to Hensley, the census also helps distribute more than $675 billion in annual federal funds back to state, tribal and local governments. Hensley acknowledged that the census is a key factor in forecasting future transportation needs for segments of the population and determining areas that are eligible for housing assistance and rehabilitation loans. According to Hensley, the census is crucial in assisting the planning for emergency response and for designing facilities for people with disabilities, the elderly and children.

During the 2010 census, Unicoi County missed out on more than half of the funding they would have received.

“In 2010, we think we only got 46 percent of Unicoi County counted,” Hensley said. “This year we are aiming for 100 percent.”

The 2020 census will feature a new mapping app called the Response Outreach Area Mapper (ROAM.)

“ROAM is a tracking system, kind of like GPS, that records each tract of land in the county, and records if there is a house on the tract or not,” Hensley said. “ROAM will produce a list of residences that have not filled out census data yet and will aide census workers in covering the county.”

According to Hensley, the goal for the county is to get as many census forms completed at the front end of the collection process as possible.

“We hope to get everything up front,” Hensley said. “The 2020 census should start in late spring, and citizens can respond online, by phone or by mail.”

Hensley acknowledged that if there are residents who are having difficulty filling out the census, there is help available.

“If someone is having a problem filling the form out, they can bring them by City Hall, Erwin Utilities or the library for assistance,” Hensley said. “There is one question on the form about immigration status, but no one will look at what is on the form; they are sealed for 72 years, and these forms are solely to count the number of residents in each county,” Hensley said.

Along with an accurate account of population and all the money that the census brings into Unicoi County, the census is also creating numerous temporary jobs.

“The census bureau needs 150 workers to work inside of Unicoi County,” Hensley said. “As of right now there are only 39 census workers signed up. This is a six week job that employees will be able to work at their own schedule and pay is $15.30 an hour plus mileage.”

For more information about the 2020 census, please visit census.gov. If you are interested in employment for the 2020 census, please visit census.gov/jobs.

Erwin BMA passes 40-cent property tax increase

Erwin resident Lois Yelton speaks out in opposition of the 40-cent tax hike passed by the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, Aug. 26. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Town of Erwin residents can officially expect a 40-cent property tax increase following a unanimous vote on Monday, Aug. 26, by the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen to approve the 2019-20 budget.

The tax increase brings the Town of Erwin’s property tax rate up to $1.862 per every $100 of assessed property value. The current rate is $1.462. The new tax rate takes effect Oct. 1.

Citizens were given the opportunity to discuss the budget and tax increase prior to Monday’s vote during a public hearing.

“I wonder where you have gotten all of the money. You keep talking about grants for the trail, that’s still our tax money,” Erwin resident Lois Yelton said. “I’m a 90-year-old woman on a fixed income and everything is going up, but my income is not.”

According to Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, the Linear Trail has been beneficial to the town.

“The trail has helped tremendously with the health of the community, and has brought in sales tax,” Hensley said. “We have people come from as far as Asheville to walk the trail; it’s something I’m very proud of.”

Erwin Resident Larry White was the next resident to address the BMA on Monday.

“I don’t understand why each officer takes their vehicles home,” White said. “It’s not right for the officers to have personal police cruisers.”

Hensley responded, saying that by taking their cruisers home, officers are more prepared to react to an emergency.

“They are not personal cruisers. Our officers are needed to be ready to serve at a moment’s notice, and they are all five minutes from Erwin,” Hensley said.

More comments flooded from the community.

“It’s the property tax and it’s the property owners that are shouldering the irresponsibility of your budget,” representative for Erwin residents Mer Otis said. “I think this is a sin tax on property owners.”

Hensley objected.

“This is the Town of Erwin and we all shoulder the cost,” Hensley said. “We are replacing vehicles that we have had for eight to 12 years, are we spending our money wisely, yes we are.”

Town of Erwin Alderman Michael Baker took offense to the accusation by Otis.

“We have not run this budget into the ground. We are going to have to raise the tax money for future costs, not last year’s budget,” Baker said.

Hensley argued during the meeting that Erwin is moving in the right direction

“We are on an upward swing. You are seeing businesses and industry come back to Erwin,” Hensley said. “We are building for the future.”

Some citizens were more understanding of the tax increase.

“For me, it’s less than a dollar a day in taxes, Erwin resident Jim Long said. “I feel that if everyone understood the tax code and that the taxable amount is 25 percent of taxable land, it would ease minds.”

Hensley explained how the tax rate would affect local citizens.

“In Erwin, the average home property tax would go up $8 a month, that’s less than what garbage pick up would cost,” Hensley said.

One citizen expressed a need for more events to take place on the trail.

“I’d love to see these races that take place downtown take place on the Linear Trail,” Erwin resident Bruce Grubb said.

Hensley agreed with Grubb.

“I’d love to see that too. I hope we can have music out there and arts in the park events out on the trail,” Hensley said.

Grubb also asked how often the Erwin Police Department buys new vehicles.

“We are trying to replace the vehicles at a rate of one or two a year,” Tilson said. “They have to be maintained because of insurance. We use Fuelman for gas. We do everything we can to cut costs.”

For Erwin resident Logan Engle, the taxes are going to improvements to the town she calls home and that is OK with her.

“What this increase does is bring the tax rate back to what we had before recessions,” Engle said. “You get what you give in payments and I live in Erwin because of all you get here. I think I have a different opinion than some here, but I want to thank (the BMA) for all your hard work.”

More than two dozen concerned citizens turned out at the hearing.

During the previous BMA meeting on Monday, Aug. 12, the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously for the first reading to approve the 2019-20 budget, which includes a 40-cent property tax increase for those with property within city limits.

The second and final reading of the 2019-20 budget that includes a 40-cent tax increase passed unanimously on Monday following a motion to approve the request made by Baker and a second by Alderman Gary Chandler.

The Erwin BMA discussed the budget for a final time prior to Monday’s vote during a work session held on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

“We have agonized over this budget and we have to decide if we want to cut some services this year and have to evaluate those services down the road, or do we want to go with the budget as is,” Hensley said during the work session.

Baker expressed his support for the budget during the work session.

“I am 125 percent behind this budget as is; it is not that much in the scheme of things,” Baker said. “We could do like neighboring counties and charge roughly $20 a month for trash pick up, but it would be a bigger increase than what the taxes are going to be.”

Hensley agreed with Baker.

“I have not heard anyone in opposition of the tax increase except for the few the other night at the BMA meeting. I actually have had people come up to me and say, ‘I don’t know how you all do what you do with what you have’,” Hensley said during the work session. “We agonized over this budget and it is out there as a 40-cent increase; it has already been voted on once.”

Unicoi County Vice Mayor Mark Lafever acknowledged that he sees both sides.

“I have heard praises and complaints about the budget,” Lafever said. “All I ask is that we take a second look at it, and we have done that now, so I’m good.”

The BMA decided on Aug. 20 to move forward with the budget as is for the second and final reading of the budget at the BMA meeting on Aug. 26.

• • •

In other business on Monday, the BMA voted unanimously to approve documentation that lays out policies and procedures for the Town of Erwin Home program. By approving this documentation, the Town of Erwin can continue to qualify for THDA funding to rehab low-income housing in need of repair.

The Town of Erwin has just recently completed the rehabilitation for five homes in Erwin with the funds received from the 2016 HOME program, according to Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff.

In a final order of business, the BMA voted unanimously to allow the abandonment of alleyways on Erwin Utilities Authority property on South Elm Avenue, Catawba Street, Vinton Avenue and Iona Street.

• • •

During the work session on Aug. 20, Erwin officials announced that a meeting with Barge to discuss plans for Fishery Park has been scheduled.

“Barge is wanting to meet to discuss the plans at Fishery Park,” City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said. “We can meet with them on Sept. 3 at 4 p.m.”

Another project that has been in the works for some time is nearing completion.

“We are also looking at the Morgan Insulation site to be pad ready by the end of the month,” Rosenoff said. “I can update everybody when that project is ready.”

Unicoi County Commission balances budget without tax increase

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Commission has avoided a tax increase for the 2019-20 budget year.

After a lively discussion and an initial 5-4 failed vote to leave the property tax rate the same, the commission finally reached an agreement not to raise property taxes.

The first proposal for a zero-percent tax increase was supported by Unicoi County commissioners Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Todd Wilcox and Chairman Loren Thomas. Unicoi County commissioners Stephen Hendrix, Jason Harris, Marie Rice, Matthew Rice and John Mosley opposed the initial request.

The commission finally voted to set a zero-percent tax increase for the 2019-20 budget year, during the Monday, Aug. 26, Unicoi County Commission meeting after Hendrix flipped his vote from no to yes.

“For discussion purposes to get this done I will rescind my no vote, and move to reconsider,” Hendrix said.

During the discussion, Marie Rice pointed out that the step raise plan that is included in the budget calls for a pay raise of more than $3,000 for a few employees. Hendrix agreed, but stated that the amount is $3,000 because the employees are that far behind in pay.

“It’s that amount because they are that far behind. We have people that have worked here 21 years, still making the same as someone who just starts out,” Hendrix said. “Are you suggesting they make less, where is the premise in that?”

Following the exchange Hendrix changed his vote.

During their final vote on the tax rate, the commissioners voted to keep the current rate of $2.6838 per $100 of property value, following a motion by Jamie Harris and a second by White. The final vote was 6-3 to avoid a tax increase. Jamie Harris, White, Hendrix, Matthew Rice, Wilcox and Thomas voted to approve the zero-percent tax increase. Marie Rice, Jason Harris and Mosley opposed.

The commission chose to pay for the full $337,133 shortfall out of the $1.1 million fund balance. This brings the county’s general fund down to $762,867 and allowed the commission to avoid a tax hike.

“We are taking all of this out of the fund balance with all of this debt being a recurring event,” Marie Rice said.

White countered by acknowledging that there is nothing concrete in the budget.

“It is all based on projections,” White said. “I support taking the shortfall out of the fund balance and keeping the tax rate the same”

The commission also voted on Monday 6-3 to approve the budget of $7.7 million for the 2019-20 budget year. A motion was made to vote the budget in as is by Mosley and was seconded by Matthew Rice. Joining Mosley and Matthew Rice in approving the budget were Jamie Harris, White, Hendrix and Thomas. Wilcox, Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed the budget. This was the second and final reading of the 2029-20 budget.

During a special called meeting of the Unicoi County Commission on Aug. 6, the first reading of the 2019-20 Unicoi County budget passed by a vote of 6-3. During that meeting, Mosley, Jamie Harris, White, Matthew Rice, Hendrix and Thomas voted to pass the $7.7 million budget. Marie Rice, Jason Harris and Wilcox opposed the passing of the first reading of the 2019-20 budget.

• • •

In other business, the commission voted unanimously to sign a sublease with Christian Care Center of Unicoi County to rent two suites and a three-bay garage at the back of the center’s Erwin location.

“Hopefully we will sign the contract in the morning and Washington County/Johnson City EMS can begin moving in later in the evening,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said. The sublease is a $1 per month lease with $912 monthly for expenses and upkeep. The contract is month to month.

During the Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 21, the committee agreed to recommend to the full commission that the county enter into a six-month lease with a monthly option to renew with a set rate.

Washington County/Johnson City EMS has been stationed at Erwin Town Hall, sharing space with Erwin Police Department, due to a bed bug infestation at its previous location on North Main Avenue.

Christian Care Center, the Unicoi County Commission and Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Health Inc. Board began talks during a Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee held on July 19. During that meeting, the committee voted unanimously to seek out terms for a possible sublease with Christian Care Center of Erwin for two suites and a three-bay garage.

Following last week’s committee meeting County Attorney Doug Shults negotiated the deal with Christian Care Center.

• • •

In a final order of business, the commission agreed to enter a memorandum of understanding with the Unicoi County Board of Education for capital outlay note of $5.1 million for capital projects.

“I’m proud of this commission and I’m glad that we were able to make the following improvements this past year, all without a tax increase,” Thomas said. “We’ve been able to secure $5.1 million for Unicoi County Schools for several large scale renovations, we’ve purchased six new police vehicles, locked up a contract for ambulance service, cleaned up the solid waste sites, among many other projects on the horizon.”

Locals win first place at fiddlers’ convention

The band Jakes From State Farm won first place at the 84th Galax Fiddlers Convention. Pictured, from left, Jordan Roberson, Aaron Foster, Adam Larkey, Josh Meade, Michael Perkins and Troy Boone.(Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

A group of Unicoi County natives recently brought another bluegrass award home.

Troy Boone and Adam Larkey, along with Aaron “Frosty” Foster, Jordan Roberson, Josh Meade and Michael Perkins, who make up the bluegrass group, “Jakes From State Farm,” took first place over more than 127 other bluegrass artists at the 84th Annual Galax Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention held Aug. 4-11.

According to Boone, winning at the Virginia competition was memorable.

“Winning Galax was very special,” Boone said. “We have placed in various configurations in years prior, but never expected to win first place. It was a very surreal moment.”

Jakes From State Farm almost missed the opportunity to claim first place, as the group decided to sign up for the competition last minute. “We decided to enter in order to get our camping money back and to have a good time,” Boone said. “If you compete in any competition you are refunded your camping fee for the week, so we really just had planned on having fun and then ending the week with some campsite jamming.”

Meade, who plays the banjo for the group, was the band member that pushed the band to compete.

“It was very ironic, because about 10 minutes before we decided to get in line to compete, we almost decided to just stay at the campsite and hang out, but Josh forced us to the line because he wanted to at least get his money back,” Boone said. “We are glad he did.”

Although the band members have other projects, they share a unique bond that has strengthened over time.

“I met Josh Meade and Aaron Foster in my early days at East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country music program, and I started picking with Adam Larkey when I was probably 11 years old and had the pleasure of playing with The Larkey’s several times over the years,” Boone said. “I came to know Jordan Roberson (resophonic guitar) and Michael Perkins (upright bass) through Josh at the fiddlers’ convention.”

According to Boone, the group was able to pick up where they left off whenever they get together.

“I was welcomed to their camp in 2014 and have been camping with them ever since. Every year we get together throughout the year, but usually don’t play music until Galax fiddlers’ convention rolls around,” Boone said.

As for the band name, Boone explains that the band formed during the same time the popular commercial was in rotation on television.

“The band name was created three years ago when we needed a band name,” Boone said. “Josh was apparently watching TV and saw an infamous commercial, the rest was history.”

Although the band has a humorous name, they are serious about their craft and the artists that shaped them.

“At our roots, our influence started with first-generation bluegrass artists such as Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, Flatt and Scruggs, and The Stanley Brothers,” Boone said. “We all listen to other genres of music and I think that brings some unique sound to our configuration.” According to Boone, there are many artists who inspire the band. “Primary influences include The Bluegrass Album Band, J.D. Crowe and The New South, Alison Krauss and Union Station and several others,” Boone said.

The band would like to say thanks to everyone who has supported them throughout the years.

“We all have a wall of wonderful family support and a great network of friends,” Boone said. “Special thanks to Bluechip Picks, Peterson Tuners, D’Addario Strings, Wal-Mart, Duke’s Mayonnaise and Oscar Mayer Bologna.”

For more information on the band and for future dates, please follow Jakes From State Farm on Facebook and other social media outlets.

Elephant statues stolen from downtown Erwin, other vandalism occurs

This elephant statue is one of two that were recently stolen from downtown Erwin. In addition to the thefts, Town of Erwin officials have also reported vandalism at other locations. (File photo)

By Richard Rourk

A recent string of vandalism has caught the attention of Town of Erwin officials.

According to Erwin Chief of Police Regan Tilson, two areas that are being hit the hardest are the Erwin Linear Trail and The Gathering Place park on Main Avenue.

“It’s been small instances throughout the summer,” Tilson said. “We have made some charges, but it seems to be ongoing through the summertime. We had some people who have been going up on the roofs of businesses downtown – not only is that illegal, it is extremely dangerous.”

Town of Erwin Communications Director Jamie Rice acknowledged that the vandalism is dangerous and costly to downtown businesses.

“Many downtown business owners have even complained that teenagers have been riding bicycles and skateboards on their roofs,” Rice said. “This is damaging shingles, and ultimately causing leaks and even more water damage.”

The vandalism extends to the newly remodeled Gathering Place.

“In the Gathering Place alone, we have had at least six white chairs broken and the large jenga blocks have been thrown up against Keesecker’s walls, making huge holes in the plaster,” Rice said. “People have also tried to set the wooden jenga blocks on fire.”

Due to the abuse to the jenga set, town officials had to remove the game.

“We ultimately felt this children’s game had too much potential to damage other things, and we removed them entirely from the area,” Rice said. “We apologize to the children and families that have enjoyed the game, but unfortunately we had to remove them.”

The destruction extends to the fire pit at the Gathering Place as well.

“The fire pit has been engraved with someone’s initials,” Rice said. “Kids have been seen climbing the poles and hanging off the shade sails.”

Rice also reported that two of the popular elephant statues have been stolen from downtown. Rice said these thefts “hurt” because the elephants were painted by community volunteers who dedicated hours of their time working on the pieces to be enjoyed by the community as a whole.

According to Rice, all of this destruction is costing the taxpayers and the families of Erwin.

“The Gathering Place improvement was funded through a grant through the Department of Tourism, which ultimately is taxpayer money,” Rice said. “This renovation took over two years to complete, from design to finding the funding to execution.”

It took less than three months since the Gathering Place reopened to be vandalized.

“For it to be defaced after only three months of use is incredibly disheartening,” Rice said.

According to Rice, the Linear Trail is a constant source of trouble for Erwin’s Parks and Rec department.

“Every single weekend something has been damaged or defaced,” Rice said. “Light poles, trash cans, and benches are all frequent sources of vandalism.”

On the trail litter cannot be kept under control.

“All this vandalism is a huge expense for our town and business owners and ultimately hurts everyone because we have to cut costs somewhere to pay for this damage,” Rice said. “We all suffer.”

Tilson and the Erwin Police Department have already begun to combat the vandalism and theft.

“The town put a lot of money into these areas for all citizens to enjoy; it’s a shame we have people that want to damage that,” Tilson said. “We have begun to patrol the areas more, and we will have mobile cameras up to catch these vandals.”

Citizens are asked to notify the Erwin Police Department if they see anyone vandalizing property.

“If you see something call 911,” Tilson said.

Erwin BMA approves budget on first reading with 40-cent tax increase

The Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved the first reading of the 2019-20 budget during a meeting on Aug. 12.

By Richard Rourk

Erwin’s 2019-20 budget of $7.4 million passed the first hurdle to being finalized.

During a meeting held at Erwin Town Hall on Monday, Aug. 12, the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to approve the 2019-20 budget, which includes a 40-cent property tax increase for those with property within city limits.

If approved on second reading, the budget’s tax increase would bring the Town of Erwin’s tax rate up to $1.862 per every $100 of assessed property value. The current rate is $1.462.

Prior to the vote on Monday, citizens addressed the board. Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said she welcomed the citizens’ input.

“It’s always good to see citizens come out and see what is going on in their town,” Hensley said.

Erwin citizen JD Shook was first to address the board.

“This is not right,” Shook said. “Most of us are on fixed incomes; this isn’t right. You need to take some of the burden off of the taxpayers.”

Former Unicoi County Commissioner and Erwin citizen Dr. James “Mickey” Hatcher also addressed the board.

“I’m here to object the 40-cent tax rate increase,” Hatcher said. “I don’t see how the citizens can stand this. Please go back and balance the budget.”

According to Hatcher, the Town of Erwin should have replaced vehicles and equipment a long time ago and prepared the citizens with a slight increase of taxes over time. Shook agreed that the equipment should not have been replaced all at once.

Hensley addressed the citizens’ concerns head on.

“I do appreciate the comments and Mr. Shook you are right, we should have taken better care of maintenance on our vehicles,” Hensley said. “Unfortunately, we maintained them for as long as we could, and we have come to a point where we have to cut services or get new equipment. We are trying to protect the citizens as best as we can.”

According to Hensley, the decision to raise taxes wasn’t an easy one for the board members. “We agonized over this for months,” Hensley said. “We went home and lost sleep over this. We take our job very seriously. We came up with the best budget we could.”

Vice Mayor Mark Lafever agreed with Hensley.

“We are trying to make Erwin a better place to live,” Lafever said. “We have taken (the former Morgan Insulation property) and are trying to bring industry back to Erwin.”

According to Hensley, the site should be pad ready by the end of next month.

Lafever also pointed out all the services that he and the citizens of Erwin receive from taxes.

“As a resident of Erwin I get brush pickup, trash pick up, lighting and snow removal services,” Lafever said. “These items cost money.”

Alderwoman Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz pointed out that Erwin is at the same tax rate they were more than 20 years ago.

“Right now, we are working on a tax rate that is equivalent to 1991-93,” Hyder-Shurtz said. According to Hyder Shurtz, it was time for a tax increase to keep up with rising costs.

“We can’t continually work on a tax rate that is close to twenty years old,” Hyder-Shurtz said.

Prior to the vote, Hensley had one final message for the citizens in attendance.

“We want to make this a place where our kids will stay or if they have left, they can come back to,” Hensley said. “This is the town we are trying to build for our future.”

A motion to pass the first reading of the 2019-20 budget and 40 cent property tax increase was made by Lafever and seconded by Alderman Gary Chandler. The board voted unanimously to pass the first reading.

The BMA is scheduled to meet again on Monday, Aug. 26, for the second and final reading of the 2019-20 budget. The meeting time is 5:30 p.m.

Following Monday’s BMA meeting, Hensley spoke to The Erwin Record about the direction of Erwin.

“We are trying to prepare our town for growth in a way that we are not going to leave the debt to our children and grandchildren,” Hensley said. “We want our children to have a place to stay and work, with good paying jobs when they leave school.”

As far as the budget and tax raise goes, Hensley stressed that it was a difficult decision.

“Again it was very agonizing, but coming short of cutting services, we had to raise taxes,” Hensley said. “You can’t do a job if you don’t have the people and equipment to do it with.”

• • •

Also during the meeting, the BMA voted unanimously to allow Relay For Life of Unicoi County to hang a banner on Love Street from Aug. 23-29. The motion to approve the request was made by Hyder-Shurtz and seconded by Alderman Michael Baker.

In a final order of business, the BMA voted unanimously to close the section between Main and Nolichucky avenues along Union Street for a Relay For Life of Unicoi County fundraiser on Aug. 26, from 4-9 p.m. The motion to approve the closure came from Lafever and was seconded by Hyder-Shurtz.

County Commission passes first reading of budget with $337K shortfall

Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice resigned as the chair of the Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The first reading of the 2019-20 Unicoi County budget passed by a vote of 6-3. The budget, which stands at $7.7 million, includes a $337,133 shortfall and a fund balance of $1.1 million.

During a special called meeting of the Unicoi County Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 6, Commissioner Marie Rice questioned how the county would pay for the $337,133 shortfall.

“How are we going to fund this?” Rice asked. “We need to decide.”

Commission Chairman Loren Thomas then said that this meeting was only to set the budget.

“We are just voting on the budget tonight,” Thomas said. “At the next commission meeting, we will vote to set the tax rate.”

If the committee refuses to take any funds from the fund balance during the Aug. 26 meeting to cover the $337,133 shortfall, Unicoi County property taxes could increase by 11 cents.

According to Thomas, the commission can choose to take funds from the fund balance and alleviate some of the burden from the shortfall. Thomas acknowledged that pending the commission’s decision at the Aug. 26, meeting, the county could be facing no tax increase at best or an 11 cent tax increase at worst.

Unicoi County commissioners John Mosley, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Matthew Rice, Stephen Hendrix and Thomas voted to pass the $7.7 million budget, while commissioners Marie Rice, Jason Harris and Todd Wilcox opposed the passing of the first reading of the 2019-20 budget.

Following the Aug. 6 meeting, Marie Rice resigned as Unicoi County Budget Committee Chairwoman.

“Mr. Chairman, I’d like to hand in my letter of resignation as budget committee chair,” Rice said as she handed Thomas an envelope and exited the Unicoi County Courthouse.

Hendrix was named as Marie Rice’s successor as the new Unicoi County Budget Committee chairman.

“Since I have been on the County Commission we have had a balanced budget,” Marie Rice told The Erwin Record. “By the time we had our first reading we had most of the details worked out and knew how we were going to fund the budget in order to balance it. We had a complete balanced budget by the final reading and it was ready to go to the state comptroller’s office.

“This year we do not know how the increased recurring expenditures are going to be funded and I made several requests for a decision on how it was going to be funded. Each time I asked the commission how we were going to pay for the recurring expenses, we were denied an opportunity to make that decision.

“The budget contains approx. $80,000 in a ‘new’ step raise plan with some employees raises being over $3,000-4,000. The commission also added new corrections officers and a nurse which amounts to an additional $80,000 (approximately) in recurrent expenditures. With the officials’ raises being over $20,000, plus other miscellaneous increases that put the recurrent expenditures at over $180,000 which still hasn’t been funded. We will be forced to make that decision on Aug. 26 with only four days for the mayor’s office and the finance department to submit the budget to the state. In the past, we have made the decision on funding weeks before the state’s deadline for our budget.”

The Unicoi County Commission is scheduled to meet on Monday, Aug. 26, to vote on the second and final reading of the 2019-20 budget. The property tax rate will be set at that time.

• • •

Prior to the voting of the budget during the Aug. 6 meeting, Wilcox made a motion to remove $84,626 from the budget. The $84,626 is designated for step raises for the county employees and sheriff’s department employees. The step raise plan, which would establish a base salary increase along with a $50 longevity bonus for Unicoi County employees with a cap of $300, was originally presented at the June 6 Unicoi County Policies, Procedures, Salary, Benefits and Communications Committee meeting.

The plan calls for $20,969 to be spent the first year to cover base salaries with the Unicoi County courthouse employees and $63,657 for the first year for the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s my hope that we can revisit these raises when we start receiving internet sales tax,” Wilcox said.

According to Wilcox, the county should start seeing revenue from sales tax on items purchased online by citizens of Unicoi County later this year.

Hendrix disagreed with putting the raises off for another year.

“It’s frustrating that our employees could possibly not get anything in raises,” Hendrix said. “I understand being fiscally responsible with every dollar that comes in, I just don’t understand how we can go year after year and not take care of our greatest asset in this county, our employees.”

Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Administrative Chief Craig Masters addressed the commission on Aug. 6.

“If we don’t take care of these officers they will leave,” Masters said. “It will cost us more to replace employees and train new employees, than it will be to give them a raise.”

Wilcox’s motion failed following a 5-4 vote. Wilcox, White, Marie Rice and Jason Harris voted to remove the step raises, while Hendrix, Thomas, Mosley, Jamie Harris and Matthew Rice voted to keep the step raise in the budget.

• • •

In other business, the board tabled a vote to sign a contract with the current property owner that houses Washington County/Johnson City EMS in Erwin. Washington County/Johnson City EMS is currently sharing a space at the Erwin Police Department at Erwin Town Hall due to a bed bug infestation.

According to Washington County/Johnson City EMS Director Lt. Adam Copas, exterminators are treating the house at 1501 North Main Avenue and the staff must remain out of the house at least 10 days.

“We inherited a bug infestation at our current location,” Copas said.

Thomas acknowledged that the board will need to weigh all options before voting on the month-to-month option with the new housing contract at 1501 North Main Ave. location. Thomas also asked Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely if he could expedite a meeting with the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Health Inc. Board.

During a meeting of the Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee on July 19, the committee unanimously voted to schedule a meeting with the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Health Inc. Board in order to discuss leasing two suites and the stand-alone garage located at the back of Unicoi County Christian Care Center to house the ambulance service.

Town of Unicoi seeks police officer for new department

A recently purchased police cruiser sits near Unicoi Town Hall. According to Mayor Johnny Lynch, the cruiser is ready for duty when the town hires a police chief. The only changes that need to be made are new decals. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Town of Unicoi officials are moving forward with their plan to establish a police force.

According to Mayor Johnny Lynch, the town is in the process of interviewing potential candidates for police chief at an annual salary of $40,000. The deadline to apply was July 31.

“We hope to make a decision by the middle of August,” Lynch said. “Rex Barton with (the Municipal Technical Advisory Service) will guide us through the process.”

Lynch also reported that the police cruiser has been purchased and is equipped.

“Of course we need a new paint job or decals with the Town of Unicoi on it,” Lynch said.

The Town of Unicoi voted 4-1 during its July 15 BMA meeting to approve a resolution to create the police department. Lynch, Vice Mayor Doug Hopson, Alderwoman Wanda Radford and Alderman Jeff Linville voted to approve the resolution following a motion from Linville and a second by Hopson. Alderwoman Kathy Bullen was the sole vote against the resolution.

The Town of Unicoi budgeted $101,928 to fund the full-time police officer, a cruiser and equipment for the town in the proposed 2019-20 budget.

According to Bullen, the money spent on hiring one officer, could have gone to supporting the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.

“I believe the money the town is investing into a one-man police force would be better spent supporting our sheriff’s department,” Bullen said. “If our town had been able to build meaningful relationships with other agencies in the county, the whole police department idea would most likely never had been considered.”

Lynch disagreed with Bullen.

“We have discussed this with MTAS for the last three or four years; it has been on our long-range plans for several years now,” Lynch said.

According to Lynch, the officer will be working as a code enforcer as well as a regular patrolman.

“We need an officer to work as a code enforcer, and our officer will be working closely with the sheriff’s department, but will also be enforcing code violations and that is important to the town,” Lynch said. “This officer will be a law enforcement officer, just like the Town of Erwin’s police department and the sheriff’s deputies, not just a code violation officer.”

Bullen argues that the $101,928 price tag to enforce codes is steep.

“It’s a mighty price to pay for someone to go around telling the citizens of the Town of Unicoi that they need to clean their properties up and then issuing a fine if they refuse,” Bullen said.

According to Lynch, the Town of Unicoi could have their police chief patrolling before the end of the year.

New Food City store officially opens

Representatives from Food City join Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, Erwin Food City Store Manager Jacob Ratliff, Miss Food City Megan Grace Stanley, and Food City CEO and President Steve Smith in cutting the ribbon at the new Food City at 110 N. Industrial Drive, Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

Katie Bowser purchases groceries during the grand opening of Food City in Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

In less than a year since a groundbreaking ceremony took place, Food City’s Erwin store officially opened to shoppers on Wednesday, July 31.

Convenient, great and wonderful were some of the words that customers used to describe the new 44,000 square foot supermarket.

“It was a convenient and great experience,” shopper Katie Bowser said. “I will definitely shop here again.”

Shopper April Marotta agreed with Bowser.

“This is a wonderful store,” she said. “My son (Ian Marotta) is excited about the hot bar and the fresh pizza.”

The Food City store is located on property that once housed the Hoover Ball Bearing plant until 2007 and for former Erwin resident Jerry Huskins the store represents how far Erwin has come.

“I never thought I would see the day Erwin had a Food City; it’s unreal, it’s great,” Huskins said. “I remember when this was Hoover Ball.”

Food City representative Jesse Duncan said the new store will be an asset to the community.

“I grew up in Erwin and I’ve seen a lot of failed needs in Erwin that Food City will be able to meet,” Duncan said. “From our hot bar, meat cutters and to our GoCart Service, these are going to be great services to our customers.”

GoCart Service allows customers to shop online and drive to the store and have the GoCart personal shopper deliver the items to their vehicle, saving time and a trip from going inside the store to shop. To order the GoCart Service go to Foodcity.com.

Food City’s Director of Front-End Operations and E-Commerce Hannah Smith is pleased with the response by shoppers at the Erwin Food CIty.

“Everyone has been so nice, and we had two people use the GoCart Service on day one, which is unusual but great,” Smith said. “I recommend using the service because it allows you to stay on budget, and the online service allows you to save your lists, search recipes and add ingredients to your order.”

• • •

A ribbon cutting ceremony for the new store was held on Tuesday, July 30.

“This is something that the community has looked forward to for many years,” Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said. “I think it’s a good fit for Erwin and Unicoi County.”

According to Hensley, the Town of Erwin should see an increase in sales tax revenue moving forward from the addition of Food City.

Hensley joined Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely in welcoming Food City CEO and President Steve Smith to Unicoi County during the ribbon cutting.

“It’s an honor to welcome you and to make you a part of our community,” Hensley said to Smith. Evely echoed Hensley’s remarks.

“We are certainly proud to have Food City here; it will bring jobs to our community and we appreciate that so much,” Evely said. “It also gives customers a chance to spend their money here in Unicoi County.”

According to Smith, Food City currently employs 125 associates.

“It is a real honor and privilege to see this many people come out to the opening of our store,” Smith said during the ribbon cutting. “This is the 132nd Food City store. My family started with one Piggly Wiggly store, and here we are.”

Unicoi County Director of Schools John English sees the store as an excellent place for students to work.

“This is a great opportunity for those students that currently have jobs here, and it is a great place to have a career,” English said. “It’s exciting.”

Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Executive Director Tyler Engle, who both Smith and Hensley acknowledged as being an integral part in bringing Food City to Erwin, was happy to see the store open.

“We are very excited and very pleased to see how this project has turned out and the community is excited,” Engle said. “We look forward to moving forward in partnership with Food City.”

During the ribbon cutting ceremony, the crowd was treated to a flag raising in a collaboration between the Unicoi County High School ROTC and the VFW Post 6975 with music provided by the UCHS marching band.

Following the flag raising, the community was welcomed into the store to shop and to taste many of the samples of food that Food City offers.

“I am so proud to be a part of Erwin, to work with the county and town to make this happen, and to be able to serve the public is great,” Smith said. “There are a lot of positive things going on here in Erwin and Unicoi County.”

The Erwin Food City includes an in-store bakery/deli, complete with a hot food bar and café seating area. Full-service meat and seafood departments will offer pre-marinated and seasoned oven ready products, plus a complete selection of top-quality meats that are all-natural with no solutions added, including Certified Angus Beef. In-house meat cutters will hand-cut steaks and fresh meat to order.

Expanded grocery, frozen food and produce departments will offer a complete selection of gourmet, international and specialty items. Rapid checkout service will be provided by six traditional check-out lanes, one express lane and four self-check-outs.

For added convenience, the store will include a Food City pharmacy, equipped with a drive-thru for greater ease in prescription services, a Food City Gas n’ Go and GoCart curbside pick-up, which allows customers to shop online at foodcity.com and pick-up their order when they arrive at the store.

Food City is located at 110 N. Industrial Drive and is open Monday through Sunday, from 6 a.m. to midnight. The pharmacy at Food City is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

Kessler chosen as new city recorder for Town of Unicoi

Debbie B. Kessler was chosen by the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen as the town’s new city recorder. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Unicoi officially has a new city recorder.

During a special called meeting on Monday, Aug. 5, the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously voted to hire Debbie B. Kessler as its new city recorder and treasurer.

The motion was made to approve hiring Kessler by Alderwoman Wanda Radford and seconded by Alderwoman Kathy Bullen. Mayor Johnny Lynch, Vice Mayor Doug Hopson and Alderman Jeff Linville then joined Radford and Bullen to hire Kessler.

Kessler, whose first day on the job was Tuesday, Aug. 6, comes to the Town of Unicoi by way of Elizabethton.

“I’m the former finance director at the Elizabethton Clerk’s office,” Kessler said. “I was there about 13-and-a-half years,” Kessler told The Erwin Record. “I’m a graduate of ETSU and I majored in accounting.”

According to Kessler, the opportunity with the Town of Unicoi was too good to pass up.

“I’m excited to join the staff here and I really appreciate Mayor Lynch and board for considering me,” Kessler said. “For a small town, I feel that Unicoi really does well.”

Lynch acknowledged that the BMA had received numerous applicants but Kessler stuck out. “We’ve been through two different interview sessions and we narrowed it down to three finalists, and Debbie came out on top,” Lynch said. “The cream always rises to the top.”

Kessler replaces former city recorder Michael Borders who left the town in April to take the position of city administrator at Pittman Center, Tennessee. Former Town of Unicoi City Recorder Larry Rea has filled in on an interim basis since Borders left and will stay until the transition is complete.

• • •

Following the special called BMA meeting, the BMA held a private executive session to discuss undisclosed issues with the Town of Unicoi Attorney Lois Shults-Davis. When asked about what the BMA will be discussing during the Executive Session, Shults-Davis replied: “We are not at liberty to discuss litigation.”

The next BMA meeting will be held at the Town of Unicoi Town Hall and is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 19, at 5:30 p.m.

Unicoi County Commission passes budget on first reading with $330K-plus shortfall

The Unicoi County Commission met for a special called meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The first reading of the 2019-20 Unicoi County budget passed by a vote of 6-3. The budget, which stands at $7.7 million, includes a $337,133 shortfall and a fund balance of $1.1 million.

During a special called meeting of the Unicoi County Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 6, Commissioner Marie Rice questioned how the county would pay for the $337,133 shortfall. 

“How are we going to fund this?” Rice asked. “We need to decide.”

Commission Chairman Loren Thomas then said that this meeting was only to set the budget.

“We are just voting on the budget tonight,” Thomas said. “At the next commission meeting, we will vote to set the tax rate.”

If the committee refuses to take any funds from the fund balance during the Aug. 26, meeting to cover the $337,133 shortfall, Unicoi County property taxes could increase by 11 cents.

According to Thomas, the commission can choose to take funds from the fund balance and alleviate some of the burden from the shortfall. Thomas acknowledged that pending the commission’s decision at the Aug. 26, meeting, the county could be facing no tax increase at best or an 11 cent tax increase at worst. 

Unicoi County commissioners John Mosley, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Matthew Rice, Stephen Hendrix and Thomas voted to pass the $7.7 million budget, while commissioners Marie Rice, Jason Harris and Todd Wilcox opposed the passing of the first reading of the 2019-20 budget on Tuesday.

Following the Aug. 6 meeting, Marie Rice resigned as Unicoi County Budget Committee Chairwoman. 

“Mr. Chairman, I’d like to hand in my letter of resignation as budget committee chair,” Rice said as she handed Thomas an envelope and exited the Unicoi County Courthouse.

Hendrix was named as Marie Rice’s successor as the new Unicoi County Budget Committee chairman.

The Unicoi County Commission is scheduled to meet on Monday, Aug. 26, to vote on the second and final reading of the 2019-20 budget. The property tax rate will be set at that time. 

For the full story on the Aug. 6 meeting, pick up a copy of the Aug. 13 issue of The Erwin Record.

County moves forward at $314K shortfall

Sheriff Mike Hensley makes a case for additional officers to the Unicoi County Budget Committee. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Budget Committee moved one step closer to finalizing the 2019-20 budget on Monday, July 29. The move comes as the county is running out of time to submit the 2019-20 budget to the state. According to Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, the county’s  deadline for submitting the budget is Aug. 31.

The committee ended Monday’s meeting with a $314,932 shortfall that could cause a 10.1 cent property tax hike.

According to Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, the total revenues for the proposed 2019-20 budget are roughly $7.3 million and the total expenditures were roughly $7.6 million.

On Monday, the committee voted 6-2 to present the 2019-20 budget as is, with a $314,932 shortfall to the full commission during a special called meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6. Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White made a motion to send the 2019-20 budget to the full commission and Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley seconded the motion. During roll call, Thomas, White, and Mosley were joined by Unicoi County commissioners Jamie Harris, Matthew Rice, and Stephen Hendrix in approving the motion. Unicoi County Commissioners Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed the move. Unicoi County Commissioner Todd Wilcox was absent from the meeting.

Marie Rice immediately inquired into how the commission would pay for the $314,932 shortfall. “We need to figure out how we will pay for this before the Aug. 6 meeting,” Marie Rice said.

Thomas argued that the commission will have to vote to approve the budget through the first reading and then the commission will vote on how to pay for the shortfall at the second reading. “We vote tonight to send the proposed 2019-20 budget before the full commission, and if the budget passes on the first reading, the commission will decide on setting the tax rate during the second reading,” Thomas said.

Also on Monday, the committee voted 7-1 to cancel all future budget meetings except for one on Monday, Aug. 5, at 11 a.m. The motion to cancel the future meetings was made by Mosley and White seconded the motion. Thomas, Mosley, White, Jamie Harris, Matthew Rice, Hendrix and Marie Rice voted to cancel the future meetings while Jason Harris voted to keep the meetings.

“I feel we still have a lot to iron out,” Jason Harris said.

• • •

Early in Monday’s meeting, Hendrix made a motion to approve a proposed three year step raise that would cost the commission $84,626 for the first year. Jamie Harris seconded the motion. This plan, which would establish a base salary increase along with a $50 longevity bonus for Unicoi County employees with a cap of $300, was originally presented at the June 6 Unicoi County Policies, Procedures, Salary, Benefits and Communications Committee meeting.

The plan calls for $20,969 to be spent the first year to cover base salaries with the Unicoi County courthouse employees and $63,657 for the first year for the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.

The committee voted 6-2 to approve the request to add the $84,626 to the budget and start a step raise scale for county employees. Thomas, Mosley, White, Jamie Harris, Matthew Rice and Hendrix voted to approve the step raise while Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed.  “My concern is that we are locking into a series of raises for the next three years,” Marie Rice said.

Jamie Harris had a different vision for what the step raise would provide.

“I hope we are locking in loyal employees,” Jamie Harris said.

Hendrix agreed with Jamie Harris.

“We are really taking care of the employees that serve this county, and that is very important,” Hendrix said.

Following the step raise approval, the committee voted 6-2 to give the penny on the tax rate back to the Unicoi County Highway Department. The penny on the tax rate comes out to $198,279, and that is the amount promised to the highway department budget from the Unicoi County tax base. Unicoi County Highway Department Superintendent Terry Haynes was on hand to address the committee.

“I’m only asking to get that one penny back that was promised, and I will return it,” Haynes said. “I want you to stand by what you promise. I don’t want our citizens’ taxes to be raised on our account.”

Mosley made the motion to return the penny to Haynes without requiring him to return it.

“We need to give him what we promised him,” Mosley said.

According to Mosley, the commission promised to give the highway department the penny during last year’s budget. Jamie Harris seconded Mosley’s motion to return the penny to the highway department. Mosley and Jamie Harris were joined by Thomas, White, Matthew Rice and Hendrix in voting to approve the return of the penny to the highway department. Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed.

• • •

The committee heard a request on Monday from Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley. Hensley previously mentioned during the July 24 budget committee meeting that the UCSD would need to bring three part-time officers up to full time, and hire three new part-time officers at each jail facility to become compliant by TCI standards.

During the July 24 meeting, Hensley agreed to the hiring of three part-time officers as long as the commission would bring any part-time officers that have been with UCSD for a year or more up to full time in the future. Hensley also stated during the July 24 meeting that the sheriff’s department needed to move the part-time nurses at the jails to full time.

During the July 29 meeting, Hensley explained that he is concerned about the taxpayers.

“I am very conservative, but I have to do what the law says,” Hensley said.

Thomas proposed moving $83,000 from the sheriff’s gas line to the UCSD employee salary line and Hensley could sell surplus equipment to replace the $83,000. According to Thomas, by moving the funds the sheriff would be able to move two nurses from part time to full time and would add three part-time corrections officers at no cost to the county this budget year.

Thomas made a motion to move the $83,000 from the sheriff’s gas line and allow the sheriff to sell surplus equipment to make up the $83,000 in the gas line over the budget year. White seconded the motion. The motion passed by a 6-2 vote. Thomas, Mosley, White, Jamie Harris, Jason Harris, and Hendrix voted to approve the motion while Matthew Rice and Marie Rice opposed.

The full commission is scheduled to vote on the first reading for the proposed 2019-20 budget during a special called meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m. at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

Dick Franklin, last of Erwin Nine, passes away

Dick Franklin, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war as a member of the famed “Erwin Nine,” passed away on July 25. Above, Franklin points to a plaque at Centenary United Methodist Church that recognizes veterans from the congregation during a service held in November 2009. (Erwin Record File Photo)

From Staff Reports

Dick Franklin, the last surviving member of the famous Erwin Nine, passed away on Thursday, July 25. He was 94 years old.

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of my friend, Dick Franklin,” Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley told The Erwin Record. “As one of the Erwin Nine, Dick will always be remembered as a hero. I will also remember him as a soft-spoken, southern gentleman.”

Born in Erwin, he was the son of Harry Franklin and Annie Beth Franklin. He attended Unicoi County High School and joined the U.S. Army in September 1941 during World War II. It was while on a mission a few years later that Franklin would find himself reunited with other soldiers from his hometown.

According to his obituary, Franklin flew 14 combat missions over Europe as a tail gunner on a B-17 before being shot down over Munich in 1944. He was captured and held prisoner in Stalag Luft IV, one of more than 50 prison camps in Germany during the war, with eight other soldiers from Erwin. They survived the Black March during the final months of the war before they were liberated.

The men making up the Erwin Nine are George Hatcher, Dick Franklin, Richard Edwards, Allen Alford, Clyde Tinker, Fred Miller, Stan Norris, Jim Hensley and George Swingle. Each joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Each man was assigned to a different plane and all were shot down at different times. Yet, all nine airmen from this small mountain community ended up as prisoners of war in Stalag Luft IV. Each one the nine men returned home following his liberation. Their story is documented in Hilda Padgett’s book, “The Erwin Nine.”

Back in Unicoi County, Franklin briefly worked for the Clinchfield Railroad. He went on to East Tennessee University and earned a degree in 1951. According to his obituary, he was an instructor at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia during the mid-1950s. He was a personnel manager at Morrill Electric’s Rocky Fork plant during the 1960s. Franklin then worked for the federal government at FHA and HUD in Knoxville before he retired in 1985 and moved back to Erwin. During retirement, Franklin enjoyed fishing and hunting and was a holder of a key to the gate at Rocky Fork. He also attended Centenary United Methodist Church

“My husband loved military history. When we moved here we heard a lot about the Erwin Nine and Bill got a copy of the book that was written about them,” said Rev. Kim Isley, pastor at Centenary United Methodist Church. “I visited Dick over the years; he wasn’t one to brag, but one time when I served communion in their home, he shared some about his experiences. He jumped out of a burning plane at 19 and became a POW. His later career was just as distinguished and he was a devoted family man.”

Franklin is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Franklin, a daughter, Rebecca Franklin and husband Wallace Ashe Jr., and a son, Wade Franklin.

According to Isley, a graveside service for Franklin will be held on Monday, Aug. 5, beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the Mountain Home National Cemetery. The family will receive friends and there will be a reception at Centenary United Methodist Church immediately following the service.

Erwin BMA passes vacant building ordinance for downtown

The Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the second and final reading of an ordinance that will require vacant building owners in the downtown area to meet certain guidelines or face a fine. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Monday, July 22, the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that would allow the Town of Erwin to force landlords to bring buildings in downtown Erwin up to code or face a penalty.

The BMA gave the public time to speak out in opposition or approval of the ordinance prior to the vote, but no one spoke. Monday’s vote was on the second and final reading of the ordinance.

According to Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, Town of Erwin Building Inspector Brian Tapp would work closely with Rosenoff to provide notice to any violators of the city code. Violations would include any buildings that are not being kept up to code within the downtown district.

According to Rosenoff, anything from boarded up windows and doors, broken windows, dilapidated buildings and buildings that are vacant will be addressed. No sign of the building actively being marketed to potential renters or purchasers of the building would also be considered a code violation.

Once an owner receives a notice, they would have up to six months to rectify the violation. If the owner does not bring the building up to code, there will be a financial penalty.

“For the first year, the fine is $800,” Rosenoff said. “Each year after the initial fine will double until it reaches a cap of $6,400.”

According to Rosenoff, the intent of the ordinance is to enhance the current businesses downtown and to attract new businesses to the area.

Mayor Doris Hensley added that there are several grants available that could help those seeking to fix their buildings.

“There is no excuse when we have these grants available,” Hensley said.

• • •

The BMA also voted unanimously to approve the closure of an alleyway located between 107 and 111 North Willow Ave. Alderman Michael Baker abstained from voting as he is a co-owner of the property.

“This makes sense – the alleyways on either side of the property are already closed,” Rosenoff said.

In a final order of business on Monday, Rosenoff said that the stop light located on Jonesborough Road will go live on Wednesday, July 24.

According to Rosenoff, there is currently no timeline for the installation of the mast arm and permanent stop light.

Rosenoff also reported that the property at the former Morgan Insulation on Jonesborough Road is scheduled to be pad ready in the next 30-45 days.

Erwin Record wins TPA awards

From Staff Reports

The Erwin Record won four awards at this year’s Tennessee Press Association State Contest. The winners were announced on July 18 during the 2019 TPA Convention in Chattanooga.

The Erwin weekly earned recognition in the categories of Breaking News (second place), Sports Coverage (third place), Local Features (fourth place) and Make-Up and Appearance (fifth place).

“I am very proud of our paper and its staff,” said Publisher Lisa Whaley. “They have shown once again that they are committed to capturing the news of Unicoi County with skill and determination.”

Co-sponsored since 1940 with the University of Tennessee, the TPA contest divides the competition into five separate categories according to circulation. The Erwin Record falls into Group I, newspapers with a circulation of 5,000 or less.

Judging is done by another state’s association. This year, the Texas Press Association judged the 1,406 entries submitted by 72 of the Tennessee Press Association’s 129 member newspapers.

Former staff reporter Kendal Groner, who still occasionally freelances for The Erwin Record, earned the paper a second-place win in Breaking News for her article titled “Bullen raises questions about open records policy.” This February 21, 2018, piece detailed Town of Unicoi Alderwoman Kathy Bullen’s criticism of the town’s open records policy at that time.

The paper also secured a third-place finish for Best Sports Coverage. Judges said in their comments: “Impressive total package – art, writing, coverage, and layout.” In Local Features, The Erwin Record came in fourth in the Group I newspaper group.

Finally, in Make Up and Appearance, the Erwin Record brought in a fifth-place finish and strong praise from the judges.

“The Erwin Record’s colorful layout featuring beautiful photos and well-managed typography deserves more recognition than a fifth-place finish, but ended up competing against a field of other well-compositioned papers,” the judges wrote.

Whaley had special praise for The Erwin Record’s managing editor, Keeli Parkey.

“The Erwin Record’s easy design, attention to detail and its ability to find so many ‘slice of life’ photographs to capture the region are all thanks to Keeli’s journalistic expertise,” Whaley said. “We are lucky to have her, as well as each and every other employee dedicated to bringing Unicoi County the best newspaper coverage to be found.”

Washington County/Johnson City EMS begins providing ambulance service to county

Washington County/Johnson City EMS officially moved into the ambulance service property at the intersection of Harris Hollow Road and North Main Avenue. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Washington County/Johnson City EMS officially took over Unicoi County’s ambulance service on Monday, July 15.

According to Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman and Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley, Washington County/Johnson City EMS took over the ambulance service at 7 a.m. that day.

“They have two advanced life support (ALS) ambulances ready 24 hours a day and one basic life support (BLS) ambulance that will be used for transport,” Mosley told The Erwin Record.

Unicoi County signed a one-year interlocal agreement with Washington County/Johnson City EMS following a unanimous vote by the Unicoi County Commission during a special called meeting that took place on June 14. The contract between the entities calls for Washington County/Johnson City EMS to provide two ALS paramedic ambulance units 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. In addition, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide one staffed basic life support BLS ambulance for 10 hours a day, five days a week. This BLS ambulance will run Monday through Friday.

Unicoi County will pay a subsidy of $218,677, under the interlocal agreement that was signed following the June 14 commission meeting.

According to Mosley, there are currently eight full-time paramedics working in Unicoi County for Washington County/Johnson City EMS.

“They hired three full-time employees since last week bringing their total number of full-time employees up to eight,” Mosley said. “They (Washington County/Johnson City EMS) are working hard to get fully staffed, which would be 14 full-time employees total.”

It was announced on July 3 that Washington County/Johnson City EMS Lieutenant and Training Coordinator Adam Copas will serve as director of operations for Washington County/Johnson City EMS in Unicoi County.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said having a new ambulance service provider has solved a major issue for the county.

“I’ve lost a lot of sleep worrying about the county not having ambulance service,” Evely said. “We can breathe easier and move forward.”

Mosley agreed with Evely.

“I think the county will be in better shape in regards to the ambulance service,” Mosley said. “We (the Unicoi County Commission) would like to thank Jim Reeves (CEO of MedicOne) for sticking with us until Washington County took over.”

Copas and Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley could not be reached for comment prior to The Erwin Record’s press deadline.

Independence Day celebrations draw crowds

Tom Reeves, left, and T.R. Parker wave to the crowds during the Town of Erwin’s Welcome Home Veterans Parade. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County celebrated Independence Day with a bang.

The Town of Erwin kicked off its festivities early on Thursday, July 4, with a Biscuits for the Brave event at 9:30 a.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room. Mary Patton DAR hosted the event and provided coffee and biscuits from the Hardee’s on North Main Avenue, in Erwin. The Welcome Home Veterans Parade started at 10:30 a.m., and traveled from the corner of Second Street and Main Avenue and concluded at Unicoi County Veterans’ Memorial Park, located at 309 Academy St., in Erwin.

The parade featured three patriotic themed floats full of veterans. Patriotic music filled Main Avenue as the floats passed by the thousands of spectators that braved the heat to come support the region’s heroes. According to Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice the parade saw record crowds.

“There was probably over a thousand people on the streets waving flags,” Rice said. “The Town of Erwin gave out more than 500 flags.”

Following the veterans in the parade, was the Grand Marshall, local resident and World War II Navy Veteran, Mrs. Hazel McInturff Berry. Berry, who was preceded by local children carrying a banner of Berry, was riding in a convertible Ford Mustang and waving an American Flag.

Berry was followed by several unique vehicles including various Jeeps, ATVs and motorcycles. Reverend Craig Shelton from Sweetwater Church of God even brought out his Monster Bus that had made an appearance previously at Flag Pond’s Fourth of July Celebration that took place on June 29. Several bicycles and walkers followed the motorized vehicles and everyone met up at Unicoi County Veterans’ Memorial Park.

The community met with the veterans at Unicoi County Veteran’s Memorial Park from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and enjoyed hot dogs and inflatables provided by North Ridge Community Church.

“This hometown event just keeps getting better because multiple community partners have gotten involved,” Rice said. “Our local Hardee’s donated biscuits to our veteran breakfast that morning. A special thanks to the Mary Patton Chapter of the DAR for decorating and hosting the lovely event at Town Hall.”

According to Rice, the ladies of Farm Bureau, and Ruth and Bill Gaines helped serve another 350 hotdogs at the Veterans Park and North Ridge Community Church hosted a parade afterparty with two huge water inflatable slides, water balloons and more hotdogs.

“A special thanks to Neighborhood Ford for providing a convertible for our WWII veteran Hazel Berry, Jim Buchanan, Maria True, Rachelle Shurtz and Karen Dunlap,” Rice said. “It takes a small army to pull off an event of this size and we are so thankful to those who gave their time to give our veterans a wonderful parade.”

According to Rice, downtown Erwin will feature several more summer events, including the Farmers Market that takes place every Tuesday night from 5-8 p.m. Starting on Friday, July 12, The Nolichucky Opry will start in the Gathering Place. During the Nolichucky Opry, free live music, sponsored by the Erwin Kiwanis Club begins at 7 p.m.

• • •

The Town of Unicoi followed the Town of Erwin’s celebration with its 17th Annual Freedom Fest at Unicoi Elementary. Freedom Fest kicked off at 5 p.m. Downtown Country took the Jones & Church Farms Main Stage to start the festivities with their brand of country music at 5:15 p.m. The music continued as Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires took the stage around 6:45 p.m., and brought their mix of rockabilly, country and gospel music to those in attendance. The headlining act of the night was Daisi Rain and they played their brand of country pop from their upcoming first album release.

Around 8:30 p.m., the Town of Unicoi officials handed out glow necklaces to children and the fireworks show began after dark. Food vendors for the event included Unicoi County Ruritan and the Unicoi History Group. According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton, the turnout was tremendous.

“We are estimating between 3,000-4,000 people were in attendance,” Shelton said.

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch acknowledged that the crowd is a record for Freedom Fest.

“It was bigger and better than ever before,” Lynch said.

According to Shelton, the town wishes to thank the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department and Unaka Search and Rescue for keeping the event safe; the Unicoi County Board of Education for use of the grounds; Tony Street, Dannie Coffie and Mark Ramsey for creating an incredible fireworks display; and to the alderman and volunteers that helped make the event a success.

The Town of Unicoi will host a Community Yard Sale at the Town of Unicoi Tourist Info Center on July 12 from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. On Tuesday, July 16, the Town of Unicoi will host its weekly Farmer’s Market. According to Shelton, Daytime TriCities will be airing live from the Farmers Market and Tourist Information Center and everyone is encouraged to attend.

Movies in the Park returns on Friday, July 19, at Bogart-Bowman Cabin. The movie will begin at dark and concessions will be available by Unicoi County Walmart Team to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.

On Saturday, July 20, the Unicoi Historical Group will hold an Ice Cream Social at Bogart Bowman Cabin from 2-4 p.m. A Business Alliance Kick-Off Meeting will be held on Monday, July 22, and is open to all Unicoi businesses interested in creating a positive business environment in the Town of Unicoi.

To keep up with upcoming events, please follow Town of Unicoi on Facebook.

• • •

The Fourth of July festivities concluded at USA Raft, located at 2 Jones Branch Road, in Erwin. More than 250 people celebrated Independence Day at USA Raft with more than 85 people spending the night. The gates opened at 5 p.m. and the band of the night, Doctor Ocular took the stage at 7:30 p.m.

The crowd, which included adults, children and even several dogs, danced to Doctor Ocular’s signature jam rock sound until dark. Once the sun went down, the joint fireworks show took place. USA Raft partnered with Nolichucky Gorge Campground.

“The event went off without a hitch and we collaborated with our neighbors at Nolichucky Gorge Campground to benefit their guests and ours,” USA Raft CEO and President Matt Moses said. “Doctor Ocular put on a really fun show and the lights on stage were world class.”

According to Moses, this will be an annual event going forward.

“This was our first time doing this – band and fireworks for a small fee – and we will be offering it every year for sure,” Moses said.

Moses and company already have the next large event planned for the summer at USA Raft.

“Our next big event is our favorite, Sol Slam Mountain Jam,” Moses said. “It is a very family-friendly long weekend – Labor Day – of music and fun outdoors. …

“This is our second year of doing this, and we will sell weekend, day and night passes so that everyone’s schedule is accommodated to see the bands they want. On Sunday we will have a kids’ floating parade for all that want to join; we parade in costumes upstream and all float back down in tubes or whatever you bring.”

Moses said that the event is family-friendly.

“This is so much fun and attracts families from all over the country, and we have added some big name acts for this year,” Moses said. “Danger Muffin is one the new bands joining us and we are really excited about that.”

Sol Slam Mountain Jam will take place Aug. 30-Sept. 1. As always USA Raft offers camping, lodging, rafting, tubing, kayaking and SUP. For more information or to schedule lodging, a rafting trip, SUP and One Wheel lessons, please follow USA Raft on Facebook, or call 800-872-7238.

For more photos from the events, click here.

Ambulance service transfer expected by July 15

By Richard Rourk

There will be a changing of the guard for Unicoi County’s ambulance service, and that change can happen any day now.

Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman and Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley recently spoke to The Erwin Record about Washington County/Johnson City EMS taking over the ambulance service from MedicOne.

“Right now I am hearing that Washington County will be taking over on July 15,” Mosley said. “This is the date that I’m hearing.”

The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, July 3, at 1 p.m. to discuss bridging the gap in pay for former MedicOne employees that will be serving Unicoi County with Washington County/Johnson City EMS.

“We are looking at seeing what we need to do to take care of these employees,” Mosley said. Mosley acknowledged that roughly 6-7 employees will transfer over to Washington County/Johnson City EMS when the agency begins serving Unicoi County.

According to Mosley, there would not be an increase to the $218,000 subsidy that Unicoi County will pay Washington County/Johnson City EMS for their services under the current interlocal agreement. The subsidy of $218,000 is the cost that Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley has projected the county would spend annually if Unicoi County were to start its own service following the expiration of the interlocal agreement.

Mosley confirmed that Unicoi County is still looking to finance its own ambulances in the near future.

“We are still looking at utilizing the grant money,” Mosley said.

It was reported during the April 9 Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting that there could be funding to purchase the necessary vehicles. During that meeting, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley addressed the committee to discuss the Town of Erwin purchasing ambulances with $500,000 state grant funds.

“The grant could purchase two new ambulances and a possible third ambulance for transport,” Hensley said during the April 9 meeting.

Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice, at the April 9 meeting, acknowledged that Unicoi County still has $440,000 left over from the payment that Unicoi County received when Unicoi County Hospital was sold to Mountain States Health Alliance, which is now Ballad Health.

According to Hensley during the April 9 meeting, there could also be up to $150,000 that can be used from the Hospital Foundation Funds to start an ambulance service. According to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, the county is currently looking over all options.

Under the new interlocal agreement, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide and maintain adequate and sufficiently trained staff that possess all required licenses and certifications. Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide two advanced life-support paramedic ambulance units 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

In addition, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide one staffed basic life support ambulance for 10 hours a day, five days a week. This basic life support ambulance will run Monday through Friday.