Mayors look to the future in Washington County

Robert Houk • Apr 28, 2018 at 12:00 AM

The mayors of Johnson City, Washington County and Jonesborough urged members of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce on Friday to shop locally and plan for the future.

Johnson City Mayor David Tomita told the Chamber’s “State of the City, County and Town Luncheon” that one of Johnson City’s greatest challenges in the coming years will be to replace the $1 million in revenues the city will lose when the state finally phases out the Hall Income Tax. Tomita hopes local sales tax collections will help fill the gap.

“Shopping on Amazon is easy, I get it, but shop locally,” he said. “It’s very important that money stays here.”

Tomita said the city’s property tax revenues have grown by 23 percent in the past three years. Meanwhile, Tomita said his city’s sales tax growth have remained steady.

“We saw some impact from The Pinnacle, but that has leveled out,” he said.

Paying Off

The mayor said he expects to see many of the Johnson City’s recent investments in and near the downtown area, such as Kings Commons and the Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park, to yield big economic dividends.

“We’ve been looking for ways to get quick hits,” Tomita said, who is a GOP candidate for county mayor on the May 1 ballot. “We want to get activity going without breaking the bank.”

Meanwhile, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who is not seeking re-election to office in August, told Chamber members the county recently received a positive financial review from Moody’s Investor Service. He said the report “viewed us to have a strong financial position, favorable to our rating of Aa2.”

Debt Under Control

In the last eight years, Eldridge said the county has made $50 million in investments for new schools and other capital projects while adding just $5.9 million to the debt principal owed. He said Washington County now owes $51 million less in debt service than it did in 2010.

“That does not constitute a mountain of debt, as I’ve heard said in the last few weeks,” Eldridge said.

The mayor said the County Commission recently voted to spend $565,000 to buy additional acreage for the county’s industrial park. He said Washington County now has “two shovel-ready” Select Tennessee certified sites, which makes him confident it is “just a matter of time” before the county lands “a meaningful” industrial prospect.

Eldridge told Chamber members efforts must be made to prepare county students for the workplace. He said a “quality workforce attracts quality jobs.”

Looking To The Future

Finally, Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest began his review of his town by thanking a “strong team” of department heads in Jonesborough,” whom he said has looked to the future in taking on key projects.

He said Jonesborough has shown “longterm vision” in building a new wastewater plant that will meet the town’s needs for the next 25 to 30 years. He said the same is true of the new town garage, which was recently approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Vest said the town is also “expecting great things from the renovation of the Jackson Theatre” on Main Street. He said the finished project could someday “rival the Barter Theatre” in Abingdon, Virginia.

“We think this is the final part of the puzzle downtown,” he said.

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