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City council faces criticism after voting down property purchase

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

“The entire board is in support of getting something in place for our youth.” -Alderman, Bob Morrison 

Does Johnson County need a youth center? Most residents would agree it would be beneficial. Where should it be built and who will pay for it? That is where the agreement ends. Rumors swirled and social media was abuzz after the City Council narrowly voted against moving forward with plans to purchase property for a proposed youth center. While those who voted against the proposal, Vice Mayor Jerry Jordan, Alderman Kenny Icenhour, and Aldermen Bud Crosswhite, were vilified, they insist their reservations were to the particular piece of property, located on Highway 421, which once housed a skating rink, not to the concept of seeing a youth center.

The issue, which has been debated and discussed at length over the past year, has now produced some noticeable contention between council members with accusations of abuse of power, even leading to some asserting they will not seek re-election.

“I don’t want our taxpayers to think I’m against a youth center,” said Vice Mayor Jerry Jordan. “The reason I voted against it was the building would be too expensive to remodel.” Jordan points out the property in question, currently owned by the Estate of Paul Brown, has too many safety issues at present. “If this property was deeded to the town and someone got hurt in the ruin down building we would be liable,” said Jordan. “We know that the town’s insurance carrier will not insure this building.”

Jordan also recalls the numerous issues that arose after the Town of Mountain City purchased the “old Ramsey’s building” on Main Street, including the discovery of asbestos. “The unknown cost for tearing the building down is another reason I couldn’t see the town spending money on.”

“The entire board is in support of getting something in place for our youth,” said Alderman Bob Morrison. “I supported the proposal in order to move forward so that we would have the legal right to pursue grant money.” Morrison states the issue would be moot without the securing of grants. “Without grant money, there is no way to proceed,” he said.

While many were up in arms when word began to spread that the council had voted down a youth center, few perhaps stopped to recognize the Town of Mountain City, with a population of less than 2,500 citizens, currently manages and maintains two municipal parks. The John Cunningham Park, located on College Street adjacent to the Community Center in downtown Mountain City, has a playground, tennis courts, swimming pool facilities, and a baseball field while the picturesque Ralph Stout Park, situate along Highway 42, includes a large pond, both paved and mulched walking trails, a bicycle trail, baseball and softball fields, a well-equipped playground, picnic areas with pavilions, disc golf course, a skateboard park, basketball courts and horseshoe pits.

The Johnson County/Mountain City Community Center offers after-school tutoring and activities for Johnson County students through the Lottery for Education After Schools Program (LEAPs). Additionally, many local churches have constructed youth centers and offer continuous programs and activities.

Several city taxpayers, especially those not too keen on seeing a tax increase, question what a youth center might provide that is not already available to area children and teens. In neighboring cities, the majority of widely utilized activities are provided by the private sector such as movie theaters, miniature golf, zip-lines and other recreational-type businesses.