County Commission: Debate on zoning, inmates, commercial taxes liven up meeting

Housing federal inmates and generating commercial taxes off commercial property had Blount County commissioners talking during the Aug. 17 commission meeting.

Commissioners discussed several zoning changes and commissioner Ronald French expressed his frustration with the situation. Property owners were attempting to get land on Gateway Road, Whitecrest Drive and 411 South rezoned commercial.

French said the only reason people were trying to get their properties converted to commercial parcels was to make a higher profit. “It’s going to give them more money,” he said of property owners. “If they’re willing to put it in as a commercial property, they ought to pay commercial tax.”

Commissioner Gary Farmer said that while he agreed with French in theory 100 percent, in practice he could not agree with him. “Who is going to place a commercial business on property if we don’t rezone it?” he said.

Commissioner Brad Harris said if private property owners make a profit by selling the land once it is considered commercial, good for them. “Commercial property is what generates jobs and revenue. My point is it makes no sense not to make it commercial,” he said.

Commissioner Scott Helton said property has to be rezoned before it can be redesignated and taxed at a commercial rate. “This comes up at every meeting. You can’t approve it commercial until it’s zoned commercial,” he said.

Commissioners split on the approving the three plats to be converted to commercial properties. They chose not to approve rezoning Gateway Road and chose to rezone Whitecrest Drive and 411 South.

During the meeting Helton said that the Budget Committee had been talking about building a new jail pod at the Blount County Justice Center. He asked if excess revenue generated by the jail could go toward the Blount County Highway Department so that they could use the new money to get matching federal grants.

Assistant County Mayor Dave Bennett said the money could be allocated any way they wanted. “If $1.2 million were generated over cost, that could be sent to the Highway Department,’ Farmer said.

Commissioner David Graham wasn’t happy with the idea. “There’s no way I’m going to support bringing prisoners into the city next to Maryville College,” he said. “I don’t care how much money it generates.”

No motion was made or vote taken on the matter.

The commissioners also honored several individuals and groups.

Biship B. Courtney McBath, an Alcoa native, was honored for his work as a pastor. In 1989 he started Calvary Revival Church in Virginia. It now has 8,000 members, County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said in introducing McBath.

“Dr. Courtney McBath’s paternal grandfather and great uncle were very good friends of mine,” Cunningham said.

McBath said he was born in Maryville, and grew up in Alcoa and Louisville. He appreciated the accolades. “I’m very honored and humbled,” he said.

Members of the Blount County Soil Utility District also was recognized for their efforts to protect and conserve soil and water resources in Blount County. The department also was honored for winning the 2007 Tennessee Conservation District of the year award for planning and developing the best plan of comprehensive conservation. Erich Henry was recognized as the Tennessee Outstanding district conservationist of the year, in part for winning a $835,000 EPA targeted watershed grant. Sandy Gregory was recognized as the Tennessee Outstanding District Employee of the year.

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