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Friday, July 14, 2017

Cocke Finance Committee meets on budget
Members of the Cocke County Finance Committee meeting Thursday heard from Cocke County Partnership President Lucas Graham regarding his new budget. Graham asked for a budget of $363,690, virtually the same as last year. He said $25,000 was moved from marketing, dropping the available funds available to promote the community to $25,000, in an effort to balance the budget. But Commissioner Clayton "Skip" Ellison argued that economic development is one of the most important areas. And Committee Chair Andy Tritt said whitewater rafting this year is down by 20,000 visitors, and so maintaining marketing is important. Graham said the primary hold up to recruiting new industry is the lack of site ready property. He said in the last several weeks his office has received seven Requests for Information from prospective industries. “But we were automatically excluded from four of the requests because they want 'pad ready' sites which we do not have and which are expensive to develop. The only prepared sites are in the Cope Boulevard industrial park and they are in the flood plain,” he explained. Efforts are continuing to determine the suitability as an industrial park, on 865 acres to the west of Newport. Graham said to put a rail spur on the site would cost at least $6.5 million, and the required grading would add another $6.5 million to the cost. And there would be costs for roads and other infrastructure. He added however that the state may contribute the needed roads if a large industry is recruited. Ellison argued for moving ahead on the site, saying the community has lost prospective jobs because of concern that the industrial park on Cope Boulevard is in the flood plain. Graham said to purchase the new acreage and develop it likely would cost $30 million, but it is currently difficult to compete with surrounding communities that already have site ready industrial property. And he said the community may have to take a loss on the developed land, if it means bringing in a large number of jobs. Graham said the Industrial Development Board has been very aggressive in developing an industrial incentive program. He also said the planned fiber net program has garnered much interest and will assist in the recruitment efforts. In other requests; the judicial commissioners have asked for increased pay of $25 per shift, up to $100. That would mean an increase in the budget of $9,125, up to $44,160. Bryan Evans of the Recreation Department asked for an increase of $24,000, up to $346,000. The funding would allow Evans to hire another full-time employee. He also argued that the county should find a site of at least 20 acres for a sports complex, featuring four ball fields and a concession stand. According to Evans, if the county was to supply the acreage, there are state grants available to develop the site. The committee also agreed to reimburse General Sessions Clerk Frankie "Peachie" Cody $100. County Attorney Carter Moore said a bogus $100 bill was passed as payment on a fine and wasn't detected till it arrived at the bank. Cody had made the loss good out of her personal funds. And concerned citizen David Norton argued for developing community activities for teens, so they have an alternative to drug usage. Norton also argued against a property tax increase saying a wheel tax would be more palatable.


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    Thursday, April 19, 2018

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