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$300,000 property purchase pulled last minute from Johnson City Commission agenda

David Floyd • Updated Feb 6, 2020 at 1:44 PM

Approval of the purchase of three properties between West King Street and West Fairview Avenue for $300,000 to help address stormwater issues was pulled from the Johnson City Commission’s agenda last minute at the request of one of the property owners.

Johnson City Director of Public Works Phil Pindzola said there’s disagreement about the valuations of the properties. Pindzola said the $300,000 offer from the city is “more than fair.”

“The ball’s in their court,” he said. “We’ve made our highest and best offer, and that’s as far as we’re going. Now it’s up to them as to how to divvy up the proceeds from the sale if they can come to an agreement.”

The properties are located at 311 and 313 W. Fairview Ave. and 246 W. King St.

Both property owner Robert Combs and his father, Bob, said early Wednesday afternoon that they believe the city should be offering more for the parcels, where the family operates a Roto-Rooter plumbing and septic tank service. Bob Combs said he also runs a rental office at the site for a series of residential properties that he owns.

State property information lists four owners of the property at 246 W. King St., including Robert Combs and his father. Robert Combs is listed as the sole owner on the other two properties, according to state property information.

Pindzola said he’s been speaking to the son, Robert. Bob appeared at the meeting Wednesday and spoke to city officials before the item was ultimately pulled. Bob said his family was in agreement about pulling the item from the agenda.

The city says the three properties are included in its downtown stormwater master plan to “enhance the water flow from Carver Recreation Center to the downtown stormwater facilities” and that a “greenspace/walking trail” would connect the two facilities.

In the master plan, Pindzola said there was a recognition that the box culvert under King Street could only handle a two-year storm. He said it can fill up rapidly, putting water on the roadway. The changes would help the city minimize flooding.

“Eventually, we would take the stream and run it through the properties and just keep it in a wide open ditch that can handle large storm events and then make a connection over to the Boone Street basin,” Pindzola said of the city’s plans for the properties.

The city says the three properties are tax assessed at $207,100. An appraisal was performed in 2015 that valued the three properties at $242,000 total: $146,000 for 313 W. Fairview Ave., $17,000 for 311 W. Fairview Ave. and $79,000 for 246 W. King St.

Because an existing business occupies the properties, the city says the difference between the appraised value and the $300,000 offer is the relocation value. The Combs are concerned the difference won’t be enough to relocate.

Normally held on the first and third Thursdays of the month, the city moved its regular meeting to Wednesday to accommodate the governor’s State of East Tennessee address at 6 p.m. Thursday at the East Tennessee State University Millennium Center.

City gets clean opinion from auditor

Johnson City has received a clean, unmodified opinion for fiscal year 2019 from its auditors, Blackburn, Childers & Steagall.

Among other pieces of financial information addressed during a presentation to the City Commission Wednesday, officials said the city’s debt is in a good position.

City Manager Pete Peterson said the legal limit for the city’s debt is 10% of the assessed value of real estate in the city limits. The city’s debt currently accounts for 4.3% of that figure, which leaves 5.7% of additional capacity.

“The issuance of debt is not something that we take lightly,” Peterson said. “There’s a number of parameters that we try to stay within.”

Peterson said the audit indicates that the city is in a strong financial situation.

“Revenues are continuing to be very strong,” he said. “We’re staying within the budgeted amount on expenditures. We were able to add significantly to our fund balance at the close of FY 19, so I think this is a direct result of very wise, strategic investments into our infrastructure from the board of commissioners, which has allowed the local economy to grow and produce these great financial results for us.”

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