Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

May 11, 2012

County deadlocked on visitor's center project

CROSSVILLE — County commissioners were deadlocked Tuesday evening after voting on two different motions regarding the future of the Big South Fork Visitor's Center project.

One motion was to proceed with the project that failed in a 5-10 vote and the second was to withdraw from the project which failed in a 8-7 vote. Action would require 10 votes.

"Looks like we're deadlocked on this," said Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner.

The meeting then adjourned abruptly after commissioners debated for nearly an hour and took the two different votes.

The meeting was a continuation of a special-called meeting to address the subject. Commissioners recessed the meeting until the city of Crossville had a chance to review and consider its counter offer on operating the Big South Fork Visitor's Center in a partnership where the city would make the $120,000 contribution toward construction and operating the facility at a 50/50 split with a maximum cost to the county of $30,000 per year for 20 years.

The city of Crossville met Tuesday night as well and reportedly approved a counter offer to the county's that said the city would make the $120,000 contribution toward construction and operating the facility at a 50/50 split with and take the cap off the maximum yearly cost to the county for 20 years. The city also gave the county the option of running the facility instead, if it would wish to do so.

"They said if we decided to run it, then they would supply half the operating cost," said Jeff Brown, 8th District commissioner. Brown attended the city's meeting, which adjourned minutes prior to the county's meeting.

"It sounds to me like the fine details could be worked out," Brown said.

Commissioners also suggested that if the county operated the facility County Mayor  Kenneth Carey could oversee the cost so it wouldn't get out of hand.

Brown estimated yearly cost to be around $50,000 to $60,000 but it was also mentioned that the National Park Service and Convention and Visitor's Bureau could staff the facility three days per week.

"I have to note that was mentioned, but there is nothing in writing," Carey said.

Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner, said he would go on record again stating his constituents did not want the county to make a 20-year commitment on a facility they could not see giving a payback to the county.

"They are opposed to it. I can't support it," Lynch said.

Johnny Presley, 3rd District commissioner, said several of his constituents called him and he could not support the project.

Dave Hassler, 3rd District commissioner, questioned why the county would want to build something promoting another county.

"If we're going to build something, why not do it to promote us?" Hassler said.

Joe Koester, 5th District commissioner, said the county was looking at getting $800,000 of funding flowing through the county, creating jobs, encouraging people to stop in Crossville and potentially spend tourist dollars here.

"I see an $800,000 benefit to the county and city. If we don't do it we're looking at having to pay back at least $200,000 and have nothing," Koester said.

Hassler asked Cumberland County Attorney Randal Boston if he had had news if the county would have to pay the $200,000 that has been used of the grant money.

"No, I have not. I checked just before this meeting and haven't heard anything," Boston said.

Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner, said, "A Big South Fork Visitor's Center will pull people off the interstate. A Cumberland County Visitor's Center will not ... I see the benefit to do it. It's a $500,000 to $800,000 benefit. If we give up we're going to have to pay the $200,000 back. I think the city is doing what it should."

Jan McNeil, 5th District commissioner, said she thought it would be more feasible if the county operated the facility and "call the shots." She said she thought it could be run with volunteers and two part-time employees.

Presley said he thought TDOT and the federal government would tell the county how to run the facility.

Allen Foster, 4th District commissioner, said he liked everything about the city's proposal except for them removing the expense cap.

"That could always change or be re-negotiated. I like what we passed the last time," Foster said.

Harvel questioned if the county could just build its own facility on the land at a much cheaper rate than going by the guidelines of the grant.

Boston said it might be possible, but there would be restrictions and he wasn't quite sure because the contract he had looked at dealt with land that was on Hwy. 127 North, not at the Cook Rd. location off Genesis Rd.

Sabine said, "It may not be in the deed, but I'm sure the donor of the land was expecting to see a Big South Fork Vistor's Center built there.

Brown then made his motion to pursue the project if the city would make the $120,000 contribution toward construction and operating the facility at a 50/50 split with a maximum of $100,000 yearly cost split 50/50 between the city and county for 20 years. Koester supported the motion but it failed.

Voting in favor were commissioners Sabine, Hyder and Robert Safdie, 2nd District; Koester; and Brown.

Voting against were Prsley and Hassler; Foster and Charles Seiber, 4th District; McNeil; Terry Carter and Larry Allen, 6th District; Harvel; Sonya Rimmer, 8th District; and Lynch.

Seiber then made a motion to withdraw from the project and it failed.

"I'd like to the know the cost of it before," Brown said.

Voting against withdrawing from the project were commissioners Sabine, Hyder, Safdie, Foster, Koester, Brown and Rimmer.

Voting to withdraw from the project were commissioners Hassler, Presley, Seiber, McNeil, Carter, Allen, Harvel and Lynch.

Mayor Carey said, "Motion fails. It requires 10 votes."

Lynch then made a motion to adjourn and it was unanimously approved.

Commissioners Brian Houston, 1st District; Roy Turner, 7th District; and Clyde Cramer, 9th District, did not attend the meeting.

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