KINGSPORT - Mayor Dennis Phillips proposed Wednesday that Kingsport move forward in an aggressive manner with its capital improvement plan.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen held a special called meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the CIP. City leaders went item by item for nearly five hours, hearing numerous PowerPoint presentations on the various projects being proposed over the next five years.
"The CIP is one of the most important processes and one of the few places where we can have a major impact on the positive growth within the city," City Manager John Campbell said.
Campbell said the proposed CIP could be done without a tax increase and added that the CIP is a dynamic process and projects could be changed.
"I'm not married to any of this," he said.
Regarding the CIP, Phillips said Kingsport is trying to be prudent in moving the city forward in an aggressive manner.
"In my opinion you're going to see a new day in Kingsport where we're going to propose an aggressive plan and a city that acts intelligently," Phillips said. "We do borrow money, and when we do we have a very capable means of repayment and not jeopardizing anything within the city."
Alderman Ken Marsh said he is not opposed to debt at some reasonable level, but he does not want to be forced into an aggressive program.
"The city after eight long years is in a remarkably good financial situation," Marsh said. "I think we need to be real careful that we don't take cash and bond it to the limit and wind up right back where we were."
According to the proposed CIP, over the next five years $75 million in general fund projects are being discussed. In addition, $17 million in sewer projects and $16.4 million in water projects are also being discussed.
Some of the projects include $1.4 million to replace the planetarium at Bays Mountain Park, $1.85 million for a new fire station on Stone Drive, $4 million for road improvements around Holston Valley Medical Center, $6 million in improvements at Legion Pool, and $6.7 million in renovations at the V.O. Dobbins Center.
Every project on the CIP is subject to change or modification. The BMA will begin finalizing the CIP during budget discussions later this year.
During Wednesday's discussion, Marsh brought up the issue of sewer rates and how they've been on the rise over the past several years.
"We've got to figure out some way to figure that out," he said.
According to Public Works Director Ryan McReynolds, 19 percent of water revenues goes toward debt relief, while 53 percent of sewer revenues goes toward debt relief.
Campbell said the staff has several ways to address the high sewer rates.
Marsh said the challenge Kingsport has now is to dampen the sewer rate increases.
"The solution is - increased usage and driving down debt, particularly on the wastewater side," he said.
Alderman Pat Shull said the city should look to not pass such spikes in rates onto its citizens.
The proposed CIP also includes $12 million for the creation of a higher education center in downtown Kingsport - an issue that has received quite a bit of attention in recent months.
However, city leaders chose to defer discussion on the higher education center to a later date due to the lateness in the evening.
Phillips is leading the charge of earmarking a portion of the regional sales tax toward a higher education center. The regional sales tax was enacted in 1992 to pay off the construction of the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center and the Cattails Golf Course.
The tax amounts to around $3.1 million annually, and a large portion of the MeadowView debt is paid off in September, leaving around $2.1 million free to be reallocated next year. However, the tax has to repay the general fund $3 million in borrowed money and cover $4.3 million in estimated maintenance work at the center over the next five years.
Shull is advocating that half of the regional sales tax be earmarked for debt relief.
Kingsport's debt dropped from $114 million to $107 million last year but has grown to around $122 million this year due to a $24.5 million bond issue in December. Under Kingsport's charter, the city could take on an additional $209.5 million in debt. Under a stricter BMA-adopted guideline, the city could take on an additional $83 million in debt.
Phillips said the group looking at bringing a higher education center to Kingsport is planning to bring a proposal to the BMA at its first meeting in March.
Prior to this meeting, the BMA is planning to hold another special called meeting to discuss the higher education center.
Shull suggested the city hold a public meeting on the proposal where the citizens of Kingsport could attend and Phillips could "make a pitch" for the project. Phillips agreed to this suggestion.