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Mount Carmel won't pay $5K needed to complete cemetery land gift from Army

Jeff Bobo • Aug 25, 2018 at 2:30 PM

MOUNT CARMEL — It’s been about 20 years since Mount Carmel launched an effort to acquire 10 acres from the Army to expand a cemetery on the south side of Highway 11-W, but it appears that quest has now come to an end.

On Thursday, the BMA unanimously voted down a budget amendment ordinance that would have allocated $5,000 for an environmental study required by the Army for the property adjacent to Liberty Hill Cemetery to be deeded to the city.

It’s been a long, complicated process that was started in the 1990s during the administration of former Mayor Jimmy Dean, who was also a member of the cemetery’s board of directors.

At the time, the cemetery was almost filled to capacity, and the Army agreed to give 10 acres of highway frontage from the Holston Army Ammunition Plant site for a cemetery expansion. But the Army would only give the property to the city. 

Complicating matters was the fact that had the city received the deed, it would have been prohibited from giving the property to the cemetery board of directors because it’s not a nonprofit organization.

That would have left the city operating the cemetery expansion, and most local leaders who have come and gone over the years have agreed that the city doesn’t belong in the cemetery business.

Mayor Chris Jones also didn’t want the city to be in the cemetery business, and he admitted during Thursday’s meeting that he had other ideas for that property.

“Long-term plan, I would like to see it get into the city’s name first, and then I’d like to see us appropriate it for other purposes, which would be easier done if it’s already in our name,” Jones told the BMA. “I’m going to ask Congressman Roe to introduce a bill opening it up for other uses. It will be a lot easier for us to get it that way once we have the title for something else. That may be the only chance we ever get to put our foothold on that side of the highway.”

The most likely alternative use for that property would be commercial development.

City Attorney John Pevy noted that the deed expressly prohibits that property from being used for anything other than a cemetery. Under the current deed, if the city made any other use of it, the property would revert back to the federal government.

Jones added, “He (Roe) said let’s get this (deed) first, and then we’ll work on the other later. That was his exact words.”

Vice Mayor Carl Wolfe said he believes that was too much money to spend to acquire land that won’t benefit the town.

Jones suggested approving the budget amendment Thursday on the first of two required readings, and he would attempt to obtain assurances from Roe that the land use restriction could be lifted before the second reading came up for a vote next month.

But the budget amendment was defeated by a vote of 0-7.

Fire Committee stays

An ordinance that would have disbanded the Fire Committee was defeated 1-4 with two abstentions.

Jones said the panel was created while he was still fire chief and working on lowering the city’s ISO rating to serve as a buffer between him and the BMA.

But with the hiring of a new fire chief earlier this year, Jones said the committee isn’t needed. Proponents said it will be a valuable tool for the new city manager and new fire chief.

AED (automated external defibrillators) policy

The BMA voted 7-0 in favor of a policy requiring city employees who are likely to use one of the AED’s stationed in various city facilities to receive appropriate training for the device.

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