CHURCH HILL — Mayor Dennis Deal addressed a packed dining room at the Church Hill Senior Center on Thursday morning under the pretense of presenting a "State of the City" address.
What seniors didn't know was that Deal had also brought them a present.
Waiting for them out in the parking lot, with a shiny red bow on the hood, was a new 16- to 18-passenger bus to replace the Senior Center's old, worn-out van that is used to take field trips.
In 2016, Church Hill was awarded a state grant that paid most of the purchase price for the new bus. Church Hill was required to pay matching funds for the $60,000 vehicle, but its share was only $4,700.
However, the wheels of state government sometimes grind slow, and it had been well over a year since the bus grant was announced.
"People come to me and they say, ‘Mayor, when are we going to get it, mayor, when are we going to get it?’ " Deal told the seniors.
On Thursday, the day finally arrived.
"What we're wanting to do is get more of you guys to Pigeon Forge, or wherever you want to go, and that's why we got it,” he said.
Aside from the driver, the bus holds 16 passengers, as well as two wheelchair passengers, for a total of up to 18.
Deal also proclaimed Thursday as "Senior Citizens Day" in Church Hill. After Deal's presentation, seniors were invited to go out and take a look at their new bus, and then enjoy a free breakfast.
The new bus may have been the highlight of Thursday's event, but Deal also had some pretty good news in his annual "State of the City" address.
The city currently owes $1.2 million on the sewer, which will be paid off in 2035. The city also has $363,344 in general debt, including the senior center/library complex, public swimming pool, two fire trucks and a brush truck. That debt will be paid off by 2021.
But the city has a cash balance of about $1.4 million in the sewer department and $2.1 million in the general fund, for a total of $3.6 million.
"We could go out and write a check, if the board would approve it, which they won't, and the sewer would be debt free," Deal told seniors. "Our general fund, we have $363,000 in debt. We have $1.9 million in our general fund. So basically we owe $1.6 million total, and we've got $3.4 million in the bank. There’s not many cities that can say that, and that's due to our employees, who watch every dollar and try to stretch it as far as they can."
Deal added, "We paid off the five acres where our garden center is, we bought two new public works trucks, we bought four brand-new Tahoes this year, and we got a fifth one with a grant. We paid for these things. We didn't borrow money. We no longer borrow money to operate our city."