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Water project priority gets a second look

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

The Washington County Commission is looking ahead.

During Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting, the commission reviewed and passed its funding and capital investment five-year plan in a 13-2 vote. Commissioners Kent Harris and Robbie Tester voted in opposition.

From an EMS/Fire training center and the Ashe Street Courthouse project to various school improvements and technology updates, the list details the county’s tentative projects for 2020 through 2025.

“What you see is just a blueprint.” Director of Accounts and Budgets Mitch Meredith said to the commission. “Every project we enter into comes back to this commission whether it’s capital for the schools or for courthouse renovations … most definitely you have total say in what projects we do and not do.”

Commissioners said they felt one major item was not on the list, though.

Harris felt the county’s water project, which was identified as a top priority for the commission in 2019, should be somewhere on the list.

“There’s not even a line on here that even mentions it,” Harris said. “I just think we’ve got a lot of our priorities twisted around. We met not last year but the year before last and that was the No. 1 thing when we all voted.”

This year, the county started a water task force to help bring county, state and local water system officials together to aid the county in connecting roads in Washington County that are without running water from a local water utility source. In 2017, the commission worked with local water services to begin connecting 359 county roads not currently connected to public water lines, and in 2019, identified the project, which the task force said would be broken up into smaller projects, as a main focus. This year, the committee saw meetings in February and March just before the health crisis kicked in.

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said at the last water task force meeting a feasibility study was discussed and water system officials from surrounding city entities were planning to bring more information back to the group.

“We also tasked the City of Johnson City and the City of Kingsport for opportunities to extend their system to parts of the county where it made the most sense,” Grandy said. “That information was coming back at the next meeting and we still expect that.”

Commissioner Wheeler added he felt a price for the first portion of the project needed to be set before it was added to the five-year list. He also said the commission needed to recognize this would be an ongoing project for years to come.

“We need to find out how to get that funded, absolutely, but now we don’t even know how much to fund,” Wheeler said. “The other thing with the water projects is you’re probably going to have something every one of these years once you get rolling if we want to do what we want to do in this county. There are going to be water projects every year that need to be scheduled. Two hundred miles without water means we’re going to have something every year in here.”

To see the county’s upcoming meetings, go to http://www.washingtoncountytn.org/events.