By Jonathan Pleasant
After several months of discussion and years of planning, the Mountain City Council finally made a decision on their ongoing Goose Creek Trail project, running from Ralph Stout Park to the Johnson County/Mountain City Welcome Center. While the original idea was to follow the creek itself, issues with a few final property owners along the route have left the council with little choice but to move the trail onto the existing state right of way parallel to Highway 421.
While far from the scenic walkway that was initially envisioned, the trail will still provide a multiuse corridor that is hoped to eventually connect with other developing attractions in the county such as the Laurel Creek Trail, and consequently the Virginia Creeper, as well as the Doe Mountain recreation area. Even though the roadside path is not what city leaders had in mind, board members like Mayor Lawrence Keeble and Kenny Icenhour did re-emphasize the importance of completing the grant funded project in some form to be eligible for more successful trails in the future. Working on the principle that any trail is better than no trail, Mayor Keeble made the motion to go ahead with the TDOT Right of Way option, which was supported unanimously.
At most meetings aldermen like Bob Morrison and Jerry Jordan have made a point to thank the consistent professionalism and hard work of the citys employees, but this month there was a very special presentation for long time sanitation worker Buford Adams who received a plaque commemorating 20 years of dedicated service for the city. Mayor Keeble presented the achievement and thanked Adams for his impeccable work and long running record with the town, noting that he is a part of what makes Mountain City a special place.
The council also heard a roadblock request from Tommy Lipford representing Black Jack Rescue, a non-profit organization focused on finding homes for dogs. Funds from the roadblock will go towards purchasing essential items like dog food and supplies and interested supporters can visit the groups Facebook page at Friends of Johnson County Dogs. Alderman Bob Morrison made the motion to approve Libfords request, which received full support.
City/County Economic Development Coordinator Karla Prudhomme was also present at the meeting to discuss a potential block grant opportunity that works directly with business owners downtown. At $25,000, the city would be the oversight for dividing the funds that requires a 25 percent match. Funds would be used by qualified downtown businesses to make improvements to their storefronts, including projects such as window replacement, painting, awnings, and façade improvements. The building owner would be responsible for their 25 percent of the project but the funds could go a long way to making much needed repairs.
Prudhomme did caution that the application process is full of hurdles, but also pointed out that Mountain City is one of only eight communities in the state already qualified as economically distressed. Grant monies cannot be used for governmental buildings such as the courthouse or the city hall, and can only be utilized on the front or street facing portions of downtown businesses in most cases. While there are still many questions to be answered about the grants implementation, the council did give their blessing for Prudhomme to move forward with the application process, feeling that it could greatly help the citys central district.
Several members of the board once again raised concerns about the potential for an indoor shooting facility to be constructed at the pawnshop on Highway 67. Vice Mayor Bud Crosswhite in particular explained that he had been approached by several citizens with noise and safety concerns. City attorney Steve McEwen re-stated that although these concerns could be legitimate there is very little the city could legally do to stop an indoor firing range from being built, leaving it up to the citizens themselves to file suit if a problem arises. Even so, the board seemed to unanimously express their disapproval on having such a business locate in a highly residential area.
Collection and Distribution Superintendent Jerry Horne addressed the board concerning issues with a water system bladder tank located at the top of Sink Mountain. After cracking twice in the past, the tank is damaged again and in need of replacement. However, after consulting with the citys engineer, Horne revealed it might be possible to work with the citys telemetry system to re-configure pumps at the bottom of the mountain to maintain a steady flow of water to the high elevation parts of the community. Basically the pumps would run at low power all the time to maintain pressure, rather than stopping and starting as they do currently. A much cheaper alternative than simply replacing the tank outright, the council went along with Hornes recommendation and voted to approve the change.
Flo Bellamy with the City/County Community Center made a request to the council to restore television service at the center. With the cable company converting to a new digital system, the center lost its service last month and is now looking at costs to resume a basic package of channels for the buildings three televisions. With work on the budget just beginning, Mayor Keeble did explain that the city would have to look very closely at costs and try to get the best deal possible. This meant that the issue was tabled for another month, but hopefully the city will be able to find a suitable option in the immediate future.
Bellamy also announced that the Community Centers annual Easter Egg Hunt will be on April 12th and will feature an amazing 4,0000-6,000 plastic eggs hidden with candy inside. Supplies for the event were all generously donated, including help from businesses such as the local Dollar General.
Public Works Director Bob Eller was one of the last department heads to speak, discussing a request from the County School Board to consider raising the school zone limit on Highway 421 in town from 15 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. School zones at other locations like Roan Creek Elementary are already 25, and on a four-lane like 421, the school board has received many complaints about the unusually low speed. The change would also require state support but the board would need the citys agreement as well. Alderman Kenny Icenhour made the motion to support the school boards request, which passed without issue.
The last item of the evening was the re-appointment of several city positions. City Recorder Sheila Shaw, Public Works Director Bob Eller, Chief of Police Denver Church, City Attorney Steve McEwen, and City Judge Sarah Lawson were all unanimously approved for an additional two-year term and will officially be sworn in prior to the next months meeting. With nothing further to discuss, Alderman Bob Morrison called the end of the meeting with a motion to adjourn.
By Jonathan Pleasant