Erwin board approves hotel tax and Erwin Utilities transition

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated May 13, 2019 at 10:48 PM

ERWIN — The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday approved a 2.5 percent hotel/motel tax and a resolution authorizing the transfer of all Erwin Utilities assets and liabilities to a new utility authority.

Mayor Doris Hensley said the tax was revised after the state comptroller rejected the town’s initial request to impose a 5 percent tax on hotel room rentals from which all proceeds will be designated for tourism development.

With the approval of the Erwin Utilities resolution, the town’s electricity, broadband and water supplier will retain its current name while operating under the guidelines of a utility authority that better aligns with the multiple services it provides.

The board also received a request for funding to help with approximately $7.5 million in updates to Unicoi County school facilities, including a $2.4 million makeover for Gentry Stadium.

Director of Schools John English outlined each of five major renovation projects that in addition to the Unicoi County football stadium also include new tennis courts, a new gymnasium for Unicoi County Elementary School, new electric, plumbing and HVAC systems for Rock Creek Elementary School and new lighting and sound systems for the Unicoi County High School auditorium.

English told the board the county commission recently authorized the school system to transfer the annual $330,000 in debt service it is currently paying for construction of the county high school to the new capital projects list when the high school note matures in 2021.

He said the payment transfer will provide approximately $5 million over the course of a 15-year note and cover all but $2.5 million of the total cost for which the school system is reaching out to potential funding partners including the county, the towns of Erwin and Unicoi and possible corporate sponsors.

English said while each of the projects is a priority, the school system would like to begin work on the Gentry Stadium in November due to deterioration that could render the stadium unusable within the next two years.

Hensley told English the town will add the school facilities funding request to budget deliberations set to begin in the next few weeks.

In other business, the board honored two local law enforcement officers for risking their lives to save the resident of a burning home and keys to the town to four Elizabethton High School students for a prize-winning production about how Erwin overcame the stigma of the 1916 hanging of Mary the circus elephant.

Police Chief Regan Tilson presented the Police Cross Award medals to Erwin Police Officer Joshua Ollis and Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Jacob Marshall for extreme bravery in their response to a February fire on Washington Avenue.

Tilson said the two officers were the first to arrive at the burning house and rushed inside without any protection to retrieve a man who initially survived but died some time later at an area hospital.

Keys to the town were presented to EHS juniors Deanna Hall, Jaxton Holly, John Gouge and Caleb Miller for a podcast on the annual Erwin Elephant Revival that recently beat out nearly 3,000 entries in a National Public Radio competition.

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