KINGSPORT — Election day is less than a month away and early voting begins this week. In Kingsport, two incumbents and three challengers are vying for three seats on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
The candidates include Linda Buckles, John Clark, Colette George, Eric Kerney and Tom Parham. Mayor Dennis Phillips is facing Gary Lane for a fifth term in office. Election day is May 21; early voting begins in Blountville on May 1 and in Kingsport on May 9. Early voting ends May 16.
The Times-News recently asked all of the candidates a series of questions on some the major issues facing the city, including annexation, debt and education. Here are their answers.
Q. In the past, Kingsport has provided tax increment financing, discounted property sales, cash infusions, and payments in lieu of property taxes to help attract development projects. What is your philosophy on public incentives for private development?
• Phillips: In today’s world, unfortunately, you must be competitive in order to attract business and industry. Competition requires you looking at every angle to get an edge on the area or other state you may be competing with. Each project must stand on its own merits as to what we should do. For example, the Kingsport Pavilion project required a one million dollar investment on our part. The choice was investing the one million or not having the development. We chose to do the project as the return on our investment was approximately 30 months.
This is not a matter of being in favor of giving incentives. It is a matter that you must look at every project because other areas are willing to do it if we are not. I deal with this on a daily basis and assure you it is a competitive situation and we must try to make decisions based on the return of our investment. It is important to note that a city cannot invest taxpayer money to develop privately owned property, which is the problem we incurred at the Border Region property when we were competing for the Bass Pro Shop. This is to prevent individuals or businesses from profiting at taxpayer expense.
• Lane: Public incentives for private development are becoming a way of life in this country. Good paying manufacturing jobs, or any jobs for that matter, are next to impossible to attract to any area without offering some kind of incentive. One of the reasons Bass Pro Shop decided to locate in Bristol, instead of the new Heritage Point development in Kingsport, was because the incentive package was better than Kingsport had to offer. Revitalization of downtown Kingsport also needs to be considered as one of our paths of economic development. Just go take a look at what Bristol has done with State Street. The same or better can be done with Kingsport, and it starts with a commitment from us to spend our dollars here instead of traveling to other cities to spend them.
• Buckles: I support business incentives, if they are fair and available to everyone who could benefit from them. Local businesses that receive incentives almost always make visible investments that improve our quality of life in addition to growing their own operations. We must certainly do everything we can to accommodate existing businesses and as well as new businesses as they seek to bring new jobs and capital investment to Kingsport, and if a few tax breaks here and there will help bring in new retail, manufacturing, or distribution development, I’m all for them. Remember: Buckles Means Business.
• Clark: Recognizing that Kingsport must continue growing in a fiscally conservative manner to secure its future, and is competing with other cities to attract residents and business development, I support offering combined public and private incentives to win large development projects. This should only occur after a thorough risk/-reward analysis is performed and the outcome is that the reward to Kingsport taxpayers outweighs the required incentives. This provides the BMA with all the required information to make a well-informed business decision that can be justified and supported in our community.
• George: I believe in utilizing all available and reasonable incentives to encourage economic development. Each case or opportunity must be examined individually to determine what is reasonable and affordable. We should keep ourselves in a competitive position so that we can act when necessary to attract and expand business in our city.
• Kerney: To attract business, Kingsport has used such means as stated in this question. This is Kingsport’s version of a stimulus plan. Does it work? To an extent, yes, but it does not address the real issues of economic development. Let’s not put a band-aid on the problem, let’s fix it long term. Kingsport should use that ear-marked money to promote our resources that are already here.
The General Shale brick plant has one of the best railway systems on the east coast and yet it sits there idle. A good number of jobs in this area are in health care. Promote the bio-medical industry and the medical prosthetic industry. Take advantage of the medical and pharmacy schools in the area. Let’s make Kingsport the destination of choice for health care. The economic machine already in place here is amazing and the potential for growth in this industry in virtually unlimited. We have an extremely qualified work force already in place in our great city in both the health care and in the manufacturing industries. We need to take full advantage of this and bring to this city industry that will provide higher paying, long-term jobs.
• Parham: Kingsport has held up well during the national recession and its aftermath, with unemployment in the range of 7 percent. We have more than a thousand new residents who came here in search of jobs for a reason, because jobs are being created here. There are many reasons for this, but first and foremost is the success of Kings- port’s industries, particularly Eastman Chemical Co.
We must continue to partner with all of our industries to ensure local government doesn’t get in the way, while providing the lifestyle amenities, residential housing and strong education systems necessary to attract their workers to living in Kingsport. At the same time, we must continue to diversify our local economy, expanding the retail and service sectors, and insure there are ample opportunities for area youth. Combined, these efforts will help drop the unemployment rate even more dramatically in the future. I fully support the use of tax increment financing, and other economic development tools, as they are essential to retaining our existing job base and attracting new jobs to the city and the region.