Despite dissent, $10K grant for Kenner House OK’d

Jeff Bobo • May 14, 2013 at 10:03 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission’s Buildings Committee almost gave away a $10,000 grant because one member claims his constituents aren’t interested in saving a 178-year-old Rogersville house.

The Kenner House, located on Main Street in downtown Rogersville, was constructed in 1835, is maintained jointly by the city and the county and is currently being considered for a renovation.

Buildings Committee Chairman Darrell Gilliam joked last year that they should allow homeless people to stay in Kenner House in case they burn it down and save the county the cost of renovations.

Gilliam wasn’t joking Tuesday afternoon, however, when he told the committee his constituents in Hawkins County’s District 6 aren’t interested in spending taxpayer dollars to “remodel a house.”

Committee member John Metz, who is unofficially spearheading an effort to raise funds for the Kenner House renovation, reported to the committee Tuesday that Hawkins County and Rogersville were awarded $10,000 in “left over” state grant funds from the Tennessee Historical Commission.

The 60/40 grant would officially be awarded in 2012-13 fiscal year. Hawkins County would have to put the matching funds into escrow by June 1, and the project would have to be completed by Sept. 1.

Hawkins County’s share of the $10,000 grant match would be 20 percent, or $2,000. Currently the Buildings Committee is planning chimney repairs that must be completed before a badly needed new roof can be put on the buildings. Those are the two pressing projects that the grant money would likely be used for.

Only four of the seven Buildings Committee members were present for Tuesday’s meeting. In order for a motion to pass, a majority of the seven member committee, or four members, have to vote in favor.

That meant all four in attendance Tuesday had to vote in favor of accepting the $10,000 grant or it would be lost because the committee doesn’t meet again until after June 1.

Before being told a decision was needed immediately, Gilliam wanted to postpone the vote until the three absent members could attend.

Gilliam then abstained and the motion to accept the $10,000 grant failed by a vote of 3-0.

Metz and County Mayor Melville Bailey appealed to Gilliam to change his vote and “give the project a chance.”

“I’ve told you and told you, I don’t plan on spending the people of the sixth district’s money for something that we don’t even see no future (use),” Gilliam said. “Show me a future (use) and I’ll change my mind. I’m not going to be standing in front of these people, and them cussing me out for something that I can’t explain to them.”

Metz replied, “If you let it rot down you’ll have to spend $50,000 or $60,000 to tear it down. Or you can salvage it with assistance from federal and state funds and do something with it.”

Bailey added, “I’m not for just throwing dollars around either, but if we have a chance to get $10,000 and we’re asked to commit $2,000 then I’m in.”

Metz said he would make a $2,000 tax deductible donation to cover the county’s part of the match if Gilliam changed his vote.

“All eyes are on this project,” Metz said. “There’s people from all over the state and other states who are looking at us and what we’re going to do with this property. This is an opportunity for tax payers to receive grant funding to maintain a substantial asset.”

Eventually Gilliam changed his vote to yes, but he said in the future he will have to vote the wishes of the District 6 taxpayers on Kenner House spending.

“I represent a rural district that don’t want no part of that building,” Gilliam said. “Before I vote for anything else for that Kenner House, we’re going to have seven district’s represented, or count me as a no vote when you make a motion for something. I’m not going to be the only county commissioner who is chewed out over remodeling a house.”

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