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Leaders visit Haslam, discuss revitalization zone, grants

After giving Gov. Bill Haslam enough time to “get his feet on the ground,” Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe and Town Administrator Bob Browning headed to Nashville last week to talk with the state’s newly elected leader about the needs of Tennessee’s oldest town.
“We visited the governor (on March 23) and made quite a bit of progress on several items,” Wolfe said. “The governor was very gracious and entirely approachable. We consider him our friend.”
While Haslam made no promises during last week’s visit from town leaders, he did openly discuss several issues, including the creation of a courthouse square revitalization zone in downtown Jonesborough, Wolfe said.
In 2010, Jonesborough officials succeeded in getting a bill to the state legislative floor that would have allowed Jonesborough to designate a “courthouse square revitalization and tourism development zone” in downtown. Under the bill, sales and use tax revenue earned, and sent to the state, from businesses and organizations inside the 700-foot boundary would have been redistributed back to Jonesborough. It was estimated to bring in an additional $475,000 for Jonesborough over a period of 20 years.
While the bill made it through the first round of state budget cuts, it was killed in late July as state lawmakers continued to make cuts in order to balance the books.
Town officials first talked with Haslam about the possible zone in September 2009 when the gubernatorial candidate made a campaign stop in Jonesborough.
“We revisited that issue (last week) with the governor and we have an understanding that, over the next year or so, we’re going to be working with his staff to come up with a plan that is acceptable to him as well as state legislators,” Wolfe said. “He made no promises, but we see his willingness to work with us as a very positive sign.”
It appears Haslam may also be willing to work with town leaders on moving some grant money around to better facilitate Jonesborough’s ongoing improvements to its wastewater treatment facility.
“We have a $500,000 grant for Phase II of the project and we’ve asked for that to be re-designated for Phase I,” Wolfe explained. “Right now the Phase II grant money has a time deadline and we are a little fearful that we would not be able to meet that deadline. Plus, we really could use the help on Phase I.”
The town originally planned to expand its facility’s maximum capacity from 500,000 gallons per day to 1 million. Since then, Wolfe said, a cost analysis revealed it is not much more expensive to expand to 1.5 million gallons.
Wolfe said he expects the town to be eligible for more funding and grants on Phase II of the project, some of which could be garnered in large part because of the Japanese companies currently expanding in the Washington County Industrial Park, which is connected to the Jonesborough wastewater treatment plant.
While Haslam again made no commitment to shift the current grant money to Phase I of the project, Wolfe seemed confident the governor would be willing to do so.