County commissioners wait on Jonesborough's decision to recognize county economic group

Gary B. Gray • Dec 16, 2013 at 9:56 PM

County commissioners agreed Monday to enter into an intergovernmental agreement recognizing the Washington County Economic Development Council as the county’s Joint Economic and Community Development Board.

Its base purpose is growth through infrastructure improvements, procurement of land on which to develop and the ability to offer financial incentives to investors. This not only leads to financial payoffs for local governments, but also quality of life improvements, which in turn draws more investment.

But no single government entity, whether the county or any of its larger municipalities, is granted the title of “overseer” or “leader” in this shared venture — at least that’s how state law spells it out.

It’s now two down, one to go.

Johnson City commissioners approved the agreement Dec. 5 without debate, but town of Jonesborough aldermen deferred a vote for several reasons.

“I’ve been talking with (Jonesborough) Mayor Kelly Wolfe, and he’s told me that all he wanted to do was to make sure he had time to review it,” said Mitch Miller, WCEDC chairman and CEO. “I expect it will be signed in January.”

Once Jonesborough is on board, the council will become the county’s official, state-recognized Public Chapter 1101 designee, replacing the Economic Development Board. The move means state grant funding for infrastructure improvements aimed at subsequent growth can go directly to the WCEDC under guidelines set by PC 1101.

Jonesborough aldermen last week heard a presentation from Town Administrator Bob Browning, who expressed concern the agreement did not include a seat at the table for Jonesborough on the board’s Executive Committee. The town’s financial contribution is very small compared to Johnson City and Washington County, “and that appears to be the reason the town is not represented on the executive committee,” he said.

PC 1011, Section 15(d) states: “The makeup of the executive committee shall be determined by the entire joint economic and community development board but shall, at a minimum, include the county executive and the mayors or city manager of the larger municipalities in the county.”

“We’re not in any way hostile to the situation, but my understanding is we’d have to lay down another $25,000 to be on that committee,” Wolfe said Monday. “I don’t necessarily agree with that, but that’s where we are at this point. Mitch said the council met last week to talk about this, but they’re still checking into it. After our attorney reviews it, we fully expect to sign it.”

In 1998, Tennessee’s General Assembly enacted PC 1101, which requires local officials within each of the 92 counties that are not part of metro or consolidated governments to work together to shape 20-year growth plans. The Act also spells out that a JECDB (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. Jonesborough would contribute $7,000 per year, bringing the total contribution to about $350,000. More than $500,000 annually is expected to come from private and other donations.

Funding available to the WCEDC through the state includes Tennessee Housing Development Agency grant programs, community development block grants, Tennessee Industrial Infrastructure Program grants, Industrial Training Service grants, Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act funds and Tourism development grants.

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.” Officials from each entity are well aware the EDB has become less active of late and has regularly canceled meetings due to a lack of a quorum. The JCDA remains an active entity with a stake in downtown revitalization and debt holdings incurred through various tax increment financing deals.

The WCEDC has spent the past seven months making sure it was in compliance with 1101 and it has been holding about $196,000 sent to the EDB by the three governing bodies. That board also has an account with SunTrust Bank in which there is about $173,000, and the council has requested those funds to be earmarked for industrial development.

Recommended for You

    Johnson City Press Videos