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Industrial park, utility water tops county list for the new year

A new year brings new opportunities for people, but it also brings new chances for local government to get things accomplished. In 2016, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge says there are plenty of things he wants to finish and get started.
One of the things that Eldridge is excited about is the expansion of the industrial park.
The Washington County Commission approved in November the funding to match a TVA grant, along with other grants, that will help the county pay for the expansion and grading of the two pad sites.
“That will give us a 65 acres and 20 acres that have been graded and have the access and utilities in place ready for an industrial recruit,” Eldridge said. “Today we don’t have any sites prepared for industrial growth in the entire county.”
Such upgrades will help to attract important businesses to the area, according to the mayor.
“The challenge today is that companies don’t want to buy a cow pasture and wait a couple of years while the environmental work is done, the design work is done, the grading is done, before they even start the facility,” he said.
Another huge priority for the mayor as the oldest county in Tennessee, which enters its 239th year of existence, is to find a way to address the issue of 200 miles of county roads which are not served with utility water.
“Unfortunately, it’s a meaningful percentage of our population that does not have safe drinking water,” Eldridge said. “Because the things that we are continuing to find is that the wells and the springs are continuing to show up with contamination.”
However, in order to solve the problem, it boils down to one thing.
“This is something that is such an expensive issue. We have guesstimates that in today’s dollar amount, this is $100 million problem,” Eldridge said. “So obviously it isn’t going to be solved quickly. But we did have a need and a desire and intent from this commission to develop a plan that, over the long term, really addresses this issue.”
Other things that have already been put into motion is the change in software that all of the county offices will be implementing throughout the year. The DOS system that they have used since the 1980s will be replaced with a new Windows-based, Cloud-operating system that will bring the county offices into the 21st century.
“A year from now, we will be winding down the implementation process,” Eldridge said. “That process can easily be an 18-month process, but a year from now, hopefully we have everything in place. We have the training done and we are well into the implementation.”
The county will also be updating base personnel policies, which have not had an overhaul since 1997, according to Eldridge.
But that isn’t the only procedural things county officials will be keeping track of this year.
A new state law requires each county government to fully document their internal control procedures, which basically means that the county government will have to document each process that it goes through. Even though the external auditors have reviewed the procedures of the county to make sure that they are in compliance, it is now required by state law that those must be written out, step-by-step. This must be completed by June 30.
The Mayor was also big on making sure that the county continues its upkeep with the nearly $280 million worth of county buildings and equipment. That includes recurring costs that are needed for the 14 school buildings that the county oversees.
Finally, one last thing that Eldridge would like to see change in the new year is the regional cooperation between the eight counties that make up Northeast Tennessee.
“We need to be focused on how we work together and how we share ideas and share assets for the benefit of the region,” he said. “For us to be competitive for that private sector – that all important private sector investment that we have to have to grow the tax base – we have to have a way to work together and help each other.”
That type of regional cooperation would result in one thing, according to the Mayor. The area as a whole would win.