By Richard Rourk
The Erwin Record recently interviewed Unicoi County’s three mayors to get their outlooks for their respective municipalities in the coming year.
Town of Erwin – Mayor Doris Hensley
The new year has already started off with a bang for the Town of Erwin. The first annual New Year’s Eve fireworks were a success and, according to Mayor Doris Hensley, will be a yearly event going forward.
“I think we can build on it,” Hensley said. “I’d like to see next year’s be even bigger.”
The fireworks marked a year of successes that saw a number of businesses open up downtown, the completion of the new Unicoi County Hospital, the groundbreaking of Food City, the opening of Dunkin’ in Erwin and numerous events for the community all year long.
Heading into 2019 Hensley announced a number of exciting additions coming up on the horizon. The Gathering Place park downtown and Fishery Park will be remodeled and completed this year. Work will begin on adding a dog park and outside gym to the Linear Trail.
With the recent additions, the town has acquired a new fire truck and a first responder truck as well as adding personnel for the safety of the town.
“We have hired two new police officers, and got two new police cruisers as well, to ramp up protection for our citizens,” Hensley stated.
The town is always looking for new business and industry to be added to the town. Clarence’s Drive-In will be an anchor to the northside of town going forward.
“That is one area we can continue to grow and I would love to fill in those empty spots,” Hensley said of the north end of town.
The Morgan Insulation site is ready for industrial companies to come in and bid on the land. “We are always recruiting industry to come in,” Hensley said of the site.
With all the businesses that come to town, it provides opportunities for new jobs.
Hensley said she is proud of the many events that the town hosts and would like to see more events like the Elephant Parade, the Great Outdoors Festival, the Erwin Cruise In, among others. Hensley would also love to see a music festival happen in Erwin, or even the return of Arts in the Park.
One site that the mayor could see something happening with in 2019 is the former Bear Mountain Outfitters site located at 1001 S. Industrial Drive in Erwin. One business the mayor thought would be successful at the location was a winery. The mayor also mentioned a possibility of putting a pier and take out spot for rafting outside of this site.
With Unicoi County Hospital in full operation, the southside of Erwin has plenty of room for growth.
“We would love to see hotels and restaurants open up on that side of town,” Hensley told The Erwin Record.
There is one business that Hensley would like to see make a return to the area.
“I don’t know why no one has brought Blue Ridge Pottery back to this area,” Hensley stated.
The future of Erwin is clearly geared toward tourism as well.
“In the next 10 years, tourism is going to be one of our top three industries so I want to be proactive,” Hensley said.
Town of Unicoi – Mayor Johnny Lynch
The new year brings a long list of goals for the Town of Unicoi which includes everything from infrastructure to creating a more visible website presence.
The Erwin Record recently sat down with Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and the Town of Unicoi City Recorder Michael Borders to discuss many of the goals for 2019. Lynch shed some light on where the Town of Unicoi draws inspiration and guidance in sculpting their yearly strategic plans.
“We go to the retreat that Pat Hardy from MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) facilitates and it’s really paid off,” Lynch told The Erwin Record.
The retreat allows the municipality to create their strategic plan and to prioritize items, according to the mayor.
“We create our checklist of items we want to accomplish, and as we complete them we check them off,” Lynch said.
At the top of the list is the infrastructure of the town, which is heavily dependent on the roads. Lynch said he is constantly riding with Unicoi County Highway Superintendent Terry Haynes to prioritize which roads need work.
“The roads are always our first obligation,” Lynch added.
Knowing that the annual budget will not fix all the issues in one year, Lynch acknowledged that the town prioritizes the projects and fixes what they can.
Promoting the area for tourism is also a huge priority for the town, according to the mayor. This includes creating a marketing plan, developing an agritourism plan and enhancements to the many outdoor venues in the area.
“One item I’d like to see is a parking lot at the trailhead,” Lynch said.
With signage on its way, many of the area’s outdoor activities will be more visible for those looking in the near future.
The Town of Unicoi is carrying many projects over from 2018. The town has formed numerous committees to cover issues such as creating codes and ordinances. Other accomplishments that are carrying over include the Mountain Harvest Kitchen exceeding its first-year goals. The amphitheater and farmers market pavilion are currently scheduled to break ground this year and to be completed within two years. The projects will be located between the Town of Unicoi Visitor’s Center and the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. The beautification of Exit 32 will begin in the spring.
Lynch stated he would like to see some businesses come in and compliment the Town of Unicoi’s goal of becoming a tourist destination. One personal goal going into the year for Lynch is one that is always on his list, and that is to create a police department for the town.
The goals for the Town of Unicoi are large scale, but that doesn’t deter the mayor.
“We are optimistic and we are following our strategic plan,” Lynch told The Erwin Record.
Unicoi County – Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely
Unicoi County will be working on improving many projects going into 2019. Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely recently spoke with The Erwin Record about what the new year will bring in Unicoi County.
One area where Evely hit the ground running with was with the solid waste facility upgrades. “When we took over in September our solid waste facilities were in poor condition,” Evely told The Erwin Record.
Since September 2018, the new Unicoi County Commission and mayor have added cardboard recycling, and also are adding a gasket, a roof and drip pans to stop leakage to the receptacles. The county will be looking for additional funds to continue to improve the sites.
“I’m in the process of working on a grant to revamp the Hoover site, replace the compactor and add an auger system,” Evely stated.
The mayor hopes the projects will be complete by spring and then the county can focus on future revamps to the sites.
Grants are an important part of the mayor’s plans going forward. There will be two additional police cars going to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department from a grant that was approved last year, but is currently in limbo due to the federal government shutdown.
“We are waiting for the two vehicles right now,” Evely said.
The Unicoi County School System has applied for a bus grant to try and get a maximum of four new buses with a 20 percent match. The courthouse recently received a grant to perform some upgrades to the courtroom.
Evely expressed excitement about Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park and the additions coming in 2019.
“Construction will start on the road and visitor’s center in 2019,” Evely said. “We are looking forward to that getting started; it’s going to be a big boost.”
There are several items that the mayor wishes to get locked down this year, including the ambulance service contract.
“We have the ambulance situation that I hope the commission will have a final decision on shortly,” Evely said.
Evely also expressed some ways his office could execute some long term cost saving measures.
“We are constantly putting out fires, but if we can plan ahead and prioritize some projects, it will help in the long run,” Evely stated.
One project that could save in the long run is looking at replacing the heating and air at the Unicoi County Courthouse. The repairs and maintenance costs keep rising, according to Evely. Another measure that will save money and time in the long run is switching the pay from paper checks to automatic deposit.
“We are looking at efficiencies to save time and money,” Evely said. “I want to save the county money.”
The mayor also expressed how important it was to be available for the upcoming year and for the rest of his time in office.
“I care about the community,” Evely said. “I understand that not everybody is going to like what I’m doing, but that is not going to be from lack of effort or lack of trying to do things the right way.”
Evely acknowledged that the upcoming projects cannot be done without teamwork.
“I appreciate all the other office holders in Unicoi County,” he said. “They have been very helpful to me and I am very thankful for them.”