KINGSPORT — The Model City will likely continue with a progressive annexation policy for the foreseeable future, given the unveiling Monday of a $36.3 million annexation plan that continues to focus on Colonial Heights and Fall Creek as well as new areas of Sullivan County such as Sullivan Gardens and Reservoir Road.
City planners brought forth the proposed annexation plan on Monday to a joint meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Kingsport Regional Planning Commission. Ken Weems, the chief annexation planner for the city, said the plan could help guide annexations by Kingsport for the next two to three years and beyond.
However, the plan has not been officially adopted by the BMA or Planning Commission, and City Manager John Campbell noted that the annexation areas are simply study areas at this time and could be reduced in size in the future.
“Progressive annexation is the key process for the city’s long-term sustainability,” Campbell said.
The plan gives details and cost estimates on 13 annexation areas under consideration, three of which are currently in progress. More than 5,400 acres are included in the plan, affecting some 4,000 residents (419 being school-age) in Colonial Heights, Sullivan Gardens and Fall Creek, along Cox Hollow Road, Reservoir Road and Airport Parkway. Some Eastman Chemical Co. property along Jared Drive and the entire BAE Systems property are included in the plan.
Most of the annexations could take place over the next three years, city officials said, but the time frame on a couple of areas is left open-ended. The annexations already in progress include the Border Regions area (341 acres at the Tri-Cities Crossings), the Old Mill area (70 acres) and the Cleek Drive area.
Annexation areas proposed for later this year could include the city looking at 200 acres along Reservoir Road, 948 acres on both sides of Sullivan Gardens Parkway, and another 300 acres in Colonial Heights. Four hundred of these acres are considered developable land.
The possible 2013 annexations could include property along Colonial Heights Road and in North Kingsport, while the 2014 annexations could take place in Fall Creek, along the Airport Parkway and Cox Hollow Road. The Jared Drive and BAE annexations were dubbed “open-ended,” with Weems saying he has just started talking with BAE about the matter and had not yet talked with Eastman.
“These are two opportunistic areas, when the conditions are right to move forward on them,” Weems said, adding the Jared Drive property is highly lucrative and extremely high-valued.
According to the plan, all 13 annexations would have one-time costs of approximately $36.3 million, with the majority being sewer costs ($28 million) and the rest being for water line upgrades ($6 million), lights/controls ($1.2 million) and street improvements ($1.1 million). The calculations are based on today’s dollars, Weems said.
City planners estimate the annexations would generate annual property taxes of $1.56 million and provide nearly 900 acres of developable land.
“Annexation is something not done without controversy or expense,” said Mayor Dennis Phillips. “Annexation is the right thing to do to a point, but not without added responsibility.”
The estimated cost of installing sewer lines to the Border Regions annexation is $3.45 million, and to make the annexation work, Kingsport has agreed to push back the time frame on when the new sewer lines would be installed — going from the historical five-year time frame to eight years.
On Monday, city staff talked about pushing the sewer installation time frame of other, future annexations back from five years to seven or eight years to when more money would be available in the city’s coffers for the sewer work.
Weems said the Smart Growth Law, which outlines where in the county Kingsport can annex, does not specify a time frame on when sewer services are provided to annexed properties — only that the time frame be “reasonable.”
Weems said adjusting the time frame on sewer could be done on a case-by-case basis, based on need.
Public Works Director Ryan McReynolds said the city’s sewer fund will see significant debt roll off in 2016, and by 2017 the fund would have around $2 million available to pay for sewer work in future annexations.
“If everything was presented (in the proposed plan) we could absorb it within the existing capital plan. If we fully implemented the plan before the BMA today, we could still manage the debt under the current financial structures,” McReynolds said.
Kingsport’s sewer fund currently has $53.3 million in debt with about half the money coming into the department going toward debt service.
Campbell said a goal of the city is to have the lowest combined water and sewer rate in the area within the next five years.