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City's appearance at center of Harriman council race

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By The Staff

By CINDY SIMPSON

csimpson@roanecounty.com

Seven candidates are hoping to be one of the people filling four seats on Harriman City Council.

Incumbents J.D. Sampson and Chase Tedder, as well as Buddy Holley, Luther Manning and Elvis Turpin, are hoping to fill one of three full terms.

Randy Ellis and incumbent Lonnie Wright are competing for the unexpired term of former Councilman Mark Powers.

A popular issue in Harriman is the historic city’s appearance.

Ellis said if a building is falling down, the city should do all it can to fine and get it cleaned up without taking ownership.

If that fails, he recommends taking a lien on the property or taking it.

Both Ellis and Turpin said they believe the city needs to put teeth in its ordinances, so fines and other punishments would be more effective.

Holley said he knows  the city sometimes has no choice but to condemn and take ownership of property to clean it.

When that happens, the city should do what it can to find a buyer quickly, he said.

Manning said getting the owners to take pride in their property is important.

The city should keep up enforcement, he said, but with an eye to the legality of the many issues surrounding cleanup.

Sampson said recent decisions to take some violators to a higher court might be the answer.

While it ends up costing money, the city has torn down a number of buildings in the last six years and will likely continue to do so, placing liens on the property.

“I think we need to keep up what we are doing,” Tedder said of that cleanup effort.

“I think we have to get professional help,” Wright said. That help could be in the form of an attorney to look at the many issues they have across town.

Turpin focused on cleaning up the downtown buildthat are in disrepair.

Cleaning up areas like the old papermill property is also an issue.

Ellis said the cleanup would be a big expense but the city needs to look into it, particularly if the property is a detriment.

Holley suggested seeking  Superfund status, particularly if cleanup would be costly.

“Our old riverfront needs to be developed,” Holley said. His suggestions include more recreational facilities and parks, which would not be affected by flooding.

Sampson said cleaning up the papermill property would likely mean the city would have to take it over.

A study indicated it would be cheaper to develop the property for a factory than for recreational use.

If it is used for recreation, he said, a boat ramp should be constructed.

“That is one thing we could do, but then we’d have to borrow money,” Sampson said.

Tedder agreed the cost would be a factor, and it is an area where the city should probably continue pursuing grants and other funding avenues.

“I don’t know if we should take it on ourselves,” Tedder said. “I hope it will be worked on in the future.”

Paving and other infrastructure needs also are on the minds of candidates.

“We need to see what we can do in the budget,” Ellis said. He suggested looking at any potential TVA restitution for infrastructure.

A supporter of the Princess Theater project, he said he believes the city should not  put “all our eggs in the theater basket.”

Holley said he has confidence in the committee assigned to prioritize road projects, but he believes the city could do more to find funding.

“I think we need to go look at a lot more grants. I’m not sure we’re pursuing them actively enough,” Holley said.

“The city needs to focus its attention on its infrastructure,” he said. “We have some beautiful buildings, historically and architecturally. It is a historical city, but it doesn’t look so good right now.”

Manning said paving is a priority.

“Unfortunately, the city won’t have the money to do all the paving they need,” Manning said.

Sampson said his concern is finding a way to pay for the projects without raising taxes.

Tedder likes putting paving decisions in the hands of residents.

“Citizen input is needed; they drive the roads every day,” he said.

Turpin said he is concerned about paving and the condition of many sidewalks.

Wright was part of a committee that proposed five streets for paving.

“We’d like to accomplish this this summer,” he said.

Encouraging business and industry is also important to residents. With an industrial park in the city near the Emory River, many believe the city has potential to grow industry it once had.

“We have to sell ourselves,” Ellis said. “We need to get creative — maybe with an advertising campaign,”

Manning said the community’s riverfront, railways and access to the interstate are assets that could be played up.

“It is a nice little town to be in,” Manning said.

“I think we need a marketing person to go out. We need to have someone go out and try to recruit more stores to the Midtown area,” Sampson said.

Some candidates were open to offering incentives.

“I know we can do certain tax incentives if the industrial board owns it,” Ellis said.

“You have to give them something to help them get started,” Holley agreed.

Tedder was supportive of the industrial board.

“An industrial board can do more stuff (to recruit),” Tedder said.

Downtown, with its many historical structures, is also important to residents. Many would like to see downtown return to its past glory.

Ellis believes the Princess will eventually be a draw.

“I think it is going to be a great asset,” he said.

Ellis also said he believes the city needs to begin planning for when the hospital moves from downtown to Midtown.

Manning said buildings should be improved downtown, saying appearance is everything.

“I think we should promote small business owners to open up downtown,” Turpin said.

Holley said the city should focus on businesses that draw people downtown.

“One thing that draws people into town is antique stores,” he said. “There are niche markets and specialty stores that aren’t competing with the big guys.”

Creating parking downtown and using the Princess as an anchor is important to Sampson.

“If you can’t pull right up to a restaurant or store, they don’t want to go,” Sampson said. He suggested clearing some areas for strip shops.

He also believed a downtown community center would draw people.

“It could be another Market Square; it is just going to take the time and money,” Tedder said.

“We’ve got to try to bring some type of activity online that will, first of all, renew interest downtown among our own citizens,” Wright said.

He believes the plans with the Princess and adjacent buildings will do that.

The buildings the city will get when Covenant leaves downtown are in good repair he said.

“I would like to see the existing Roane Medical Center be turned over and be occupied by the Veterans Administration,” Wright said.

Harriman has asked for funds from TVA in the wake of the December 2008 fly ash spill, an incident that many feel has tarnished the image of the whole county.

While the resolution passed by council asked for funds for the Princess Theater, as well as funds to repair roads affected by heavy truck traffic, many candidates feel the money could be utilized elsewhere.