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Town residents voice opinions

A standing-room-only crowd of Jonesborough residents filled the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center Aug. 23, expressing varying degrees of support and opposition for four proposed Town of Jonesborough projects.
Nearly two dozen individuals spoke at the public meeting and the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen listened as, one at a time, each individual stepped up to the podium and expressed his or her opinions on recommended projects that are at the heart of a potential property tax increase.
Those projects include building a new senior center and city garage, the renovation and completion of the McKinney Arts Center, and the proposed purchase of the old Jackson Theatre.
Many of those in attendance voiced their support for a new senior center and wore badges that read, “We need a new Senior Center”.
But others bluntly said that a property tax increase to fund that or any other project was unacceptable.
Town Administrator Bob Browning presented slides showing the current status of the senior center, the city garage, the McKinney Arts Center and the old Jackson Theatre.
C.W. Parker, of Ken Ross Architects, was also on hand to present proposed designs for a new senior center.
Parker described a $2 million center that would include multi-purpose spaces, outdoor covered patios, and a commercial grade kitchen in the 11,820 square foot space.
Additionally, he said, there would be 5,000 square feet in unfinished space that would allow for future expansion.
“Recreation monies could possibly be used for building a gym and an aquatics exercise area or lap pool,” he said. “The general public could use it in the evening.”
The Herald & Tribune later asked Browning to clarify Parker’s remarks concerning public usage.
“It could be rental space controlled by the senior center staff and available for them in the day, but operated by the recreation department at night,” Browning said.
“If you have a fairly large gym space it could be funded in different ways.”
Browning explained that while there is no grant funding available for a senior center, there are grants for a gym that kids could use at night.
“There is no reason for us not to consider shared usage,” Browning said.
“When people talk about a community center, they are talking about using the space more effectively.”
Resident Nancy Renfro says she is afraid of the possibility the proposed senior center might become a community center.
“I’m scared to death that once we vote for the senior center, somebody will come in like they did in Johnson City and try to make it a community center for everybody. That is a big no-no,” she said.
Other issues concerning residents included site selection and increased taxes to support the center.
Town resident Jeff Dupre expressed his concerns with the former city garage site proposed for the center.
“Bob Browning, in his opening remarks, talked about the existing city garage complex and the fact that the foundations weren’t stable on even the newer buildings, because it used to be a landfill,” Dupre told the Herald & Tribune.
“If the (ground) site isn’t adequate for a garage, it certainly isn’t adequate for a $2 million building.”
Browning said that while the property had never actually been a landfill, it had just been a place where “things got dumped.”
“The problem,” he said, “is only in the fenced-in area used for seized vehicles. That is where we have had trouble with the subsurface area.
“But that is the area we would use for a park, a landscaped area. We have never had a problem with the other areas.”
Sandy Spearse, Mary Williams and Lon Reed all agreed that a new senior center is needed, but questioned whether the town can afford it.
Raymond Marney told the group, “I do not want to pay a penny more in property taxes.” This comment drew applause from the crowd.
Several of the speakers suggested increasing sales taxes or using a wheel tax to pay for the senior center.
A number of others, including Dupre and Dave McCartney, suggested renovating the former White’s Grocery Store building, a location that they said already has adequate parking and many of the necessary features in place that are needed for a senior center.
While the project concerning building a new city garage in another location drew little discussion, a number of residents balked at the $500,000 price tag on the Jackson Theatre.
Resident Pat Howard suggested using the money that would be spent on the theatre and putting it toward a new senior center.
Several residents spoke in favor of proceeding with the development of the McKinney Arts Center and Marion McKinney addressed the group with a plea.
“I’m so concerned that all the projects we’re discussing were under a heading as requiring a tax increase,” she said.
“Truthfully, the only tax increase needed is for the senior center.
“Please don’t include the McKinney Center in a group of projects that causes a tax increase.”
Larke Foster also spoke in support of the McKinney Center.
“The center already has full funding for programming from James Martin and partial funding for renovations,” she said.
“If the funding is not used, it will be lost. Finish the center and bring Mr. McKinney’s vision to life.”