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Some residents may be required to start paying city taxes

By Jonathan Pleasant
Several residents in and around Mountain City may find that they will now be required to pay city taxes, following several months of research and clarification by the city board of aldermen, the Johnson County 911, and the tax assessors office. Initially trying to correct or improve first response services for areas of the town that dead end outside of the municipal boundaries, it was eventually discovered that there have been discrepancies in which official boundary map to use.
Looking into the issue farther it was discovered that there are actually several residences that do already fall within the town limits but have never paid city taxes because of incorrect information. Hoping to fix these problems, the city council asked Pat Hardy from the state’s Municipal Technical Assistance Service (MTAS), to come to this month’s meeting and help assess the situation. According to Hardy, anyone living within the city boundaries must pay city taxes just like every other resident.
However, this does not necessarily place an obligation on the city to provide extra services to these residents, although it is generally recommended. The council held an in depth discussion of the issue, including everything from police protection, which would be a given, to sewer and water service. While the council does anticipate that there might be numerous questions and concerns about the corrections in the city tax rolls, stemming primarily from the increased tax costs, several of the aldermen did point out that the move might actually reduce other costs, including fire insurance premiums and a reduced rate for city water.
City Attorney Steve McEwen pointed out that the town does have the right to de-annex these properties and officially remove them from the city limits, but also noted that the task would be very difficult since there is no single, unified area that is affected. With no quick fix of any kind, the council determined to take a closer look at the problem and try to find the best course of action.
Adam Williams from Brushy Fork Engineering was on hand to discuss several ongoing projects, including the city’s Streetscapes grant from TDOT, which has been in the works for several years. Intended to add landscaping downtown and possibly help with a few minor traffic issues, Brushy Fork has been the engineering firm for the city on this project since 2012.
Donating a sizeable percentage of their normal fees, Brushy Fork was already paid half of their portion of the grant monies, with the council voting to give the other half Tuesday night. Having gone through most of the preliminary work, the project is now in the hands of TDOT, who stand as the last hurdle before construction can hopefully begin sometime next year. Williams is likewise working with the Goose Creek Trail project, including the construction of a pedestrian bridge, and is facing a similar situation with TDOT.
These public works type projects aside, Brushy Fork specializes in environmental work, including stream bank stabilization and have been responsible for helping with much of the work done up Furnace Creek toward Laurel Bloomery. Williams indicated that the second phase of that grant will soon come into effect and would help rehab the stream all the way down to Tri-State Growers. Involving $300,000-350,000 in work, with much of the labor coming from the city Public Works Department, the project has a similarly sizeable scope as that of phase one. However, the stream that Williams has been getting the most complaints about is actually the Old Town Creek, which runs adjacent to Cross Roads Drive.
With no monies currently available but several issues to address, Williams suggested holding a public input forum to identify and brainstorm a potential strategy for working on the creek. The council agreed that there have been numerous problems with flooding along the streambed and expressed their interest in digging into the subject farther.
Mayor Lawrence Keeble led the discussion concerning the status of the Ramsey building downtown, and the possibility that the city might buy the structure to make way for a new Farmers Market building. Keeble has been in touch with market president Robert Back, but hasn’t actually had any real feedback from the board as a whole. However, the mayor has been doing extensive research into the cost of buying the property, as well as demolition costs if a sale were completed.
The lot size does fit the basic dimensions that the market was intending for their site in Ralph Stout Park and there is some potential for parking at the rear of the building, but regardless of the market’s interest Keeble also noted that the building poses a serious fire and health hazard. Considering this, Keeble posed a question for the council to think about whether they would consider buying the building only if the Farmers Market is interested or buy it period with no real direction for the lot afterwards.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk on newsstands now.