The economy in Alcoa city is beginning to rebound from the recession and City Manager Mark Johnson is optimistic it will continue to grow.
“Sales taxes, that’s the most immediate indicator on a local level of how we’re doing. What hits us quickest is sales tax,” he said.
Johnson said in Christmas, 2009, sales tax revenues were way down. “We use statistical projection software that comes up with cyclical and monthly trends and growth trends,” he said. “The net we get is this, we’re down a couple million bucks on a monthly basis and fiscal year 2010 does not look much better.”
There is some good news though. “If you compare month to month - $975,835, was collected in March of 2009 compared to March of 2010 when we collected $1,050,761 in sales taxes, so we’re up 7 percent,” he said. “Since then we’ve had six consecutive months where we’ve shown 5 percent increases. We’re right on track where we should see growth and hopefully we’ll grow even faster. We’re pleased we’ve had six months in row of increases after 20 months of decline. I’m not saying we’re out of the woods but the future looks bright.”
Johnson said Alcoa is in the same boat as the state. “It’s going to be 2013 before we get back to where we started but we’ve adjusted,” he said. “What’s kept us afloat is existing retail. They’ve done well and kept our heads above water and low and behold, we’ve done really, really well during this recession.”
The city manager said even in the recession, businesses such as Dicks, Cheddars and Olive Garden have built and opened in Alcoa.
“I talk to colleagues across the state and they’re envious of Blount County and Alcoa because nobody is building anything,” he said. “You drive around Alcoa and you see construction. Some of it is what we’re doing but an awful lot of it is private.”
Alcoa city has a $123 million budget. The Electric Department covers half the county with 27,421 customers now, up from 27,364 in 2009. The Water Department has 10,035 customers now, down from 10,047 in 2009 and the Sewer Department has 6,008 customers now, down from 6,032 in 2009.
The city has a residential population of about 8,388 and a daytime population of 40,000. “Normally we have 275 employees and now we’ve whittled it down to 255 and while nobody is complaining, I see it after three years,” he said. “The stress is there and everybody has accepted the situation.”
Johnson said an initiative the city is participating in now is working with a private company, Alcoa Gas Producers, LLC, to capture and convert methane gas to energy at the landfill operated by Alcoa City. “Landfills produce methane. We’ve been there since 1974 so there has been time for that older stuff to cook and put out gas,” he said.
The company recently finished installing pipes to capture the gas. “They think there is enough gas to make it worthwhile. There’s no cost to us,” he said.
The company is supposed to have a blower flare installed and running by next week to burn off methane gas while converting it into electricity.
“The game plan to put a 999 kw electric generator on site. TVA will buy that or there are all kinds of possibilities,” he said. “There’s money to be made there, especially since the price of electricity has gone up. We’ll sell power and split the profits (with Maryville and Blount County) and those profits go back into the landfill.”
Other accomplishments and projects Johnson outlined included the recently installed pedestrian bridge over U.S. 129 Bypass that should be completed soon. The city manager also shared details of the diverging diamond intersection workers are building on Bessemer Street near the former campus of Pellissippi State Community College.
The design saves money so that the city and state doesn’t have to spend multimillions of dollars on a new intersection or bridge. “Our engineers came up with the idea used in Europe and we’ll be the second or third community in the US to use it,” he said.
Johnson shared details of the recently opened Pellissippi Place research and development park and plans to redevelop the Alcoa, Inc., West Plant property. “Developers are still working on this plan. You’ve got 350 acres or so in there. TDOT really wants to put their entrance at the old Faraday Street,” he said. “Our planning was come 8 seconds down the road.”
The city manager said this would put the new entrance directly across from the Springbrook Corporate Center entrance on Hall Road.
Johnson said TDOT was finally moving on the Alcoa Parkway project that would be a bypass around Alcoa Highway.
“It is a wonderful idea we came up with in October of 2000. TDOT said this looked good. Our last public haring was at the high school in March of 2004,” he said. “Recently the state scheduled another public hearing from 5 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 9, at the Alcoa Service Center.”
Johnson said the state probably solved problems with the University of Tennessee regarding property lines. Now the state can concentrate on buying right of ways. “They’ve got right of way purchases in their two-year budget plan at TDOT and that’s a very, very important step,” he said. “Right of way means you have the environmental and engineering done and the next thing is getting money in the state budget to construct it.”