Mayor Chris Jones said the board needs to create a five year plan for every aspect of the city including business creation and retention, what city services and facilities should look like in five years, and "tweaking" city policies in every department, including the duties of the city manager.
Mount Carmel's economic problems center around its inability to attract new businesses that generate sales tax revenue.
What hinders economic development
It's been almost 20 years since Food City moved out of Mount Carmel, and that shopping center property continues to be mostly vacant.
And, its probably going to stay that way because, according to Jones, the owner is asking $2 million for the 3.7 acre property which is assessed at $1.25 million.
Jones noted that the main hindrance to other Main Street developments has been the size and availability of marketable lots.
There have been businesses interested in purchasing three adjacent lots to create one property large enough to develop a business, but only two of the three owners were interested in selling, Jones said.
Ideas for promoting commercial development
Just for discussion purposes, Jones tossed out the idea of approaching BB&T about selling its recently closed local bank branch on Main Street to the city at a reduced price.
Jones said the city could utilize that property for downtown parking, and hold it in reserve in case a new commercial developer takes a interest in the lot.
Board members agreed that they don't want to see is a bank or other service provider taking that property and inserting another business that doesn't generate sales tax.
City administrator Mike Housewright also suggested creating a non-profit economic development board similar the Downtown Kingsport Association to promote commercial growth and funnel grants through.
Jones said that economic development board could also organize more Main Street festivals to increase downtown traffic to help existing businesses.
Planning is already under way for the annual Block Party in July, but Jones said he'd like to see Main Street utilized for more festivals throughout the year.
The BMA also expressed an interest in creating a downtown beautification program, and organizing volunteers to assist that effort.
Downtown needs an anchor store
Alderman Pat Stilwell said she recently spoke to the manager of the the Kingsport Aldi grocery store about the possibility of an Aldi locating in Mount Carmel
Stilwell said the manager suggested that Mount Carmel residents to go on Aldi's website under the "Contact Us" section and send a message stating why Mount Carmel would be a great place for a new Aldi store.
The manager indicated that public input weighs heavily when a new store location is planned, Stilwell said.
Changes in services?
Among the ideas discussed was purchasing one or two new garbage trucks, and performing garbage pickup in house, eliminating the city’s $13,000 monthly contract with Kingsport for that service.
Alderman Steve McLain suggested issuing a five year note for about $400,000 to purchase one automated garbage truck and new residential garbage cans as needed. He said the cost of repaying that note over five years would be much less than the cost of the Kingsport contract.
Jones suggested purchasing two garbage trucks similar to the models used by Kingsport, keeping one as a backup. Board members agreed they need to get some cost quotes on both options.
Alderman Jim Gilliam suggested moving the EMS station into the fire hall with the fire department, and moving the police into the EMS station. Jones said some remodeling would be required to do that, and he suggested acquiring cost estimates.
Jones said the BMA also needs to decide if it wishes to pursue expansion at the City Park which was a hot topic last when the city purchased two residential properties adjacent to the park.
Jones noted that the previous board had envisioned building a facility at the park to serve as a combined community center, senior center and library.
There’s also the possibility of relocating City Hall and utilizing that property for commercial development, Jones said.
The city manager’s duties
As Tuesday’s meeting wrapped up there was a brief discussion on whether the BMA wishes remove the city manager’s power to hire and fire employees.
McLain said, “90 percent of city employees are afraid of being fired by Housewright.”
“Because Mike's job has been threatened earlier on, they're afraid that will persuade him to terminate somebody,” McLain said. “What employees I have talked to would feel more comfortable with the board having the final say on the firing.”
But, aldermen Jennifer Williams and Pat Stilwell said they want to keep that power in the hands of the city manager.
Williams said the BMA doesn’t need to be saddled with the minutia of collecting resumes, interviewing employees etc. That why they hired a city manager.
Jones noted, “This board needs to consider that if this full board takes action on disciplinary action, that makes it big time open to the public, makes it their name right on the front page.”
Williams: “And that employee's record is wide open for everybody to look at and make judgments on. They'll have no privacy whatsoever.”
Jones said the board may want to schedule a future workshop to discuss the creation of a Personnel Committee.