Friday, December 11, 2009

December 11, 2009 City Finance Committee Puts ETPC Land Acquisition by Purchase or by Eminent Domain on December 15 Agenda

The Finance Committee of the City of Morristown met at 3:30 PM yesterday in the little conference room near the City Administrator's office.  The room---which can only hold about 10-12 people comfortably--was full. The Mayor and councilmembers were seated around the table with Jack Fishman, Bobby Moore (Tribune reporter and employee of Jack Fishman), and a few department heads. Frank McGuffin, chair of the Finance Committee, was late in arriving.  Councilmember Kay Senter was not present. 

A few people managed to find a seat inside the room, others stood inside the room, and still others, including some city department heads and sewer consultant Lamar Dunn, stood in the two doorways or in the hallway.

[Despite the larger council chambers right next door and a large community room upstairs in the multimillion dollar City Center, the Finance Committee meets in a cramped conference room that is probably not larger and is likely smaller than the City Administrator's office. This conference room is also a secluded meeting place for unannounced meetings of the Mayor and Councilmembers to discuss and deliberate on public business privately prior to walking into the council chambers to vote, but that is a separate issue that I will address more fully in the coming weeks.]

Jack Fishman, who is the longtime head of the Industrial Development Board and President of the company that owns the local newspaper (the Citizen Tribune), wants the City to go ahead and approve acquisition of privately held land in the East Tennessee Progress Center (ETPC). 

Click here to see the previous post about the private land that Fishman wants the city to purchase from willing owners or take by force through eminent domain from any who don't want to sell their land.

Fishman said that he recently obtained local employment figures for 2002 and 2009 from the state employment office.  He said that these figures show a "startling" loss of 5,000 local manufacturing jobs during that time, explaining that there were about 13,000 manufacturing jobs in the area in 2002 and in 2009 there are just over 8,000.  Most people are not startled by that figure. Most people have known about and have been concerned about the exodus of local manufacturing plants to Mexico and China for a long time.  Many of these same people have lost their jobs because of the "sucking sound" of jobs leaving this country for cheap labor, less regulation, and lower taxes.

Fishman said, "Our situation is not good." He added that the Industrial Board had been through a 2-year "hiatus" of no prospects.  Apparently, there are now two new industrial prospects (1 foreign company and 1 domestic company) along with a possible plant expansion of an existing industry.  Fishman used code words for the two new prospects that have completed preliminary surveys.  He said that they each would require about a 90-acre site if they eventually decide to locate here. He added that Thom Robinson, director of the Chamber, was not present at the Finance meeting because he was working with a prospect and "I sent him to 'bow'."

[Fishman added that most companies start by selecting about five states and then checking out four locations in each of those 5 states. The company then does a preliminary evaluation of those 20 sites, conducts additional research, narrows the choices down, and, of course, makes site visits before making a selection.]

A map of the Master Plan for the ETPC was flashed on the screen.  Randy Corlew, engineer for the Industrial Board, discussed the Master Plan. Fishman said that he doesn't want to invite industry to our community if "I don't have a place to put them." 

Claude Jinks said that he can't believe what has happened in the past two years.

Mayor Barile said we can see the problems in the increase of people at the Daily Bread.

Bob Garrett said, "Put it on the agenda." Then he said (jokingly), "I want to thank Mr. Fishman for coming and bowing to us."

Fishman said the Industrial Board could probably have an appraiser by February. The appraiser will determine Fair Market Value for the property, an offer will be made, and then the purchase/sale will "close."  Neither the Mayor nor any councilmember asked what happens if a private property owner does not want to sell. Of course, they already know that Fishman's answer to that question would be--- "Take it" through eminent domain. They also already know that Fishman has prepared an ordinance for them to pass that provides for just that-- "taking" the property of anyone who does not want to sell through eminent domain proceedings.

If eminent domain is used, this could end up being a negative for industrial prospects. Often new industry is hesitant to come and locate on land that has been taken from its owners agains their will. If there are several industrial locations available, most companies would prefer to locate on land that has been developed without the ill-will created by the use of eminent domain.
In light of recent city cutbacks of employee hours and other financial concerns, Gene Brooks asked Fishman how the city could pay for the private land that is currently appraised at about $1.3 Million.

Fishman first said that he is not the Finance Director for the city. Then he added that he would recommend  borrowing the money through the issuance of bond anticipation notes over the 3-year phased acquisition period.

Perhaps Fishman should have stayed to hear more about the city's situation, but he left before the city's sewer meltdown was discussed.

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