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County approves athletic project, industrial park plan

Commissioner Robbie Tester discusses payment in lieu of taxes plans in the county.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

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The Washington County Commission was thinking of new ballfields and a potential new manufacturer when the group passed two motions approving plans at the Boones Creek athletic facility site and the Washington County Industrial Park.

The commission passed a resolution to use $150,000 for utility infrastructure construction at the Boones Creek athletic facility site in a 12-1-1 vote. Commissioner Danny Edens was opposed, Robbie Tester abstained from the vote and Mike Ford was absent.

“It was recommended we take some action on this because the children starting school in August,” Commissioner Phil Carriger, the chairman of the Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Committee, said. “Right now it’s nothing but red clay out there. We’d love to have some fields for them and some grass in.”

Commissioners Larry England and Jodi Jones, who are also part of the CIA Committee, added that doing the electrical work and utilizing the equipment while it is already on the site would be part of the preliminary plan.

The budget for the project is set at $3.2 million, which Carriger said would not be exceeded. Meanwhile, Edens asked that if the all money for the athletic facilities were not used, could those funds go towards the Jonesborough School project, which has been on hold for the past two years.

“They have a new school. I’m not against them having these fields, but our other schools don’t have this,” Edens said. “Jonesborough is probably the neediest school of all of them and we are struggling to figure out where we’re going to get the money, do we have the money, if we have the money where is the money. But we are building a sports complex at Boones Creek. I don’t know how we do that.”

Commissioner Jim Wheeler added that he thought the CIA Committee needed to consider the athletic facilities plan in conjunction with the other schools along with the Health, Education and Welfare Committee that has dealt with the Jonesborough School project over the past two years.

While the athletic facilities plan is a step closer to phase one, the county also took the next step to potentially welcoming a new company to the industrial park.

In a 10-4 vote, the commission passed the resolution approving the land grant to Washington County’s Industrial Development Board. The plan also delegates authority to the IDB to negotiate and accept the payment in lieu of taxes plan for the potential company.

The company is a German manufacturer that builds fans, motors and other heating ventilation and air conditioning components. However, the unnamed company is considering another space in Tennessee and another in Texas in addition to the potential site in Washington County. Should the company choose Washington County, 179 new jobs will be created along with a $37.4 million capital investment over a five-year period.

“The $1.7 million the county invested (in the industrial park) back in 2015 was to get us to this point,” said Alicia Summers, the vice president of business development for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership. “We’re here. Now we just need to cross the finish line.”

The plan also includes a tax abatement at 100 percent during the first three years for the company, but the company would still pay the education portion, bringing in around $59,000 to the school system’s budget.

“In year one we are gaining around $59,000 for our schools that we don’t get at the moment,” Commissioner Freddie Malone said. “And that only increases each year in the future where in year four they start paying the real estate taxes and it incrementally increases following that period.”

However, Tester shared a few concerns regarding PILOT plans, adding that he felt companies that accept “these short-term incentives” seem to be more likely to leave.

“We are ultimately responsible to our constituents, not any company’s bottom line,” Tester said.

“These deals end up putting counties, cities, states in a never-ending bidding war. Taxpayers bare the cost and the companies benefit. Are these deals really the best we can do for our constituents?”

For other commissioners, offering the PILOT plan puts the county in the “game” for potential new companies.

“It is a game that is played by other communities,” England said. “And this company has visited our community in several instances just to go out among our people and our restaurants and our people. They’re doing their due diligence. It’s not just about the money. If we don’t compete in this game, the county does lose and they’ll go elsewhere.”