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Johnson City leaders OK sole economic entity

December 5th, 2013 9:55 pm by Gary B. Gray

Johnson City leaders OK sole economic entity

Mitch Miller, WCEDC chairman and CEO (Lee Talber/ Johnson City Press)

The City Commission agreed to sign an intergovernmental agreement Thursday recognizing the Washington County Economic Development Council as the county’s Joint Economic and Community Development Board.

When Washington County commissioners and town of Jonesborough aldermen do the same, the council will become the county’s official, state-recognized Public Chapter 1101 designee. The move would eliminate the Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Economic Development Board’s state designation and clear away what many officials say has been a cluttered pathway for both communication and funding for growth over the past few years.

Though already considered the county’s central hub when it comes to fostering entrepreneurship, the new title will clearly position the WCEDC as a destination for state funding under guidelines set by PC 1101. 

The EDB and the Johnson City Development Authority have and will continue to work with the council, though these two organizations fall under the WCEDC “umbrella.” The EDB has for some time now been virtually nonexistent and meetings are regularly canceled due to a lack of a quorum. Meanwhile, the JCDA plays a big part in downtown revitalization and holds debt incurred through various tax increment financing deals.

“Over the past six or seven months, we’ve aligned the council to be in compliance with 1101,” Mitch Miller, WCEDC chairman and CEO, told city commissioners less than an hour after speaking to members of the County Commission’s Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Committee in Jonesborough. “The council has been holding about $196,000 that has been going to the EDB from state grant dollars. The EDB also has an account with SunTrust Bank in which there is about $173,000. The council has requested those funds to be earmarked for industrial development. The EDB has served in that role for some time, but it’s just beginning to be another step in the process.”

That process is outlined in state law

In 1998, Tennessee’s General Assembly enacted PC 1101, which requires local officials within each of the 92 counties to work together to shape 20-year growth plans. The act also spells out that a JCEDB (WCEDC) exists to foster communication related to economic and community development between and among governmental entities, industry and private citizens.” 

Under the agreement, each “member” must contribute a percentage toward the newly designated board’s annual budget for the next three years. 

The organization’s annual budget is about $850,000, and Johnson City and Washington County agree to pitch in about $171,000 each over the next three years. The town of Jonesborough would contribute $7,000 per year. More than $500,000 annually is expected to come from private donations.

“I think the EDC has done a great job to help recruit new businesses and to help existing businesses,” Commissioner Jeff Banyas said, “I was at the CIA (county) meeting, and I was certainly encouraged with their intent to move this forward to the County Commission.”

Mike Rutherford, the county’s zoning administrator and a challenger for County Mayor Dan Eldridge’s chief executive spot in next year’s Republican primary, introduced the agreement to CIA committee members and said it was “very important when it comes to compliance so we can be able to eligible for state grants.”

Other than a few grumblings about the agreement not already being in place, members and other county commissioners in attendance championed the move and complimented Miller.

City commissioners also approved a third and final reading of an amended spay/neuter ordinance in a 3-2 vote. 

Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin, Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and Commissioner Jenny Brock voted for the ordinance; Commissioners David Tomita and Banyas opposed the ordinance.

Residents can obtain unaltered permits for $25 per animal. 

Basically, pet owners whose dogs or cats are found running at large will receive only a violation charge if the permit was acquired before the violation. In this case, that permit will remain valid regardless of the number of citations, though charges will be incurred.

However, if an animal is running at large and taken to the animal shelter for the first time and it is not spayed or neutered, the owner will be given an opportunity to obtain a permit for life. But that permit will be voided should the animal/owner incur a subsequent violation. Owners will be given 30 days to have the animal fixed. If that is done, they can bring evidence of that action to Municipal Court and the violation will be dismissed.

The ordinance originally was proposed by Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs, who also made a similar proposal that failed in 2009. She said the Animal Control Center took in 7,245 animals and euthanized 4,544 last year.

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