By Collin Brooks
The Washington County Commission elected a new commissioner and they voted to start on four water projects, the first the county has taken on since 2012, with a 20-2 vote during their monthly meeting on Monday night.
Phil Carriger was selected unanimously to serve the remainder of Joe Wise’s seat. Wise left to be a member of the Johnson City Commission.
“I pledge to you that I will give my full attention to this job and my desire is to be an addition and a plus to this commission and I want to leave this place a better place for my grandchildren,” Carriger told the commission.
Carriger, who will represent the 3rd District until the next election in 2018, is a veteran of the Johnson City Commission, which he left in 2013 to run against Rep. Matthew Hill for the 7th District seat in 2014.
One of his first votes as a commissioner, along with 19 other members was to pass resolution 17-01-16 to appropriate close to $780,000 to fundwater projects in the county. The roads that will receive the new water taps are Hunt Road, Ford Creek Road, Sliger Road and Thornburg Hills Road.
Jerry Carr, who lives on Sliger Road, said that he brought in a jar of his water to the Public Works committee, but none of the members would take a drink of it.
“We just need some water guys,” he said to the commission before the vote. “We aren’t asking for a lot.”
Carr was one of three people to address the commission with their water concerns, but there were plenty more in the crowd to plead with the commission with their presence.
Commissioner Todd Henlsey, who is chairman of the CIA Committee — where the resolution surfaced — said that while these won’t be the only projects the county needs to take on, it is a good starting point.
“We have to start somewhere,” Hensley told the commission. “That being said, this is that somewhere.”
Commissioner Danny Edens agreed.
“There are going to be projects out there where the need is going to be greater — I know some of them myself — but you have to start somewhere,” Edens said.
He noted that these projects are a good place for the county to start because these four roads are on each end of the county. He also said that even with the passing of these projects, the Public Works committee will work diligently on making a criteria for future projects.
He also noted that the county spending money on a project like this is more reasonable than some of their past endeavors.
Commissioner Tom Krieger abstained from the vote because of concerns that he had about the precedent adopting these projects created.
He said that he knows people need water, but he had some concerns about this particular resolution. He said that he was really conflicted, noting that his heart said one thing and his mind said something else.
“Although I am in full support of getting water to our county residents. I have some concerns about this particular resolution. My concern is that we are starting down the road without a plan and we are setting a precedent,” he said.
Commissioner Robbie Tester agreed the water projects were important — even more important than things the commission has passed — but he said the language of the document didn’t allow him to vote for it.
He noted the money coming out of the general fund and not the capital projects was unsettling to him. He also disagreed with the county continually putting in language in their resolutions which say they will spend cash on projects and then reimburse themselves later on.
“We just raised our tax revenue by $11 million a year and we are $150 million in debt,” he said. “It’s hard for me to agree to borrow money for something and add to our debt, when the whole selling point for the capital projects fund was to pay cash for things and not borrow money as much.”
Passing the resolution also erased a previous resolution (16-12-09) that paid the First Tennessee Development District $10,000 to conduct surveys on the roads to see if they qualified as low- to moderate-income.
That would have allowed them to request rural development grants. But even if they would have qualified, the county would not be able to apply for a Community Development Block Grant until February 2018, because they are still completing a sewer project at David Crockett High School with a former grant.
Before the adoption of this project, the county had close to 200 miles of road that don’t have city water service.
— The county commission approved $5,000 to become title sponsor for the Fourth Annual Washington County Agricultural & Business Appreciation Dinner. This is the first time they will take on the title sponsor role for the event that will take place in March and honor local farmers.