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News
Supporters rally for tourism funding

A group asked Loudon County Commission for more tourism funding during Monday’s public hearing on the proposed 2020-21 fiscal year budget.

Several residents spoke in support of the Loudon County Visitors Bureau, which could see a reduction in funding from the county.

For a few years the county’s contribution has been 29 percent hotel/motel tax with a cap of $145,000. The county budget committee initially considered slashing funding to $100,000 this year but later settled on a flat $120,000. LCVB’s initial request was $150,000.

“We based it on different percentages of the hotel/motel tax generated,” Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, county mayor, said. “There’s a few years ago that the visitors bureau came forward and this commission, the budget committee said, ‘If you want more revenue bring more folks in,’ and so that’s what they worked for and a year later we turned around and put a cap on it. I didn’t think that was very fair either. I think this is a revenue stream that it’s impossible to really see. I think it’s there and I think it’s valuable, but it’s not very easy to put a finger on it the specifics when it comes down to it.”

Rachel Harrell, LCVB executive director, said over the past decade county collections from the hotel/motel tax have increased 42 percent, but the proposed funding is less than in 2008.

“Twelve of that 42 percent has been in the past three years and due to the marketing efforts of the LCBV that were focused, strategic and data-driven,” Harrell said.

Tourism serves as the second-largest industry after agriculture in Tennessee, she said.

“More visitors to Loudon County equal more hotel stays, which drives dining and shopping, which drives sales tax dollars,” she said. “Hotels have a vested interest in the LCVB doing well because visitors to their businesses pay the hotel/motel tax.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Labor, 2,000 people were employed by the hospitality industry in the county in 2019. Harrell said that figure showed a 5 percent increase over 2018 and a 36 percent increase over 2008.

“These are some of the most important and most vulnerable jobs as we have just seen with COVID-19,” Harrell said. “Making sure our marketing dollars are in place now is more important than ever. Please allow me to remind you that this is not a short-term need, but a long-time investment.”

Sarah and Jeff Linginfelter came representing the visitors bureau board and as small business owners of Dead Man’s Farm near Philadelphia.

Sarah believes a reduction would be a “great injustice.”

“The visitors bureau is instrumental in marketing our county to visitors in an effort to bring more sales tax dollars, to offset taxes that would otherwise have to be paid by county residents,” she said. “Tourism is a nonpolluting industry that does not cost the county nor the citizens, but provides a return on investment. The visitors bureau is the only agency in Loudon County that promotes the county as a whole and is considered the marketing arm for each of the cities. ... Please consider reinstating the percentage-based funding for the visitors bureau.”

Additional marketing for small businesses makes a big difference, she said.

Dead Man’s Farm has a visitor radius of 350 miles, with many coming from outside the state, Jeff said.

“Being a small tourist attraction we do have a small marketing budget and the reach of the visitors bureau marketing plan is much greater than what we can actually do on our own; it’s been a huge help for us,” Jeff said. “Along with Dead Man’s Farm, we are privileged to have many great opportunities for visitors in our county and we’re thrilled for that. The money that our visitors spend while in Loudon County help us all to save on our taxes.”

Knox County resident Klair Kimmey has served as a member of the visitors bureau off and on for 18 years.

“We have ways now since Rachel came on board to track the work we’re doing and the effect it has on the county, and I just think we’re going in the right direction, and I’d hate to see a funding reduction to stop us in our tracks,” Kimmey said. “Please help us to help the county.”

Anit Patel, with La Quinta Inn & Suites in Loudon and Econo Lodge in Lenoir City, and LCVB employee Ashley Fletcher also supported better funding.

County resident Pat Hunter said Lenoir City should contribute a higher contribution. She considered Lenoir City’s $15,000 a “pittance.” Lenoir City has actually planned $30,000 for the LCVB in the upcoming budget.

“Lenoir City is clearly the benefactor of retail sales, restaurants and hotel/motel occupancy,” she said. “So it’s time for Lenoir City to pay the lion’s share, not the other way around. Any hard work from the visitors bureau benefits Lenoir City, not Loudon County. Please keep the county’s share at $100,000. Loudon city has earmarked $20,000 for the visitors bureau in their proposed 2020 budget.”

Other budget matters

County resident Pandora Vreeland said the commission’s planned spending of reserves is a “plundering-type move,” which includes some for raises.

The current county general fund beginning fund balance is estimated at $4.28 million and could have an unassigned end at about $2.5 million a year from now. County employees are expected to increase to 417 from 415 in 2019-20 and from 372 in 2018-19.

“It’s kind of like being in a bubble and it’s very disconcerting when I look at that because I think, ‘Wow, everybody watches the news. Everybody knows somebody who’s unemployed,’ ... yet I see a big, big budget that runs us into a deficit and will make us tap those reserves so hard the next time the budget committee meets next year, they’re up against the wall, they’re going to have to throw a tax increase out,” Vreeland said. “That’s really terrible planning. That’s disrespectful planning.”

The county is considering a 2 percent raise for employees, Bradshaw said.

Hunter requested a freeze on new hires, and asked the county to not dip into the fund balance for raises. She did ask salary supplements be given to department heads in purchasing and maintenance due to additional duties on the jail expansion and Loudon County Courthouse restoration.

She also requested the county split its $3,000 contribution with Loudon for mowing Riverside Cemetery, reduce Greenback Volunteer Fire Department’s contribution back to $35,000 from $45,000, create a nonprofit policy and rotate yearly beneficiaries except fire and rescue and remove Philadelphia Volunteer Fire Department’s request until it meets the state requirement of submitting an annual audit to the county.

County resident Richard Anklin asked for the county to avoid spending nonrecurring money on recurring expenses.

Michele Lewis, Loudon County Education Foundation executive director, requested the county restore the $2,500 contribution level it had the past two years for Run LoCo, a December marathon that benefits LCEF.

“For the first year our expense to the Loudon County officers for safety and security was $3,400, and in 2019 our expense was $2,805,” she said. “So we’ve received $5,000 from the county, but we’ve paid about $6,200 back in.”

Lewis said the visitors bureau provided “quite a bit” of marketing for the marathon that has the possibility of being a “signature event” for the county.

The budget committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the county office building before making a final recommendation for vote at the regular meeting at 5 p.m. Monday at the Loudon County Courthouse Annex.


Covid19
County celebrates 150 years

Under a sunny, blue sky Saturday morning, a small gathering honored Loudon County’s 150th birthday and centennial time capsule viewing.

A ceremony at 10 a.m. outside the Loudon Public Library was streamed online and recorded for future viewing. At least one representative from each part of the county was present, including mayors, county commissioners, Loudon County Sesquicentennial Committee members and those involved in the 1970 time capsule burial.

Bo Carey, sesquicentennial committee chairman, pointed to the past 18 months being “very unusual and trying times.” Loudon County Courthouse caught fire and the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We’re looking forward to the future,” Carey said. “Our plans with this committee are to focus on what’s ahead in the last second half of this year for our celebration.”

Although a smaller ceremony was held Saturday, a public event is scheduled Nov. 14 with hopes of it being at the courthouse. Carey hoped to use Saturday as a kickoff celebration for the remainder of the year.

“It will be a grand celebration if the health situation is there, and it will be an opportunity to unveil a new time capsule and basically culminate our time,” he said. “... I urge all of you to participate over the next six months as we develop new events, share, get people to participate in the new sesquicentennial time capsule and celebrate our great county.”

Viewing history

The ceremony included the showing of items exhumed from the 1970 capsule in March, which were displayed in the library along with a charred courthouse beam.

Saturday was a part of history, Ruth McQueen, committee member, said.

“You may chuckle a little but if you put your thinking caps on and think about who or whom might be sitting in these chairs 50 years from now and what they will be saying about the history of Loudon County and those who were here 200, 100, 150 and then those who came and started all this many, many years ago,” she said.

McQueen and others dried damaged materials from the old capsule. Committee members agreed to exhume the capsule in hopes of preventing an “uh oh” moment.

“The vault was not waterproof,” McQueen said. “Fifty years is a long time, and we had two of the wettest springs we have ever had in the history of mankind in Loudon County. The casket was not a casket, it was a pine box that had rotted and the top had fallen in on all the material.”

A majority of items were lost. Committee members found a fishing lure, high school football mouth guard, a Corinth Baptist Church flier, a Cumberland Presbyterian Church newsletter, a Bible, newspaper clippings, a pocket watch, toy truck and pocket knives McQueen wondered were from whittlers on the courthouse lawn.

Items were displayed in the library labeled Faith, Service, Hobbies and Family.

“There are things that mean something to people,” McQueen said. “The second would be Service. Out of all these things that came out of the time capsule, we have two military dog tags. One belongs to Raymond McJunkins, who is still alive and I believe has had his 90th birthday. The other one belongs to Winston Reagan, who I believe most people here in town knew better as Doyle, and obviously service military men and women have been a big part of this community. ... So in some ways we have already had a grand celebration of the time capsule for the things that are important. There’s things in the capsule that you will see that remind us work and play. People put in more things about their hobbies and their interests and what they did in their spare time than their work.”

Although most was lost from the capsule, McQueen felt it possibly best all the stories weren’t told.

“Maybe the things that are not seen are the most important part of the legacy that our forbearers left for us in this time capsule,” she said.

Items will be displayed for a few weeks in county libraries during the rest of the year.

Eyeing the future

With the help from the Tellico Village Woodworker’s Club, a new capsule will be ready for the public later this year.

Kate Clabough, committee member, said the public will be able to contribute to a new capsule.

“There’s a form for elementary students, there’s a form for middle and high school students, there’s a form for adults, but you are not limited to this form,” Clabough said. “... If you just want to write a heartfelt letter, if you want to include some pictures, if you want to include your very own mouth guard from your high school football team, whatever it is you choose to put in these envelopes will go in into these envelopes.”

Acid-free envelopes are provided by the Greenback Historical Society and can be picked up at libraries in Loudon County. Clabough said forms can be returned at a library or mailed to the Greenback Historical Society, P.O. Box 165, Greenback, TN 37742. More information can be found at www.150yearsofloco.com or by emailing 150yearsofloco@gmail.com.

“Our intent is to not bury this one, and it’s surely not to bury the old relics from the 1970 time capsule,” Carey said. “Our intent is to display in public, in a county building. We hope to do it in the courthouse, but the future of the courthouse as the commissioners here will tell you is uncertain right now and especially the space that might be available.”

Carey thanked Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw and Loudon County Commission for their assistance in acquiring old beams and metal rods salvaged from the burned courthouse. Material will be used for the new capsule and a cabinet to display the old capsule, he said.

“I mean just the incredible foresight to have this 50 years ago,” Bradshaw said. “I remember the first time I saw the mark in the ground I was a young man, maybe borderline child I guess, I don’t remember exactly, but I thought, ‘Wow, that’s going to be forever getting here.’ I hope I’m there when it happens. Time has that way of just rolling along. Just it’s great to be a part of it.”

Bradshaw plans to place inside the capsule personal items and a letter to the 2070 mayor. He doesn’t want to share what it will say.

“I’m going to tell a little bit about my story and how I got here, and I’m going to talk about commission, members of commission and what a great group they are to work with,” he said. “Going to talk about everything that’s went on in the last year between a courthouse fire, a pandemic, a nation desperately searching for unity. But I’m going to tell them how Loudon County is a little bit better than that. That we have our unity. We have our opinions, no doubt, but at Loudon County we do things a little bit better and we hold ourselves together.”

Carey said education will be a focus through the remainder of the year, beginning with a county historical coloring book found at the libraries.

“Obviously, we’re going to challenge every kid in every school to put something in the new time capsule because they will hopefully be around to see it,” Carey said. “We’re going to do essay contests. We’re going to work with the Loudon County Education Foundation, the Greenback School. Wiley Brakebill is going to be helping us with some ideas there on essay contests. ... Our education initiative will involve the kids at all ages, so we want them to do essays, we want them to maybe help us with a pageant. We’ll be doing a lot of things, especially depending on when school is up and running properly, challenging our teachers, but our first foray into that is our coloring book, which I’m going to ask — and it’s there for the younger kids and it’s been a great project, a lot of work’s gone into it.”

Beverly Sweeney, committee member, said this year’s book is dedicated to former county historian Joe Spence, who played a role with Nancy Majors in creating the 1978-79 book when they were Lenoir City High School teachers. She thanked Loudon High School teacher Kris Peterson for help with the book.

Recalling the past

Saturday was used to honor the original request to hold a ceremony June 20, and two of those people were present to say what they remembered in 1970.

Harvey Sproul served as county judge, which is now county mayor. He pushed for the capsule to be exhumed after 50 years instead of 100 in hopes some would be alive.

“It was raining that day and we stood around and stood around, tried to figure what to do, about whether to go ahead and have it or postpone it, and finally decided that we would go ahead and have it,” Sproul said. “So we all went out in the rain and did the dues about sealing it up or starting to cover it up. I think it’s a wise idea to plan on not burying it anymore.”

Sproul spoke about serving as county judge, the challenges and what he remembered from the time.

“The first thing I remember was thinking how old I would be 50 years later,” Dr. Paul Brakebill said. “I was 35 then so you can do the math. I do remember that we had street festivals, we had dances, we had one I believe was in the old Bacon Hosiery mill parking lot, and we had one in Lenoir City and I’m sure we had others but that’s the only two that I do remember.”

A highlight was when the committee visited the White House and met President Richard Nixon.

“I do remember it was a fun time, we all enjoyed it, and I remember when the capsule was buried the last thing was put in there was a Polaroid picture of my family. Unfortunately, it did not survive,” Brakebill said. “That was a fun time, it was a good time, and today is a good time, and I appreciate being here.”


Covid19
Jail addition remains vacant

Months after its initial planned completion, the Loudon County jail expansion remains empty.

Officials originally aimed for a January opening. Total cost of the project is $17.5 million, with construction costing $16.25 million.

The jail will now have 264 beds, which includes 193 new male beds and 71 female beds. There is also room for future expansion.

Loudon County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jimmy Davis said the COVID-19 pandemic and getting internet service have been the biggest holdups in the project.

“Our phones have been here for a while but the rep came down and showed us how to install them,” Davis said. “We’re actually doing a lot of this stuff ourselves ... and our biggest concerns were in this process, we’ve been responsible for a lot of things we didn’t think we would be.

“... We’ve got people who are police officers figuring out how to it’s — our IT guy, which has police responsibilities, he’s basically been taken from that and all he does he does everything from running cable to running computers to we’ve had a company come in and install Wi-Fi but we’ve had to get registration numbers off of them,” he added. “It’s just been very hectic.”

Inmate phones are expected to be installed this week, he said.

There have also been some structural issues along the way.

“We’ve had some cracks in the floor, some leaks and as the sheriff’s office and the county we’re just not going to take possession of the building for that much taxpayer money and have the floor leaking,” Davis said. “We’re leaking from the bottom and leaking from the top, and we’re on the contractor pretty hard to fix that because the last thing we want is to move everybody in and the construction’s going on and I’ve got wet ceiling tiles and a camera full of water.

“... I think Brian Brown with the maintenance department, he works closely with them trying to come up with some agreements what’s they’re responsibility, what’s our responsibility that wasn’t in the specs of the actual drawings,” he added. “Things that we need or thought that would be in there already we’re having to go back in and fix. We’ve got a leaky sally port. I don’t feel that’s our place to spend additional tax dollars when you spent that much money.”

The process has proven “very frustrating,” but Davis said he didn’t want to downplay the good job contractor Rouse Construction and architectural firm Michael Brady Inc., have played in the project. He said both have done a “fantastic job.”

“We’re going to make sure we’re happy with it,” Davis said. “There’s issues that we thought should have been in the general original plans that are basic and they weren’t.”

Lt. Jake Keener, jail administrator, said he was “eager” to move into the new jail. However, steps must be taken to ensure there are no issues before transporting inmates over.

“According to the contractor and architect, the new portion of the jail is currently ready to house inmates and the contractor is currently awaiting for the sheriff’s office to move the inmates to the new portion so they can gain access to the current inmate areas and complete scheduled renovation for spaces that will continued to be used for jail operations,” Susan Huskey, county purchasing director, said in an email correspondence.

As of Monday afternoon, the jail population was 107. Keener said in January the population hit 190-195.

Loudon County Jail is certified for 91 beds.

Keener has been keeping up with a punch list.

“We’ve got a cell that needs two lights and the store where they need it is shutdown from COVID, so they are unable to buy it,” Keener said. “Whenever we walk through our punch list we check three things off and then find one or two, ‘Oh, we missed this. Now we need this fixed.’ But we’re fine-tuning it now to where we’re into the technical, we’re into our internet system, the door locks and things. It’s not so much the physical plan that we need to tweak.”

Hopes are to have a grand opening for the public to showcase improvements before inmates are transported, but Davis did not know when that would occur. He is positive the building’s completion is near.

“We’re right there at it,” Davis said. “It’s just because they’re supposed to do the phone install, he said, ‘You give me this I’ll have them there in a week.’ So (this) week’s that week. So hopefully they’ll be here (this) week.”

“I think we’re down to weeks and not months,” Keener added.


News
Traffic system approved

Motorists traveling U.S. Highways 321 and 11 should see improved traffic conditions within the next year.

Lenoir City Council approved Monday a $2.3 million matchless grant contract with Tennessee Department of Transportation to enter into phase two of installing a new traffic light system.

The system will cover 22 major intersections along U.S. 321 and downtown.

“You got a grant a couple of years ago that’s probably going out in the next three months, and it will run the fiber to the traffic signals,” Jack Qualls, Loudon County Economic Development Agency executive director, said. “There will be also be a software kind of in the backbone of the system. This is phase two of that system, and what it will do is go through and actually put advanced controllers in each panel. Each traffic system would have advanced controllers.”

The system can more accurately detect the flow of traffic and increase the timing of light changes.

“It will also do short-range communications, so that in the event autonomous vehicles come to town, the vehicles will talk to each other and talk to the traffic signals moving forward,” Qualls said. “The old system of loop detection in the ground will be removed and replaced with radar detection, which is actually more efficient and it’s better at detecting vehicles.

“The hope with the system in the community when it’s all said and done, especially down 321, is it will actually daisy chain all the traffic signals together,” he added. “The traffic signals downstream will be able to project what car flow’s coming down so it will keep the red lights turning green, hopefully.”

Qualls anticipates phases one and two will be completed “anywhere between 18 and 24 months.”

City

passes annual budgetCity council approved the annual budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year in light of a “very challenging” year due to COVID-19.

{p class=”p1”}Total revenue is $12.1 million, while the estimated available funds for the current fiscal year is about $11.8 million.

{p class=”p1”}”I’ll say this has been a very unusual budget year and will be for the next 12 months,” Tony Aikens, Lenoir City mayor, said. “I know the budget committee and the rest of city council has worked very hard, along with the department heads and employees, to try to balance the budget. We know revenues are going to be down. Of course, the school system is here and we appreciate their efforts in trying to be conservative and balance the budget.”

{p class=”p1”}The city tax rate of $0.9955 will remain the same.

{p class=”p1”}”Certainly we shouldn’t put the burden on the taxpayers here, and certainly this budget does not do that,” Aikens said. “The property tax rate remains 99 cents, and it’s been the way for the past 10 years. That’s just amazing with what we’ve been able to accomplish in keeping the property tax this low.”

{p class=”p1”}City council also approved the 2020-21 fiscal year budget for Lenoir City Schools. Total revenues are proposed at $22.7 million, which is down $715,400 from the current fiscal year.

{p class=”p1”}School employees will not receive raises, but Lenoir City Administrator Amber Scott said council could revisit the budget in December to discuss the possibility of including a raise or bonus for employees.

{p class=”p1”}”This has been difficult this year to try and balance, and I would like to swap all the praise to Maggie Hunt (city finance director), Amber and all the other employees,” Eddie Simpson, councilman, said. “They’re the ones who have to suffer through this. All we have to do is take the numbers that Maggie and them present to us and make the hard decision of if it’s going to work or if it’s not going to work. I praise for them for what they do.”

In other news, Lenoir City Council:

• Established the Martel Water Department and advisory committee for its service area.

• Postponed final ordinance reading of Martel Utility Department transferral to Lenoir City Utilities Board for the July 13 meeting.

• Passed 2019-20 budget amendments for general fund.

• Appointed Greg Reed and Mark White to Martel Utility Department Advisory Committee.

• Approved renewal of terms for Industrial Development Group C, consisting of Vonnie Myers, Doug Patterson and Jack Swann.

• Adopted a resolution related to special assessment financing and related agreements.

• Adopted a resolution authorizing the issuance of not to exceed $7 million in general obligations bonds.

• Adopted a resolution authorizing the general obligations bonds of the city to not exceed $26 million in one or more series.

• Adopted a resolution authorizing the issuance of not to exceed $60.75 million in aggregate principal amount of electric system revenue bonds.

• Approved corrections to water/sewer system revenue bond and gas system revenue bond.

• Declared 26 Lenoir City Police Department vehicles as surplus property.

• Approved $198,967.85 for the new splash pad project.

• Approved naming of the new downtown fire hall as Grayson-Denton Fire Hall.