Twins' future remains uncertain; other Elizabethton big ticket items becoming clearer

John Thompson • Updated Mar 16, 2017 at 9:28 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The future of the Elizabethton Twins remains unanswered, but other big ticket items came into sharper focus Thursday afternoon, when the Elizabethton City Council held a workshop session to discuss capital spending.

Even though a recent refinancing of the city’s debt resulted in $2.6 million in new money, that is not enough to cover all the costs of such projects as the expansion of T.A. Dugger Junior High School, a new headquarters building for the Elizabethton Police Department and a stadium upgrade for the Elizabethton Twins. Because the meeting was a workshop, the council members could make no decision on what projects to fund, but the information did make the priorities clearer. 

The big uncertainty is whether the Minnesota Twins will continue their relationship with Elizabethton. Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander said he has talked with Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter. He said St. Peter told him the Twins have been looking at other options. The Twins’ contract to field a team in Elizabethton expires in September.

Alexander told the council members that St. Peter told him the Twins would not be able to meet a deadline the city requested so it could make budgetary decisions on upgrading Joe O’Brien Field. The city will begin talks on the 2017-18 budget in April.

Richard Barker, head of the Twins Task Force, said a decision to upgrade the stadium so it meets the specifications of the Appalachian League and Ellizabethton High School would still be worthwhile.

“If Minnesota wants to continue with us, that is fine, but we will have a brand new, attractive ball park,” Barker said, which would not only be an asset for the city’s high school team, but would be able to attract another rookie league team if Minnesota decided to pull out. He said the cost of the upgrades would be around $2.6 million.

In other matters, the workshop provided more certainty. Elizabethton City School System Director Corey Gardenhour was the first speaker of the afternoon and he immediately eased the pressure on the council by suggesting the $4 million project to build seven classrooms, four restrooms at T.A. Dugger could wait until the 2018-19 fiscal year, when a portion of the city’s bonds will be paid off. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, he said the way could be made for the expansion by removing the old home stands from Brown-Childress Stadium, the former football stadium for Elizabethton High School.

More pressure was eased when Elizabethton Police Chief Jason Shaw said improving the communications system and records management system were higher priorities than a projected $2.6 million expenditure for a new headquarters.

Shaw said his biggest concern was making sure his officers had adequate communications. While grant money will fund the acquisition of up-to-date hand-held radios and radios in cruisers, he said the communications infrastructure also needed to upgraded. That is projected to cost $162,000. The department also needs a better records management system, Shaw said.

Shaw said he was not in favor of a proposed movement of the police department to the Elizabethton Municipal Airport. He said the move would create several problems, including increased travel expenses, and an inconvenient location.

City Manager Jerome Kitchens said the anticipated savings of moving the department to the airport were not found and the plans to move the police department to the airport were “off the table.”

That left the plan to upgrade the current headquarters and expand to the neighboring two-story building which had formerly been the Ritchie Furniture warehouse.

Even if the decision was made not to expand the police building next fiscal year, Johann Coetzee, director of the city’s Water Resource Department, said the current building would need work done to renovate its sewerage system.

“There is a problem there,” Coetzee said. “There are an awful lot of people crammed into a small, old building. ... I am concerned about their health and welfare.”

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