Johnson City employees will not get discounted annual members fees at the new Memorial Park Community Center after the City Commission unanimously voted Thursday to require them to fork over the same rate as the taxpayers who paid for the facility.
“Explain to me what the rational is with the annual membership fees, especially considering taxpayers paid for this,” Commissioner Clayton Stout asked City Manager Pete Peterson following a healthy discussion on the subject. “I don’t want a discount for anybody. I want it to be across the board.”
Peterson said if city employees received discounts it would improve health, lower risks and thereby lower insurance costs, which would be a savings passed on to taxpayers.
The vote was 4-0 to delete the discounted price, with Mayor Jeff Banyas not in attendance.
Missy Hollifield, community center operations manager, rolled out the proposed rates for commissioners’ approval. These rates showed that annual memberships for Johnson City residents 17 and under, seniors 50 and older and military is $335. Resident adults 18-49 would pay $345; family resident passes would be $355.
But the city’s 901 full- and part-time “regular benefit” employees, not including Johnson City Schools’ employees, would be coughing up only $245 a year under the plan, and the $100 savings applies to both resident and non-resident employees.
“Are there any discounts for teachers and students?” Commissioner Jane Myron asked. “I think it needs to be explained — who exactly is a city employee.?”
“There is no consistent answer to that,” Peterson answered. “It’s just not that cut and dried.”
Hollifield stepped up to the podium and told commissioners that after a discussion with the city’s Human Resources Department, “we decided Johnson City Schools would not be considered as city employees (for the purpose of membership pricing).”
The vote to deny any city employee a discount ensued, and Vice Mayor Phil Carriger had this to say to Hollifield: “Listen to your customers, and come back and tweak accordingly.”
Commissioners also approved the first substantial construction contract for Johnson City’s estimated $30 million long-range flood mitigation plan, and Thomas Construction Co. is expected to begin work this month and wrap things up in September.
The Founder’s Park Retention Basin Project is the first major step in a plan that originated nearly 10 years ago. It’s not as if that peripheral plans and lesser projects have not been ongoing. They have, but it has taken a decade to get to this point.
In June, the city issued about $6 million in general revenue bonds to help pay for the first major leap — Founder’s Park, as well as two more planned phases downtown, or as much as can be paid for without finding another funding source
The city plans to let the public submit suggestions for the final naming of what has been known as Warehouse Commons and Founder’s Park. Whatever its name, the project is estimated to coast a total of $4.5 million when design, environmental, architectural, permits and other costs are calculated.
“I was on the task force when we started looking at this, and it was much more complex an issue than I thought it was going to be,” Carriger said Thursday. “We spent about three years looking at this. Johnson City could not afford to pay for 100 percent of what it needed to.
“I also think that eventually there will be a lot of development due to the action taken by the city. If we take care of the immediate issues downtown, I think the city will eventually spend some money to build detention ponds upstream.”
The project includes opening up Brush Creek, which will flow through the center of the park, bicycle racks, a drinking fountain, an information kiosk and benches are planned for an entrance at the intersection of Wilson and Lamont. These amenities also will be offered at the intersection of Sevier and West State of Franklin Road, and a fence will separate the nearby railroad track from the park. Walkways, a large green space, a pedestrian bridge and landscaping also are planned.