KINGSPORT - "We're here to serve."
This best describes the friendly tone taken by city officials during a public meeting Monday night with the residents of the Rock Springs community to discuss annexation. In fact, many city officials who spoke during the meeting made this very claim.
In an attempt to reach out to the Rock Springs community, city officials met with more than 200 residents at the Rock Springs United Methodist Church Monday night to hear concerns and answer questions about annexation.
City officials gave a 30-minute presentation touting the advantages of being within the city, then residents got a chance to meet one-on-one with representatives from various city departments including police, fire, public works, traffic, planning and Kingsport City Schools.
Kingsport planners have been working for more than a year on annexing eight areas of land, nearly 1,000 acres, in the Rock Springs community - areas that lead up to a 330-unit housing development off Rock Springs Road called "The Edinburgh." The Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved three annexations earlier this year - Area 2 and portions of Areas 3 and 5.
Residents from each of these three areas have filed lawsuits in Sullivan County Chancery Court challenging these annexations. City officials say they intend to move forward with the remaining annexations by the end of the year, regardless of the lawsuits.
Chris McCartt, development services manager for Kingsport, said the city has committed funds for a variety of projects in the Rock Springs community - a new 500-student elementary school on The Edinburgh property, a new fire station, a new police patrol zone, and a new sewer line and water line upgrades down Rock Springs Road.
McCartt also gave the three reasons why Kingsport is annexing - the urban growth boundary, an agreed upon boundary outlining areas of expected growth in the county where Kingsport is allowed to annex. The other two reasons were Rock Springs was identified by city planners as an easy area to annex and the fact a new school was being built on The Edinburgh property.
Following the presentation, about 100 people stuck around to meet with city officials in the fellowship hall and in the parking lot. The city also had maps of the annexation areas and a worksheet for people to calculate how much in taxes residents would pay if they were in the city.
Many people in attendance appeared to be opposed to annexation, with questions focusing on traffic, schools and taxes.
Tom McNutt, a member of Rock Springs UMC who met with Mayor Dennis Phillips and City Manager John Campbell last month, said he is hearing mixed emotions from the community regarding annexation.
"I think the meeting went very well. I think annexation is a pretty good thing. It's inevitable, it's coming and there's not much we can do about it," McNutt said. "We can welcome it with open arms or we can fight them every step of the way."
Mike Bacon, who is not located in the city's urban growth boundary, said he is opposed to annexation.
"I think they split everybody up so the real questions couldn't be asked in public so (the media) could hear the answers and see the opposition to annexation," Bacon said. "I've lived here 51 years now. If I want to take a shotgun and go into the woods behind my house and shoot a squirrel, I can do it. If I want to buy a cow, I can have a cow. If I get inside the city, that will change, and I don't want to change."
Yvette Buchanan, who has lived in Rock Springs for 10 years, said she too is opposed to being annexed.
"I don't like it. I lived in the city my whole life. Then I got married and moved to the county," Buchanan said. "I don't want to pay city taxes. Our water bill will be doubled with the sewer. I'm concerned my children won't finish in the same school system. They say that they can, but things always change with the city."