Record seeks contributions from readers

By Keeli Parkey

The Erwin Record is now accepting entries for our annual “Images of Unicoi County Calendar.”

“I am pleased to announce that we are going to publish the calendar again this year. It is so nice to see local residents and businesses enjoying this publication throughout the year,” Publisher Lisa Whaley said. “I encourage everyone to submit entries for the calendar. We would love to feature your photos of life in the Valley Beautiful.”

All photos must have been in Unicoi County. Entries should be emailed to [email protected] with a brief description of the photo, as well as the name of the photographer. Photos can also be dropped off at The Erwin Record office at 218 Gay St. in downtown Erwin.

The deadline for photo entries is 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6. For more information, call the newspaper at 743-4112.

HOLIDAY CONTRIBUTIONS SOUGHT

The Erwin Record is also seeking contributions from readers for our upcoming holiday issues.

“We are preparing our annual holiday supplement and our Christmas issue,” Publisher Lisa Whaley said. “We want our readers to be a part of our holiday plans.”

There are three opportunities for readers to contribute.

“We are taking contributions in several areas,” Whaley said. “We want to publish a schedule of upcoming events, readers’ holiday memories and Letters to Santa from the children in our community.”

With the holidays quickly approaching, so are the deadlines to contribute.

“We are looking forward to receiving your contributions,” Whaley said. “Please share them with us as soon as possible.”

UPCOMING HOLIDAY EVENTS

Is your church, club or organization planning a Christmas cantata, party or other event? If so, The Erwin Record wants to publish it in our upcoming holiday supplement!

To have your event appear for free, email details – date, time, location, etc. – to [email protected] by Friday, Nov. 22. Submissions may also be dropped off at our office in downtown Erwin.

HOLIDAY MEMORIES

The newspaper would also like to hear about your favorite holiday memory. In less than 500 words, describe that memory – it could be a favorite family event, gift, religious service, etc. Tell us what happened and why it was special to you. If you have a photo, please share that with us, too!

Submissions, including photos, must be emailed to [email protected] by Friday, Nov. 22, to be considered for publication in the holiday supplement.

LETTERS TO SANTA

The Erwin Record also wants to publish Letters to Santa from our younger readers.

Children are invited to submit the letters by Dec. 13.

Letters should be in the child’s handwriting and on a single sheet of paper. They should be brought to The Erwin Record office in downtown Erwin and include the child’s name and contact information of an adult parent or guardian.

The letters can also be mailed to 218 Gay St., Erwin.

The newspaper will publish all the letters we can fit from local children in a December issue.

Letters are subject to The Erwin Record’s consideration with regard to space and appropriateness. All letters will become the property of the newspaper and cannot be returned.

For more information, call 743-4112.

Unicoi County officials making plans for 2020

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas discusses issues facing the county in the coming year. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County officials took time on Thursday, Nov. 7, to reflect on the accomplishments of 2019 and begin planning for 2020.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas called the 2020 Vision Work Session for Unicoi County to start addressing items that the commission would like to accomplish for the upcoming year.

The first item that the county discussed last week was the declining numbers in the school system.

“There is declining enrollment in Unicoi County Schools,” said Thomas, whose wife, Cathy Thomas, serves on the Unicoi County Board of Education. “The school system is trying to make up for this by not replacing teachers as they retire. There is going to come a point that they are going to need additional funding.”

According to Thomas, students attending homeschool and population decline are serious threats to the area school systems. Thomas acknowledged that this is an issue that the commission must begin to look at.

According to Unicoi County Commissioner Matthew Rice, the county needs to attract more people, especially younger people.

“It’s the millennial generation that are child-rearing age, and right now our demographic of millennials is pretty low compared to the rest of the state. So our number of children is going to be low compared to other areas,” Rice said.

The next item that the commission is preparing to address in 2020 is finding a way to assist the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department in providing competitive wages for his employees. According to Thomas, the UCSD has been losing officers to neighboring police forces due to wages and benefits.

Thomas acknowledged that one way the county could start generating more funds is by housing more state inmates. According to discussion during a February meeting of the Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee meeting, the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) pays Unicoi County $39 daily per state inmate that the county houses.

According to Thomas, the county is looking at expanding more beds at the jail annex that currently houses records for the county.

“I think the records will be moved out pretty soon. I know that they are looking at a couple of temporary buildings. We then have to decide what to do with that space,” Thomas said. “We could spend money and renovate it and place 20 more inmates in that space. That is something that we need to decide in the near future.”

•••

Thomas also commended the panel for a job well done in 2019.

“This is the seventh straight year we were able to accomplish our goals without raising taxes, which is phenomenal,” Thomas said. “We were able to accomplish so much last year including securing $5.1 million for the school system that will go towards renovations. We were able to partner with Washington County/Johnson City EMS for ambulance service and we can now potentially be on the path to starting our own ambulance service.

“We were able to relocate the ambulance service to a really nice facility thanks to Christian Care Center of Unicoi County,” Thomas continued. “Solid waste sites are the cleanest they have ever been and are compliant with state regulations. We were able to get a pay scale for our county employees. We’ve been working on getting better communication for our public safety, which is a huge benefit for our citizens. We will have SROs in each school going forward We purchased six new patrol cars for UCSD. We were able to address the years-old fencing issue at the jail annex, upgraded uniforms, bullet proof vests, and security cameras at the jail. I am very proud of our accomplishments.”

The Unicoi County Commission is scheduled to meet for its November session at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 25, at 6 p.m.

Latest elephant statue auction raises $4K for charity

This elephant statue was one of the 17 auctioned off by the Town of Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Another elephant herd has left the Town of Erwin.

The silent auction for the 17 elephant statues that have decorated downtown Erwin since the spring officially concluded on Nov. 1 and, according to Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice, the auction was a success.

“We raised $4,145 and our cost for the herd was $1,200 dollars,” Rice said. “This means that $2,945 will go to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.”

According to Rice, this year’s herd was different than the herds that have been auctioned off in the past. These elephants were smaller in size and drew a smaller opening bid than the past. This year’s bidding started at $150 versus the $1,500 for past herds.

“The silent auction at Town Hall was a huge success and most elephants had four and five bids each and we had call-in bidders right up until the 4 p.m. cutoff,” Rice said. “There was a handful of people hanging out in Town Hall at the end of the auction to make sure that they got the elephant they wanted.”

Each of the 17 available statues was different.

“The fireman, butterfly, and the large American flag were very popular designs,” Rice said. “The highest bids were for the orange and white polka dot, and black with glittery sunflower design –  they both went for $400 each.”

For those who may be missing this year’s herd, Rice promises that the new herd is already here and will be on display in the spring.

“The new herd has already arrived in Erwin and most statues have already been distributed to the artists and they will have all winter to work on them. They will be out on display on May 2,  for the Great Outdoors Festival,” Rice said. “We have eight fiberglass elephants that are almost 60 inches tall –  the size of a real baby elephant. Our first two herds were only 30 inches, and this year was the smallest at about 24 inches.”

For those wanting to catch an early glimpse of the new herd, there will be preview pictures posted on social media.

“Our artists will be posting progress pictures on our Facebook page, RISE Erwin, throughout the winter,” Rice said.

According to Rice, there are still two of the elephants that need sponsorship.

“Sponsorship costs $1,500 and is tax-deductible,” Rice said. “Elephants will be auctioned in October of 2020 and the sponsor gets to choose the beneficiary of 75 percent of the proceeds. The remaining 25 percent helps cover the costs of the project and goes to the Elephant Sanctuary.”

If you are interested in sponsoring an elephant, please contact Rice at 743-6231.

United Way campaign continues through Dec. 4

The 2020 United Way of Unicoi County campaign has reached 20 percent of its goal. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

United Way of Unicoi County has hit the ground running in this year’s campaign.

According to United Way of Unicoi County spokesperson Lynnsey Seagroves, the early numbers are a good start to the campaign that kicked off on Sept. 24 and will conclude on Dec. 4. Twenty percent of the $120,000 goal has already been raised.

“We are encouraged by the start of our campaign and feel confident that our community will rally together to help us reach our 2020 campaign goal of $120,000,” Seagroves said.

Seagroves acknowledged that numbers are still coming in for the first month of the campaign. “United Way fundraising drives are still underway at some of our local businesses and industries so we don’t have concrete numbers to share just yet,” Seagroves said. “We currently have donation boxes at the following locations: Steel Rails, Chips Thrift Store, Reflections Health Spa, Union Street Taproom, Erwin Outdoor Supply, Crystal Generation, Roller Pharmacy, Liberty Hardware, and Clinchfield Senior Adult Center. Donation boxes will be available at these locations through Nov. 25.”

According to Seagroves, every donation will help more than 20 local organizations

“We would like to remind our community members that a donation of any size can make an impact in our community,” Seagroves said. “For example, we were able to collect $248 in donations during the two-week collection drive at our Erwin Pal’s location.”

Seagroves would like to remind donors how important the donations are for the community.

“Unicoi County United Way campaign contributions support 22 local agencies that impact citizens of virtually every age in our community, for instance, the Unicoi County United Way supports Second Harvest Foodbank of Northeast Tennessee which provides food to students, families, and elderly members of our community,” Seagroves said. “Some of the other local agencies that our United Way donations support include the Unicoi County Public Library, Habitat for Humanity, Unicoi County YMCA, Unicoi County 4-H, Court Appointed Special Advocacy for children and Unicoi County Student Backpack Program.”

To keep track of the progress of this year’s campaign, there are signs throughout the county that shows the progress of the community.

“We have a total of four campaign thermometers – at the entrance to the Erwin Industrial Park, in Erwin across from Clarence’s, at the entrance of the Erwin Post Office and on Unicoi Drive near the Unicoi Mountain Commerce Bank location,” Seagroves said.

According to Seagroves, the United Way is thankful for everyone’s support.

“We would like to thank our local businesses and merchants for their support in helping us collect donations, and of course any donors that give to support their community,” Seagroves said.

Seagroves acknowledged that the campaign is in full swing and there are still plenty of opportunities to donate.

“The victory luncheon is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 5, so to help us meet our campaign goal of $120,000, donations would need to be submitted by Dec. 4; however, Unicoi County United Way accepts donations year-round,” Seagroves said. “We would also like to encourage our community to support the Erwin Food City Celebrity Bagging Event on Tuesday, Nov. 26, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.; it’s a great opportunity to support the Unicoi County United Way as you grocery shop for Thanksgiving festivities.”

In addition to the collection boxes, donations can be mailed directly to the Unicoi County United Way at P.O. Box 343 in Erwin. To learn more about this year’s campaign and all of the organizations that United Way helps, follow Unicoi County United Way on Facebook.

Unicoi County school bus hit in ‘scary’ accident

By Richard Rourk

A Unicoi County School bus filled with students and teachers was struck while on a field trip in Greene County on Oct. 29.

According to the THP report, Kristen K. Bales, 39, of Greeneville, struck the 2018 Blue Bird bus with her 1998 Toyota Avalon after failing to stop for a red light on 11E in Greeneville. A second vehicle, a 2018 Ford F-150 was struck by Bales in the accident as well.

According to the THP report, the Unicoi County school bus and 2018 Ford F-150 were traveling west on Highway 107 and had begun to make a left turn at the intersection with US 11E. Bales was traveling north on US 11E and failed to stop at the intersection red light.

Bales then reportedly struck both the rear of the F150 and the corner of school bus. All vehicles came to rest in the intersection. There were 64 children traveling on the school bus and a teacher.

“The bus was carrying kindergarteners from Unicoi Elementary and they were going to Niswonger in Greeneville for a field trip,” Unicoi County Director of Schools John English told The Erwin Record.

According to English, one student and one teacher were taken to the hospital to be checked out, but fortunately they are alright.

“I spoke to the teacher on Friday, she’s still feeling the effects of whiplash,” English said on Monday, Nov. 4. “The student was shook up, so we sent him to be checked out and he was fine and is back in school doing great. It was scary for the students. They were shaken up from the accident. It is a scary call to get, but it was a relief to find out everyone was OK.”

English also reported that the bus was not driveable after the accident.

“We had to send another bus down to pick up the students,” English said. “The bus will have to be repaired before it will be back on the road.”

English also urges drivers to be on the lookout for busses.

“You can’t be careful enough. Keep a safe distance from buses,” English said. “We have to think about how many students are on a bus during any given time. There are 50-70 students on a bus at any time so we really have to be cautious.”

English claims that the bus drivers of the Unicoi County School System are some of the most cautious drivers in the country.

“I know our bus drivers are very cautious and aware of the distracted drivers out there, and we are thankful for our bus drivers,” English said. “We are very thankful that no one was seriously harmed in this accident.”

According to the THP, Bales was charged with DUI second offense, disregard for signal, child endangerment, resisting arrest and implied consent law following the incident. She was arrested and transported to the Greene County detention center.

Larry Smith launches campaign

Larry Smith is joined by his wife, Joanne, and his son, Rodgers, during an event to officially announce his candidacy. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The race for the U.S. Representative from Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District is beginning to take shape for the 2020 election.

Larry Smith, a history professor at Walter’s State and historian, has officially put his name in the running for the Democratic primary. Smith, who entered the race on Oct. 25 with an official campaign launch, will face Chris Rowe for Democratic nomination.

Smith and his campaign manager Victoria Hewlett, recently stopped by The Erwin Record to explain why Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District should consider voting for Smith.

“I got into the campaign because I wanted a progressive voice to be heard in East Tennessee,” Smith said. “I haven’t been satisfied with recent elections. I knew it was time after seeing the work that the Justice Democrats are doing.”

For Smith and Hewlett running a grassroots campaign was import and another reason that Smith is running for Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District.

“We are asking our donors for $18.81, that number represents the last time a Democrat held the 1st Congressional District seat, which was 1881,” Smith said. “I’m not running down the district, but it is towards the bottom in almost every category in regards to human welfare, so I don’t know who else you can blame if the republicans have been in charge that long, it’s certainly not the democrats.”

According to Hewlett, the $18.81 also represents a move away from big money and big business in the political landscape.

“We are grassroots organized. We are not taking money from corporate PACS. We are taking grassroots donations because we are accountable,” Hewlett said.

Smith said he is eager for Unicoi County and the rest of the 1st Congressional District of Tennessee to listen to his platform and to hear concerns of the citizens.

“We try to talk to anybody that will listen, and we are hearing from people that are dissatisfied with the way things are going, and they may not say they are looking for a democrat, but they are looking for a different vision for the future and that is what we are trying to provide,” Smith said.

“Smith is a different kind of candidate, and that is what really stands out,” Hewlett said. “He says things and fights for things that need to be fought for.”

When it comes to labels, Smith considers himself a different type of candidate.

“I stand with working people, that’s the party I answer to,” Smith said. “The ideas that I have are non-partisan – they are human ideas.”

Smith said he is in favor of universal healthcare.

“I believe that no one deserves to go without life-saving medical care because they cannot afford it,” Smith said. “Single-payer full-coverage Medicare-for-All will save lives, reduce health care costs for taxpayers and small businesses, streamline and reduce government and insurance bureaucracy, and ensure that every American can go to the doctor and get the care they need for a small co-pay.”

Smith also said he believes in the Green New Deal which, according to Smith, provides the collective framework to do this while transforming our economy towards sustainable industry.

Other issues that Smith views as important to the 1st Congressional District of Tennessee, especially in Unicoi County, are jobs and the economy.

“There is an opportunity for new jobs that would be created by A Green New Deal for this region,” Smith said. “This area, much like Carter County, would benefit from small businesses and by keeping the wealth in the community and keeping it local.”

Smith also sees an area of improvement to help eliminate the burden of taxpayers in sending drug offenders to rehab instead of jails.

“I think that we really need to look at real prison reform. By sticking drug offenders in jail, it costs the taxpayers dearly,” Smith said. “Drug addiction is a mental issue and we must end the cycle.”

On the national scale, Smith also defends Roe v. Wade.

“I feel that Roe v. Wade was a compromise then and should be seen as that today, and we should keep it,” Smith said. “It’s done a good job of doing what it was supposed to do, which is to give something to each party.”

Smith also supports the Democrats moving forward with the impeachment process of President Donald Trump if there are legitimate reasons to.

“This has been a distraction, because there are other things that we should be working on, but if there is evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors then I think they have to impeach; that’s the legal and moral thing to do,” Smith said. “I’m not privy to all of the evidence, but from the evidence I have seen, I think there is enough to question and to do the inquiries into impeachment.”

The 2020 Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District primary election is set for Aug. 6, 2020, and the 2020 Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District general election is set for Nov. 3, 2020.

For a full list of Smith’s platform or to keep up to date with rallies, follow Larry Smith for Congress on Facebook. If you are interested in volunteering or donating, visit larrysmithforcongress.com

Unicoi County Commission opposes proposed connector trail

The Unicoi County Commission met on Monday, Oct. 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. Pictured, from left, are members Todd Wilcox, Marie Rice, Jason Harris, Loren Thomas, Matthew Rice and Jamie Harris. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Commission made it clear that they would not support any proposed plans for a Biking Trail Grant that would include the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi and would include a one mile stretch of Unicoi County.

During a meeting on Monday, Oct. 28, the county’s governing body voted 7-1 to oppose any future plans for a biking trail that would include Unicoi County, following a motion to oppose made by Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley and a second from Unicoi County Commissioner Todd Wilcox.

The trail in question is the same trail that was presented to the Town of Erwin on Sept. 12, and the Town of Unicoi on Sept. 16. During the Sept. 12 meeting, CDM Smith project managers Chris Kirby and Melody Butler were on hand to present a proposed plan to build a 4.5 mile, multi-use bike and pedestrian trail that would connect Erwin’s Linear Trail to Unicoi’s Pinnacle Trail. The proposed trail would run along Highway 107 from Erwin to Unicoi.

According to Kirby, if the towns move forward with the project, then the planning stage can begin to look for grants and start talking numbers.

During the Oct. 28 Unicoi County Commission meeting, Commissioner Matthew Rice wanted to clarify that there has been no official plan made yet in regards to the trail.

“To be clear, there hasn’t been a project set for this; it’s just a study,” Matthew Rice said.

According to Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, the commission has already opposed this study once.

“The county chose not to participate when this was first brought up,” Thomas said.

Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Jamie Harris opposed the trail because of the potential long term costs.

“I’m concerned that if a trail is put in, we would be on the hook for the upkeep of that mile stretch,” Jamie Harris said.

For Mosley, the decision to make a motion to oppose the trail was an easy one.

“Nobody I’ve talked to wants this trail,” Mosley said. “If they did, I would consider it.”

Mosley, Wilcox, Thomas and Jamie Harris were joined by Unicoi County commissioners Marie Rice, Jason Harris and Stephen Hendrix in opposition of any future plans for a biking trail. Matthew Rice was the only vote against opposing any future plans. Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White was absent from the meeting.

• • •

In other business, the commission voted unanimously to approve a contract for Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley to hire a school resource officer (SRO) at Love Chapel Elementary.

It was announced in September that Unicoi County Schools had won a $35,000 grant to hire an SRO. The grant is for one year. The motion to approve came from Jamie Harris and Mosley seconded Harris’ motion.

• • •

The commission also voted unanimously on Monday to send out requests for proposals (RFP) on equipment for a communications project at Flag Pond and Martins Creek.

The Martins Creek project was originally projected to be funded from hospital funds, which is currently at $242,000, while funding for the Flag Pond project was to be determined. According to the projected estimates, each project could cost between $9,000-$11,000 and would include new repeaters being installed.

According to Wilcox, the projects will help first responders in areas where communication issues exist.

“I’m trying to do this so not only will our first responders be safe, but so will our citizens,” Wilcox said.

The commission decided Monday to hold off on any proposed payment plan for the projects until the RFP comes back. According to Wilcox, this will give the commission time to look for any grants that may be available.

Prior to the unanimous vote, Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely had a request.

“It needs to be added to the RFP that the county reserves the right to accept or reject bids,” Evely said.

While the commission was discussing communication issues in the county, Wilcox expressed concern about the lack of cell service in Limestone Cove.

“I’m still beating my head against the wall with these companies,” Wilcox said.

The commission has been working to try to get any of the national cell providers to put up a cell tower in Limestone Cove, but have not had any success.

“We will continue to try and do what we can,” Marie Rice said.

• • •

The commission agreed unanimously to appoint Thomas to the Unicoi County Records Committee and to report debt obligations for county school projects to the state, which Evely said was just part of the process in regards to the capital outlay note for upgrades to Unicoi County Schools.

The commission also voted to enter into a mutual aid agreement with Unicoi County, UCSD and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) relative to Mutual Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, and Medical Assistance at Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park (RFSP) that would allow first responders to serve citizens in need of help inside of RFSP.

The county also joined in nationwide opioid litigation by taking no action on the matter. According to Unicoi County lawyer Doug Shults, by not taking action on the matter, the county would automatically be added to the nationwide lawsuit.

“No action may be the best option,” Shults said.

For the last order of business, the commission voted on a new time for the Unicoi County Commission meetings starting in January 2020. The commission voted 7-1 to meet on the fourth Monday of each month at 5 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. Mosley made the motion to change the time and Jamie Harris seconded Mosley’s motion.

“I make a motion that we change the time to meet from 6 to 5 o’clock if the commission agrees,” Mosley said.

Joining Mosley and Jamie Harris in approving the time change were Thomas, Wilcox, Hendrix, Marie Rice, and Matthew Rice. Jason Harris was the only opposition to the time change.

“I’m concerned that people that work may not have a chance to get here,” Jason Harris said.

The Unicoi County Commission is scheduled to meet again on Monday, Nov. 25 at 6 p.m.

County officials OK completed jail annex fence project

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Unicoi County Commision Vice Chairman Jamie Harris check on the new fencing at the Unicoi County Jail Annex on Jackson Love Highway during a meeting last week. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County officials can mark another project off of their checklist.

The Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee met at the Unicoi County Jail Annex, located at 1570 Jackson Love Hwy in Erwin, on Tuesday, Oct. 15, to complete a final inspection of the fencing project at the annex.

According to Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Jamie Harris, the project was needed to fix a number of security issues at the annex.

“It had been previously said that this fence wouldn’t hold a goat, well I can tell you, this fence will hold a goat,” Harris said.

As part of the project, the fencing has been raised to 10 feet and razor wire has been added to sections to keep the public out and other parts to keep the inmates in.

“Around the rec yard you can see that the razor wire is there to keep anyone from climbing over, but the outer fencing has razor wire to keep people from trying to get in,” Harris said.

The Unicoi County Commission originally heard the request for fencing repairs at the Feb. 25 Unicoi County Commission meeting. At that time, the commission approved a capital outlay note in the amount of $200,000.

The estimated fencing costs were priced around $25,000. Also included in the capital outlay note was new equipment for the UCSD, including new vests that were estimated to cost $20,000 and new security equipment that is estimated to cost $5,000. The remaining $150,000 was for the purchase of four new vehicles for the UCSD.

During the Feb. 25 meeting, McCall was awarded the project with a bid of $22,710, which would include labor and materials to put up a 10 foot galvanized steel fence with razor ribbon.

According to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, the project came in within budget because the county was able to keep the cost lower by utilizing existing fencing and razor wire. “The invoice was exactly what was budgeted,” Evely said. “We were able to use some of the post and fencing already standing on site and we were able to use razor wire that has been stored in the sheriff’s military surplus.”

The new fencing also provides more security for the impound lot as well as for the 911 dispatchers who operate out of the building as well.

“We put new gates in, and on the back perimeter lot is all new and there is a new gate for the dispatchers,” Harris said. “It’s very secure now.”

According to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, the fence has been an issue for a while.

“We are going to have to operate two jails,” Hensley said. “We realized that we would need to secure the annex. We actually had an inmate escape before the fencing project was started.”

Hensley was appreciative of the commission and the work that was done.

“We are absolutely pleased. The fencing is up to code now,” Hensley said. “I appreciate the work the commission put into this project. I’m very glad they did this; it’s just common sense. This makes the community and the employees that work here so much safer.”

Gentry Stadium bids higher than expected

This rendering by Tony Street with BLS Thompson & Litton shows the proposed upgrades to Gentry Stadium that the Unicoi County Board of Education hopes will begin at the conclusion of the 2019 high school football season. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Board of Education moved one step closer to beginning renovations at Gentry Stadium last week.

Board members were joined by BLS Thompson and Litton Senior Project Manager Tony Street on Tuesday, Oct. 15, to discuss the bids for construction at the home of the Unicoi County High School football team. Gentry Stadium is a part of a long list of projects that require some work for the school board.

During the April 22 Unicoi County Commission meeting, the panel voted to approve a resolution for capital projects for the school system in an amount up to $5 million.

During a Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee meeting on April 10, Stephens Inc. Senior Vice President of Public Finance Ashley McAnulty laid out a number of scenarios for the capital improvements plan, which included work at Gentry Stadium and the UCHS track. According to McAnulty’s report, the county could spend roughly $5 million without a property tax increase. Repayment would be funded through sales tax and would be paid back in 20 years. Other projects that will be addressed in future phases include installing tennis courts at UCHS, an HVAC replacement and electrical and plumbing updates to Rock Creek Elementary.

According to English’s presentation to the commission on April 22, Gentry Stadium needs to have the current press box and seating demolished and rebuilt. The new stadium seating would include steps, handrails and would be handicap accessible. The stadium also needs paving and LED lighting. The proposed cost for these renovations was $2.4 million at that time.

During last week’s meeting, the board was presented with sketches of what the renovated stadium would look like. Along with the additions mentioned above, also in the plans are new irrigation for the field, upgrades to the field house, a walkway from the field house to the practice field, roughly 80-100 stadium seat back reserved seats on the 50-yard line that could be purchased by spectators on a season-by-season basis, and an upgraded fencing and parking area.

Street opened and read the three bids that were submitted to the board. Burwil Construction gave a bid of $3.4 million, J.E. Green Company gave a bid of $3.5 million and Preston Construction gave a bid of $3.3 million.

According to Unicoi County Director of Schools John English, the bids were more expensive than the board was hoping for.

“It’s a little disappointing. We are going to have to reevaluate a few things,” English said. “It was a very tight bidding process, so we know that the cost is what it is.”

English asked Street to go back and get an itemized list of projects from Preston Construction, since they were the lowest bid, and see if there is anything that could be moved to bring the price down.

According to Street, the board could look at value engineering.

“We could request a schedule of values from the lowest bidder,” Street said. “They will have a schedule of projects within the total list, with numbers for each item.”

The Unicoi County Board of Education is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, Oct. 24, at 6 p.m. at the Central Office, located at 100 Nolichucky Ave. in Erwin, to vote on the bid.

According to English, the board is still looking at getting the project started quickly after the end of the 2019 football season.

Town of Unicoi hosts 25th anniversary party

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch welcomes the crowd to the anniversary event. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

More than 200 residents came out to celebrate the Town of Unicoi’s 25th Anniversary as a town on Friday, Oct. 11.

“Guests enjoyed hotdogs, live music and games, as well as a fireworks display to conclude the event,” Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton said.

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch welcomed everyone to celebrate the milestone with the town.

“Our 25th anniversary is a big deal for us. We are one of the youngest towns in Tennessee,” Lynch said. “We are fortunate tonight, we have a good crowd, and it’s a good celebration.”

According to Lynch, the anniversary allows the citizens of Unicoi to reflect on what it means to be a member of the community.

“We are very proud of our town and all that we have accomplished,” Lynch said. “We are situated in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I’m so proud of our people and what we have accomplished.”

For Shelton, the celebration was a way for the town to express its appreciation to its citizens.

“There is something for everyone here,” Shelton said. “The Town of Unicoi has really done a lot with a little over the years and it’s time to take a moment to celebrate the progress we’ve made as a community.”

As part of Friday’s celebration, the Unicoi Ruritan served a hot dog dinner while residents enjoyed live music from the Monday Night Cabin Pickers, the Sheltons and headliner Spivey Mountain Boys. The Tanasi Art Gallery remained open inside the visitor center and the Mountain Harvest Kitchen gave tours to the community.

According to Shelton, children enjoyed playing on the free inflatable jump house and slide. Families were able to take a tour of a real fire truck, hosted by the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department. Attendees were encouraged to swing by the photo booth for a commemorative keepsake of the town’s 25th birthday.

The celebration concluded with a fireworks display that lit up the sky as the Town of Unicoi looked forward to the future. During the 25th anniversary celebration, Lynch swore-in and welcomed Andy Slagle as the first Town of Unicoi police chief.

According to Shelton, the Town of Unicoi extends special thanks to the Unicoi Ruritan, Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department, Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Forest Service, Unicoi History Group and the Unicoi Business Alliance for helping make this momentos celebration possible.

“Additional thanks to event sponsors, Food City and Food Lion, and the many volunteers that make these types of events,” Shelton said.

For more information about upcoming town events please follow the Town of Unicoi on Facebook and Youtube, contact Patricia Bennett at 735-0517 or email [email protected]

Fast Pace Urgent Care Clinic opens in Erwin

Local officials and community members joined the staff of Fast Pace Urgent Care Clinic in Erwin for a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, Oct, 11. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Fast Pace Urgent Care officially opened for business at 1112 North Main Avenue, in Erwin, on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 8 a.m.

On the previous day, the office held an open house event for the public to tour the facility from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and a ribbon cutting at noon. At the open house, Fast Pace Urgent Care Regional Marketing Coordinator Shannon Barks took The Erwin Record through a tour of the facility, which includes eight patient exam rooms, including a children’s exam room, a children’s play area, a large procedure room, a large X-ray room, a women’s exam room, a large centralized nurses’ and doctors’ station, and a specialized room for drug screens.

According to Barks, one of the key features to the whole operation is the down home feel of the lobby.

“We have photos of downtown Erwin in the lobby area to greet you as you enter,” Barks said.

Barks also said that she was thrilled about the turnout for the ribbon cutting and open house event.

“We have had a steady crowd all day,” she added. “We even had people here waiting at 10:30 a.m. just to see the new facility.”

Barks is excited that Fast Pace has come to serve Unicoi County.

“I am so happy that our 101st Fast Pace Urgent Care is here in Unicoi County,” Barks said.

According to Barks, Fast Pace Urgent Care will be able to do stitches, start an IV, or put on a soft cast in the procedure room. The facility will also be able to treat injuries, illnesses, aches, pains, rashes, burns and cuts. The facility is also capable of completing onsite lab tests and X-rays.

Barks also acknowledged that Fast Pace will be able to provide health screenings and testing, physicals, vaccines and medical weight loss.

For businesses that require a facility to occupational health items such as drug screens, health screenings and testing, physicals and worker’s compensation injuries, Fast Pace will be able to meet those needs.

According to Barks, Fast Pace Urgent Care physicians will be able to serve as a primary care physician for those that may be looking for one.

Fast Pace Urgent Care staff includes Fast Pace Urgent Care of Erwin Medical Director Paul Southall, MD; Fast Pace Urgent Care of Erwin Supervising Physician Jonathan M. Rey, MD; Katrina Holder, FNP; and Shandee Ellis, FNP.

Fast Pace Urgent Care is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sundays 1-5 p.m.

For more information, please follow Fast Pace Urgent Care Erwin on Facebook, or call 560-6010. You can also email Fast Pace Urgent Care at [email protected] or drop by during normal business hours.

Agriculture commissioner visits Jones & Church Farms

Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. met with members of the Unicoi County High School FFA during his tour of Jones & Church Farms. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. toured Jones & Church Farms of Unicoi, on Sept. 25.

“We have always had a working relationship with the commissioner and where we are one of the largest tomato producers in the state is what prompted the visit,” Jones & Church Farms CFO Renea Jones Rogers said. “Dr. Hatcher was joined by Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, and Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch had a prior engagement, but Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee Manning came in his place.”

According to Jones Rogers, Representative John Holsclaw also came and visited with Jones & Church Farms last month.

Dr. Hatcher said he was “truly impressed” by the operations at Jones & Church.

“I was truly impressed by Jones & Church Farms, which is a family operation that employs more than 200 people and has been in business since 1975. They provide top-quality, wholesome produce to customers all along the east coast,” Hatcher said. “I was able to see and learn about the steps they’ve taken to automate and mechanize sections of their line to improve operations and increase efficiency.”

According to Hatcher, Unicoi County benefits from having such a great operation in the county. “The facility is absolutely immaculate, as it’s supposed to be, but that is no small task for a company handling produce,” Hatcher said. “I enjoyed meeting with the company leaders and staff and gaining an understanding of their operations and impact. The tomato hors d’oeuvres that Renea prepared were also a delicious highlight, and a great reminder of how much flavor can come from a simple tomato.”

The tomato market, just like the rest of the agriculture industry, can fluctuate significantly.

“The longevity and success of Jones & Church is a testament to their ability to adapt to the changes,” Hatcher said. “In Tennessee, agriculture is our number one industry, and Jones & Church Farms contributes to that success, and when our local businesses thrive, the economy grows and everyone benefits.”

According to Hatcher, agriculture is important to our region, state and world.

“Every single person on this planet needs to eat and we all also need shelter, clothing, and fuel and agriculture is the foundation that fulfills every one of those needs,” Hatcher said. “Our farmers and foresters are the backbone of our nation and we, as a department, are proud to serve the men and women who dedicate their lives to agriculture in Tennessee.”

Hatcher acknowledged that seeing the youth of Unicoi County get involved in programs like FFA is a beacon of hope for the future.

“It is critical that young people have an understanding of and respect for where our food comes from and I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Unicoi High School FFA members while visiting Jones & Church,” Hatcher said. “A team of Unicoi students won the Bull Pen Ag Innovation competition last year, which is sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and it’s always a pleasure to speak with youth who are developing ideas to advance and innovate the agriculture industry. I encourage students to take the initiative to learn more about the critical role of agriculture on all of our lives.”

For Jones Rogers, having the envoy come and learn more about what Jones & Church does was exciting and appreciated.

“We were so excited to host Dr. Hatcher and all the representatives who came out to see what we do and we are so thankful for their support,” she said.

According to Hatcher, the visit was a great way to see agriculture in action in Tennessee.

“I want to thank the team at Jones & Church Farms and the Unicoi High School FFA members for taking the time to meet with me and representatives from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture,” Hatcher said. “Every day they are contributing to the advancement of agriculture in our state, our nation, and our world and we are all grateful for their work.”

United Way campaign sets $120K fundraising goal

Pictured, from left, Food City CEO Steve Smith, Erwin Food City store manager Jacob Ratliff and Unicoi County United Way Chairman Lee Brown announced that a Celebrity Bagger Fundraiser will be part of the 2019 United Way campaign. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

It’s kickoff time in Unicoi County.

Although football season is in full swing, a different kind of kickoff took place on Sept. 24 as the Unicoi County United Way officially began its 2019-20 drive at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center.

According to Unicoi County United Way spokesperson Lynnsey Seagroves, approximately 100 business leaders, students and community members attended the kickoff event at the Senior Center in Erwin.

“(Unicoi County High School) student Rachel Altemose welcomed everyone to the breakfast and UCHS student Nicholas Hensley led the Pledge of Allegiance, while UCHS student Tate Kerns led the invocation,” Seagroves said.

Unicoi County Board Chairman Lee Brown welcomed the community to the annual celebration.

“I am proud to kick off our United Way campaign for 2020 and live in a giving community that cares for their fellow man,” Brown said. “Your gift to United Way will be shared with more than 22 agencies that work to promote a safer, healthier, and more prosperous life for all ages in Unicoi County.”

Musical entertainment was provided by the UCHS bluegrass band, which featured Tate Kerns, John Hilmon, Matthew Laws and Connor Brackins.

Food City President and CEO Steve Smith was the keynote speaker and announced an addition to this year’s campaign – a Celebrity Bagging Event. The celebrity bagging fundraising event will take place at the Erwin Food City on Tuesday, Nov. 26 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Over the next couple of weeks, the United Way Board members will be calling on local celebrities to help Unicoi County United Way by volunteering to work a 1-hour shift during the event.

During the kickoff, Lee announced the 2020 campaign goal of $120,000.

“As always, we’re working to raise money for over 20 local agencies who directly impact Unicoi County citizens,” Brown said. “Our Unicoi County United Way Board is made up of volunteers; there are no paid members, and 96 cents of every dollar donated to Unicoi County United Way goes directly to an organization that supports members of our community.”

The 2019-20 Unicoi County United Way campaign will conclude with a victory luncheon in December.

“Our victory luncheon is scheduled for Dec. 5, and while donations can be made to United Way at any time throughout the year, that date will be the official conclusion of the 2020 campaign,” Seagroves said. “We hope to be able to say that we’ve met and exceeded our goal of $120,000.”

If you are interested in contributing, donations can be mailed directly to United Way at P.O. Box 343, Erwin, TN 37650. There is also a donation collection box available now at Pal’s drive-thru and will be there through Oct. 14. Additional donation boxes will be at some of Unicoi County’s downtown merchants beginning this week and will be there through Nov. 28.

Some of local industries and businesses will offer a payroll deduction for employees to make donations. Donations can also be made anytime at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, and donations will be collected during the Celebrity Bagging Event on Nov. 26.

For more information, including testimonials from more than 22 local agencies affected by the Unicoi County United Way campaign, please follow and like Unicoi United Way on Facebook.

Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies opens in October

Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies owner LuAnne Powers, center stage, jamming with friends, including Jan Winters, far right (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

A music lover’s getaway is coming to Unicoi County.

Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies, located at 3051 Unicoi Drive, Unicoi, will soon start making melodies and memories through live music.

The performance and event venue has been a labor of love for Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies owner LuAnne Powers.

“I thought this would be a great place to make music,” Powers told The Erwin Record. “I’ve made music all my life.”

According to Powers, her husband was part of the Powers Brother group and the Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies will be a tribute to the Powers Brothers.

The excitement for the family-friendly music venue is mounting.

“Everyone is just so excited and ready for good, clean fun,” Powers said. “We just had some friends come over and jam last night and everyone just had so much fun and we want to share that.”

According to Powers, it was important to provide a facility that would hold a large stage, a dance floor, a kitchen and a large green room.

“Nowhere has a dance floor anymore, and we want to take care of our guests as well as our performers, Powers said.

Powers also said that Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies would be open for rentals as well for private parties.

Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies will be open every Friday and Saturday night. Friday night will feature country, bluegrass and old-timey music.

“Friday nights are what we are calling ‘Hometown Friday Nights,’ and will feature Wayne and Jean Keplinger as well as Jan Winters to run the show,” Powers said. “They will have a house band and will play some bluegrass, country and rockabilly stuff for a couple of hours and then there will be some more groups coming in to close the night out.”

Saturday night at Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies will see a wider variety of music being played.

“Saturday nights will be our ‘Wide Open Saturday Nights,’ and it will feature everything including southern rock, modern music and dance bands,” Powers said. “We are going to have Brian Keener and Blue Steel to come in and play several shows.”

Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies will hold a special kickoff during the Apple Festival weekend. On Friday, Oct. 4, at 6 p.m. Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies will hold a soft opening and will be free to the public, so be there early.

On Saturday, Oct 5, Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies will hold an invitation-only event to honor the music and lives of the Powers Brothers.

Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies will start normal hours on Friday, Oct. 11. Normal business hours are 6-10 p.m. every Friday and Saturday night. There will be a $5 cover charge nightly.

“We want to make sure that our artists are paid for their hard work and talent, and you cannot beat the entertainment value you will get here,” Powers said.

If you are interested in performing or booking the venue for private parties, please contact LuAnne Powers at [email protected] or call 220-0610.

For more information, follow Tennessee Hills Mountain Melodies on Facebook.

Proposed plan will connect towns’ trails

Erwin officials review a map of a proposed plan that would connect the Linear Trail with Unicoi’s Pinnacle Trail. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

A proposed plan to build a multi-use trail through Unicoi County was introduced during a special called joint meeting of the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi held at Erwin Town Hall on Thursday, Sept. 12.

During the meeting, CDM Smith project managers Chris Kirby and Melody Butler were on hand to present a proposed plan to build a 4.5 mile, multi-use bike and pedestrian trail that would connect Erwin’s Linear Trail to Unicoi’s Pinnacle Trail. The proposed trail would run along Highway 107 from Erwin to Unicoi.

According to Kirby, if the towns move forward with the project, then the planning stage can begin to look for grants and start talking numbers.

“We are looking at building a case for future revenue by starting this study,” Kirby said. “It’s a really big deal that shows that two communities want to build something great and what I see is this would connect not only Erwin and Unicoi, but could lead to a connection into Johnson City.”

Kirby acknowledged that the proposed trail could be built in phases.

“You can find the funding to build the trail in phases. However the money comes in, you can work for the endgame, and that is a completed trail,” Kirby said. “We hope to find as much grant funding as we can if they agree on the project.”

According to Kirby, this was the first of many meetings planned in regards to the proposed project.

“(The Tennessee Department of Transportation) requires both towns to agree on a plan before we can go forward,” Kirby said. “This is just the start of the planning phase.”

The next step would depend on both BMAs agreeing on the initial plans.

“Both of the boards would have to be in agreement to move forward,” Kirby said. “The next step would be to look at getting grants and with both towns being unified would go a long way on that search.”

Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff acknowledged that the Town of Erwin could be voting on the proposal as soon as the October Town of Erwin BMA meeting.

Officials from the Town of Unicoi did not attend the meeting on Sept. 12. According to Town of Unicoi attorney Lois Shults-Davis, who was present last week, representatives from Unicoi needed more notice to prepare for the meeting.

“We hope to present to the Town of Unicoi soon, and we hope that both towns vote on the matter soon,” Kirby said last week. “I know Unicoi would need at least 10 days; so hopefully we can schedule something in the next 14 days.”

The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen met on Monday, Sept. 16, and heard the trail proposal from Butler and TDOT representative Ronda Sawyer at that time. For information on that meeting, see the story below.

***

Town of Unicoi BMA hears trail proposal

The Town of Unicoi joined the Town of Erwin in hearing a proposed plan for a multi-use trail along Highway 107.

During a regularly scheduled meeting of the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Alderman on Monday, Sept. 16, CDM Smith project manager Melody Butler and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) representative Ronda Sawyer presented the proposed 4.5-mile bike and pedestrian trail which, if built, would connect Unicoi’s Pinnacle Trail and Erwin’s Linear Trail.

“This is something that is already paid for,” Sawyer said of the study. “TDOT provided 90 percent of the funding and Erwin and Unicoi only had to find 10 percent for this study. Our main purpose here is for feedback.”

The grant was for $90,000 to survey the trail. The towns paid roughly $4,500 each for the survey.

“These are just conceptual plans – nothing is concrete,” Butler said. “By adopting this plan you open the door for further funding. This gives you so much more leverage for future grants by completing this adopted plan.”

According to Town of Unicoi City Recorder Debbie Kessler, there is no date set to vote on the proposed trail.

Town of Erwin officials heard about the proposed plan during a meeting on Thursday, Sept. 12. For information on that meeting, see the story above.

• • •

In other business, the board voted unanimously to approve a contract with Tysinger, Hampton and Partners to build a new bridge at R.W. Estates Drive, following a motion to approve the contract by Town of Unicoi Alderman Jeff Linville and a second by Town of Unicoi Alderwoman Wanda Radford.

During Monday’s meeting, the board listened to a request by Tysinger, Hampton and Partners’ Project Manager Gary Tysinger to build the replacement bridge at R.W. Estates Drive over Dry Creek Bridge prior to the vote.

“This would be paid for by TDOT and by building this bridge, a future road could be added,” Tysinger said. “I would recommend replacing the old bridge with the new bridge.”

In a final order of business, the BMA voted unanimously to send a letter to correct the right of way at 838 Marbleton Road, Unicoi. According to Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch, the road had been moved in the past, and the state would need a letter that the stretch of road be adopted by the Town of Unicoi as a right of way, making the town responsible for upkeep.

The motion to approve a letter be sent to the state was made by Linville and was seconded by Radford.

• • •

According to Kessler, the Town of Unicoi has received several applications for the position of Town of Unicoi police chief.

“We hope to have four interviews set up for Thursday, Sept. 19, and Friday Sept. 20,” Kessler said.

• • •

The Town of Unicoi will host the Pinnacle Trail Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 28. Heritage Days will be held at Bogart Bowman Cabin on Oct. 18 for area schools only and on Oct. 19 for the general public.

For more information and updates, please follow the Town of Unicoi on Facebook.

Board of Education OKs projects, recognizes Rock Creek as Reward School

The staff of Rock Creek Elementary gather at last week’s Unicoi County School Board meeting to receive recognition for being designated a Tennessee Reward School. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Board of Education voted unanimously to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Unicoi County for a capital projects bond during a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, Sept. 12.

“The board of education has committed to funding these projects with our sales tax that we receive,” Director of School John English said.

During a meeting of the Unicoi County Commission in April, the panel voted to approve a resolution for capital projects for the Unicoi County Board of Education for up to $5 million.

During a Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee meeting in April, Stephens Inc. Senior Vice President of Public Finance Ashley McAnulty laid out a number of scenarios for the capital improvements plan, which includes work at Gentry Stadium and the Unicoi County High School track.

According to McAnulty’s report, the county could accept roughly $5 million without a property tax increase. Repayment would be funded through sales tax and would be paid back in 20 years. Other projects that will be addressed in future phases include upgrades to the UCHS track, installing tennis courts at UCHS, an HVAC replacement and electrical and plumbing updates to Rock Creek Elementary.

• • •

Also last week, the Unicoi County Board of Education recognized Rock Creek Elementary for being designated by the state as a Reward School.

According to English, Reward Schools are those that are improving overall student academic achievement and student growth for all students and for student groups, and they are identified annually.

“The designation is awfully special,” English said. “There are only a certain number of schools in the state that receive that designation. So on behalf of the board, we want to say how proud we are of you and your dedication to the children of Rock Creek.”

Staff from Rock Creek were on hand to be recognized and Rock Creek Elementary Principal Dr. Kevin Graham addressed those in attendance.

“We are very excited about how our school year has started,” Graham said. “Right now we have around 190 students, 20 full-time teachers, nine support staff members, one administrator and one school resource officer.”

• • •

Also during last week’s meeting, the board nominated officers for the 2019-20 school year. Board member Tyler Engle was again selected as chairman of the board after being nominated by board member Glenn Fisher.

“Thank you all. It’s an honor to continue to serve,” Engle said.

Board member Steve Willis was named vice chairman and Steve Scott was named athletic council representative.

• • •

Supervisor of Elementary Curriculum Jennifer Lingerfelt gave the board an update on the Aspire Book Bus and its outreach last week.

“We have just completed a literacy walk, and every time we do one, the representatives are so impressed with our staff,” Lingerfelt said. “During summer camp we had a total of 46 students that attended and 15 of those are rising first graders, 18 are rising second graders and 13 are rising third graders, and attendance was 89 percent.”

In a final order of business, the board heard an update from Unicoi County student Zach Thompson and his trip to Governor’s School for future teachers.

“I had the opportunity to attend the Governor’s School for prospective teachers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and it was fully paid for,” Thompson said. “I was fortunate enough to be one of 24 students to attend and I received three hours of college credit for attending.”

According to English, if Thompson keeps it up, he will be on the board of education before long.

“Zach will be up here and I’m afraid it will be up here in my spot, so I am seeing how many more years I have before he takes my spot,” English said with a smile.

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.

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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.”