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Local-news
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Kingsport residents' water, sewer costs probably going up next year

KINGSPORT — Due to flat revenues, federal regulations and an aging infrastructure, Kingsport water and sewer customers can probably expect to see their utility bills increase in 2022.

Percentage-wise, the increase will be in the single digits, but at this point the exact amount of the increase is not known.

That was the message from Deputy City Manager Ryan McReynolds during a presentation last week to the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen. McReynolds offered city leaders an update on the city’s utilities (water and sewer), statistics on the customers, and the reasons rates would probably be raised next fiscal year.

“We’ve gotten into the habit of presenting (information) about utilities through the budget cycle,” McReynolds said. “Now, we’re trying to pull certain things out in the fall time frame, focus on them in order to prepare the board for the conversation.”

PRESSURES ON UTILITIES

A common theme throughout Tennessee and utilities in general is the various pressures that have come into play. They include flat revenue over the years, a regulatory environment, and the age of the infrastructure.

As new houses replace old ones and inefficient sinks, showers and toilets are replaced with more efficient ones, the result is less water being used by consumers. Less water used means lower revenues for the cities and utility districts.

“Revenue is driven by what goes through your meter,” McReynolds said. “From an environmental, water conservation stand ... that’s fabulous. But it has reduced usage, which definitely flattened the revenue.”

According to a study on Kingsport’s utilities, the city is expected to see little to no growth in water consumption in the coming years. Meanwhile, the city is projecting a 2.1% increase in water expenses and a 4.2% growth in sewer costs.

PREPARING THE COMMUNITY

Over the next five years, capital improvements slated for both systems comes to $34.4 million for water and $54.8 million for sewer, according to information provided to the BMA.

Many of the utilities in the United States were built after World War II, so the infrastructure is more than 70 years old. In addition, Kingsport absorbed a number of utility districts in the 1980s, and those systems have to be upgraded and maintained as time goes on.

It’s basically getting to the point where much of the old infrastructure is well past its useful life, McReynolds said.

“Over time there’s also been increased regulatory demands,” he noted. “By nature, it typically costs money to respond to the new regulations.”

In order to get a better handle on the operating and capital needs of Kingsport’s utilities, the city contracted with Raftelis, a North Carolina company that specializes in consulting and financial planning for governments and utilities.

McReynolds said the reason for the recent presentation is to prepare the community and the BMA for a utility rate increase next year. It’s safe to say, however, the rate increase will be in the single digits, McReynolds added.

“We’re trying to have a master plan on the financial side so this board would see what we’re looking at next year and the following years,” McReynolds said. “It’s more of a systematic approach. We don’t want to defer for so long that we hit double digit increases. We want to have a plan that’s incremental in nature and not large steps.”


From right to left, Brenda Ketron, Timmy Collins and Amber Collins of Short Hills Farm in Kingsport show off pumpkins for sale. Timmy Collins owns the farm along with his brother Tommy, who is not pictured. They have been selling pumpkins at the Kingsport Livestock Auction on John B. Dennis Highway for 23 years.


Education
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Facilities use fees for Sullivan schools may be coming

Sullivan County Board of Education Chairman Randall Jones of Indian Springs

BLOUNTVILLE — Nonprofit groups and others who use Sullivan County public school facilities currently don’t have to pay set fees, except for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation training program at Sullivan Heights Middle School.

However, that could change for the 2022-23 school year, while a fee schedule of up to $100 an hour for some facilities could be charged since the county has ceased paying for recreational use of school properties.

School system officials say they recently discovered a longtime $300,000 appropriation to cover recreational use was no longer included in the 2021-22 budget, although it was requested.

Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said the current county budget no longer includes the $300,000 for recreation but has added $300,000 to risk management costs, increasing that line item from $1,474,750 in 2020-21 to $1,774,750 for this school year.

“Several organizations use the school for various purposes and some make donations to the school(s) to help with items needing repairs or replaced,” says a memorandum from Maintenance Supervisor Charlie Hubbard to the board dated Oct. 6 and discussed at an Oct. 7 work session.

“Some organizations such as the YMCA, etc. are considered to be a service for the community and are not charged a fee,” Hubbard wrote. The motorcycle program pays $40 a day because it generates profits, the memo said.

Otherwise, per-hour fees listed in procedures on public use of facilities include $100 for football fields with lights, middle and high school gyms, dining and kitchen areas, practice fields with lights, soccer fields with lights and tennis courts.

The least expensive charges would be $40 an hour for parking lots and classrooms.

At a work session Thursday, Rafalowski presented the board with a copy of the county budget for 2021-22. On page 50, the General Purpose School Fund line for recreation is blank.

“We can’t allow money to disappear in the budget and not account for it,” said board member Michael Hughes, who was chosen by the board as the new vice chairman in the meeting following the work session.

Sullivan County Finance Director Larry Bailey and Mayor Richard Venable could not be reached Friday for comment on whether a new private act recently implemented, putting school finance more under the county’s umbrella, might have prompted the county to end the recreation funds.

Rafalowski said the school system requested the money, which in effect reimbursed the county for use of facilities, for 2021-22.The amount had been $300,000 annually for year and then went up to $1.1 million before dropping again to $300,000.

Rafalowski said the assumption is the $300,000 was shifted from recreation to risk management.

Board Chairman Randall Jones, re-elected chairman at the meeting after the work session, said the school system wants to give plenty of notifications to folks who use the school facilities if the fees are to be charged on a more widespread basis or even increased.

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Honors-awards
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Watch now: Teacher Spotlight on East High's Casey Martin as servant leader

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of Teacher Spotlight articles about educators nominated by principals in and around Kingsport.

BLUFF CITY — English teacher Casey Martin, a 13-year veteran of the faculty at Sullivan East High School, is in this week’s Times News Teacher Spotlight.

East Principal Andy Hare nominated Martin, who is a Level 5 teacher (on a scale of 1 to 5), a mother and a foster parent.

“Casey is a graduate of Sullivan East High School and Virginia Intermont. She has been teaching for 13 years at Sullivan East as an ELA (English language arts) teacher,” Hare said. “She teaches 9th and 10th grade general English and 9th and 10th grade honors English. Additionally she teaches RTI (Response To Intervention) classes at Sullivan East.”

She also is an assistant graduation coordinator, Hare said.

“Ms. Martin, who has been a Level 5 teacher during her time at East, has an amazing relationship with her students. She is always prepared and uses student data to master the art of differentiated instruction with her students,” Hare said.

In addition, Hare said her care for her students does not end in the classroom.

“In addition to being the mother of two children, she and her husband are foster parents as well,” Hare said.

“She has been an example of servant leadership to everyone. She has personified through her action putting others’ needs ahead of her own,” Hare said. “We are blessed and honored to have Casey Martin as a teacher, mentor, and example of others at Sullivan East High School.”

Try the Kingsport Times News app today. Download here from Google Play and the App Store.


Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, center, is hit by Jacksonville Jaguars outside linebacker Josh Allen (41) as he releases the ball during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla.


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