Tuesday evening the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 6-0 in favor of an agreement to hire Kingsport to provide municipal planning advice.
For years Mount Carmel has employed the state planning office in Johnson City for that service, but Mayor Gary Lawson said Tuesday he and other town leaders have become dissatisfied with the service they are receiving.
Mount Carmel pays the state planning office $6,800 per year to send an adviser to the monthly meeting of the Mount Carmel Planning Commission to give the town advice on administering new developments and make sure the town is following local and state code.
Lawson told the Times-News Tuesday that in recent months he and members of the Planning Commission had been experiencing communication problems with its assigned state planning adviser, and Lawson didn't feel the town received good advice at all times.
The cost of the state planning adviser was about to increase to $7,200, but instead the BMA agreed Tuesday to retain the services of Kingsport for $6,800.
"Mount Carmel doesn't have the resources to employ our own city planners," Lawson said. "Like most small communities, we've been receiving that service from the state. But without going into too much detail, myself and others have decided it's time to try something different. Kingsport has the personnel and the expertise, and they're willing to share that with us, which I think is going to be a great benefit to our town."
Lawson was quick to point out that this doesn't mean Mount Carmel will be modeling itself after Kingsport or doing anything to change the small-town atmosphere that local residents enjoy. What he hopes to see come out of this union is better planned subdivisions and a downtown commercial district that is more conducive to retail development.
Alderman Thomas Wheeler noted during discussion of the agreement Tuesday that retail business recruitment that Mount Carmel is undertaking will likely take away development from Kingsport. Wheeler said the town should be convinced that any planning advisers sent from Kingsport to Mount Carmel understand that they are to give advice that is in Mount Carmel's best interest.
Alderman Rick Gabriel, who is also a Kingsport city employee, joked that it's better to keep your friends close and your enemies closer - although he admitted that "enemy" probably wasn't the best word to describe Kingsport.
Mount Carmel experienced a property tax increase this year. Lawson said more sales tax revenue is needed in Mount Carmel to prevent future property tax hikes. He said this is a step toward meeting that goal.
"Obviously we're not Kingsport, and we're not trying to be Kingsport," Lawson said. "We're a small bedroom community, and the vast majority of the advice we receive from planning advisers is with regards to residential developments. Still, there are a lot of things that Kingsport does in its business districts that could work in Mount Carmel, and it's time to try something different.
"The codes we currently have in place with regards to business have been too restrictive, and that has hurt us. Kingsport is much more business friendly, and that's where the new businesses are going to locate. Mount Carmel needs to become more business friendly."
Among the potential changes discussed Tuesday were eliminating property line setback requirements in the commercial district, and possibly beginning a petition for a referendum on liquor by the drink in hopes of recruiting a major restaurant chain.
The Kingsport BMA is expected to consider approval of the planning agreement early next month in time for the next Mount Carmel Planning Commission meeting. The BMA also agreed to set a cancellation notice of 120 days should either city decide to get out of the deal.