Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Cocke County Finance Committee
Members of the Cocke County Finance Committee meeting Monday agreed to recommend that the county refinance $1.9 million in current debt. Scott Gibson of Cumberland Securities said the move could drop the interest rate from the current 3.8 percent down to two percent or lower. Although the refinancing will cost about $50,000 in fees, Gibson said the county will save an estimated $130,000 in interest over the next ten years. Matt Bruck of Civil Engineering consultants said the cost of additional soil boring on the proposed Highway 25E industrial park will cost about $8,700. Most of the due diligence has already been done. Robb Miller of Buxton Analytics proposed a contract which would have his firm do a study on retail recruitment opportunities for the community. He said often a retailer looks at 10 to 15 communities before choosing one site. The study would look at recruiting new retailers while at the same time supporting existing retailers, at a cost of $65,000 the first year and $50,00 annually for two additional years. Committee chair Forest Clevenger said he would only support such a move if the cost could be shared with the City of Newport. "I'd hate for us to pay the whole bill and the city reap all the benefits," he explained. CLB Chair Clay Blazer questioned the research method, pointing out that many local residents buy with cash and so relying on credit card usage would not result in a valid survey of local spending. But he added, "if we don't go with a firm like this, we won't recruit the retail firms we want." Following a report by Chief Deputy Derrick Woods, the committee agreed to recommend that $9,000 be appropriated for needed equipment for new seven new school resource officers whos salary will be funded primarily with state dollars. The county recently advertised for replacement of the roofs on the courthouse and courthouse annex, but the bids came in with a spread of $79,000. The bidders suggested the county hire an engineer to draw up specs for all bidders to go by, in an effort to ensure consistent bids on the project. Robbie Mathis presented a plan to develop a ten-episode video series to promote Cocke County. It would include local music, local people and local businesses. The "Smoky Mountains Secrets" series would be presented on Amazon and social media, to promote the community in a positive light. Mathis asked the committee to recommend funding of $18,000 for the project which is to be sponsored by Newport Utilities and the Cocke County Partnership. Clevenger had put the issue of a wheel tax on the committee agenda however he said the two commissioners who wanted to discuss the issue were not in attendance. He argued for putting the issue to a referendum. Mayor Crystal Ottinger said the issue could be included in the March 2020 primary election. She also said it would be possible to set a different wheel tax rate for different types of vehicles such as motorcycles or campers. Because of a need for a justice center, school building project and needs for roads, Clevenger proposed a wheel tax which he said would allow the property tax to be reduced after 10 years. According to Clevenger, there are an estimated 42,000 vehicles registered in the county.

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