First and Second in the series
KINGSPORT - The city of Kingsport has undertaken an aggressive five-year capital improvement plan to repair some aging features in the city and to embark upon some new projects. But what do the candidates for the upcoming city election think about the projects?
On May 15 Model City voters will go to the polls to elect three people to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Their choices include two incumbents - Vice Mayor Larry Munsey and Alderman Ken Marsh, and four challengers - Ray Cain, Bill Hillman, Richard Samples and Jantry Shupe.
The Times-News recently asked the candidates a series of questions addressing issues facing the Model City, including annexation, education and the proposed higher education center in downtown Kingsport.
This story is part three of the series and will highlight the answers to the following question.
Q: City Manager John Campbell has suggested a list of capital improvement projects, including renovations to the V.O. Dobbins Center, replacing Legion Pool with an aquatics center, the construction of a new fire station on Stone Drive, and money for the King's Port on the Holston project. Which projects do you support and/or what other quality of life projects do you think Kingsport should support?
Cain: All of these projects need to be done. The V.O. Dobbins Center is way past due for renovation. The money set aside for Legion Pool has been spent on other things. As of yet, we have nothing to show in that area. The fire station on Stone Drive is important for the growth occurring in that area. The King's Port on the Holston project may very well be the second crown jewel for Kingsport, second only to Bays Mountain.
The debt is major, but it will cost more in the future if we don't move forward now. Mr. Campbell says these can be done without a tax increase, so the debt we would take on now would save the city money in the long run.
Hillman: John Campbell is a highly qualified city manager, whose credentials are well known. I support these projects, especially the new fire station. By national standards our fire department is understaffed. The police department has needs as well. They need cameras in every patrol car, but have very few. We owe it to our brave men and women in both departments to furnish them every tool available to make their jobs safer. They are a crucial part of our infrastructure and must be brought up to standard.
Other projects I feel would be highly beneficial is a museum being built downtown and to grow Bays Mountain Park. Out of approximately 500 people I have polled, over 90 percent are in favor of these projects.
Marsh: At this point the BMA has failed to prioritize capital projects in coordination with the upcoming 2007-2008 budget. We have an abundance of worthy capital projects on a partial list, but the administration has failed to afford a discussion of which should be done and in what order. Instead we are borrowing money in abundance ($34 million so far just this year) for one project at a time without considering the others as well as those yet to be added to the project roster. Until we develop a complete prioritized list of proposed projects, I cannot make a statement as to which ones I will support.
Munsey: I think all of the projects that you have mentioned are worthy projects and would contribute significantly to the economic viability and quality of life in Kingsport. In addition, I think the Planetarium replacement/theater refurbishment at Bays Mountain would give us something that no other city in the region has, and it would be a tremendous advantage for Kingsport. Also, I think we should complete the Gibson Mill Road project (for which Wellmont is paying approximately one-half the cost), which will give us another badly needed connector road from Stone Drive to downtown.
Based upon the preliminary capital figures shared with us by Mr. Campbell, it is my understanding that all of the above projects can be done with no increase in the property tax rate, and without seriously impacting our ability to do road repairs and perform other routine maintenance.
Samples: I support all of the CIP plans of Mr. Campbell and think that is all the budget will support at this time. As things are paid off, more projects could be started. We don't want to overextend the city debt to the point of losing our credit rating or having to raise taxes to cover more debt.
Shupe: I view projects as investments, and there are many opportunities on the table. John Campbell is a major asset to Kingsport and understands how to prioritize. The CIP list John submitted is intelligently thought out and can be done with no property tax increase. The BMA has the final vote, but we should give our city manager the autonomy to propose investments that are in the best interest for the future of Kingsport and the quality of life for its citizens.