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Plateau industrial park, communication talking points for executive candidates

By Damon Lawrence

Mike Farmer showed some contrition at Thursday’s Roane County Tea Party meeting.


“I did not work as well with the commission,” the former county executive admitted. “I did not keep everybody informed.”

Communicating was the only thing Farmer indicated he would do differently in a second term.

He doubled down on the interest heavy debt service plans for Plateau Partnership Park and the new jail.

“I don’t think it’s a good practice,” Roane County Executive Ron Woody said. “That’s one of several differences in our management philosophy.”

Woody defeated Farmer in 2010.

Both men are running for the job again this year.

The Tea Party invited each to speak at last week’s meeting.

“We have a jail,” Woody said. “We haven’t made a payment on it yet — other than interest — but we do have a jail.”

During Farmer’s previous term, the county borrowed $9.975 million to build the jail.

When the final payment is made in 2033, the county will have paid approximately $9.053 million in interest, nearly as much as the amount that was borrowed.

“We have an investment into an industrial park in another county — which, again, we have not made a payment on it yet,” Woody said.

Woody was referring to Plateau Partnership Park, another venture that occurred during Farmer’s previous term.

The county borrowed $2.5 million for that and will have paid nearly $2 million in interest when that debt is paid off in 2027.

“We did not think Roane Countians had an unlimited capacity to pay taxes,” Farmer explained.

“We wanted to keep a fairly constant debt service amount, so what happened was, yes, we did plan it out where there was interest, maybe some principal, in some cases no, but we tried to normalize, level, the amounts of money.”

Roane County is partners with Cumberland and Morgan counties in the Plateau Partnership Park, which after seven years has still yet to land an industry.

Farmer doubled down on the park, telling the Tea Party it’s a good venture because the risk is shared between three counties.

“I think the Roane County citizens are better off,” he said. “One, we reduce our exposure to the amount of money we’re going to have to pay — and it’s also that cooperation and working together.”

All of the Plateau Partnership Park land is in Cumberland and Morgan counties.

“Would I rather the land be in Roane County?” Farmer said. “Yeah, but I’d also rather be able to spread that risk.”

Woody hasn’t been afraid to express his displeasure with Plateau Partnership Park.

He recently won unanimous approval on a resolution that calls for the park deal to be amended to allow an equitable sharing of the property tax revenue in perpetuity. The deal put together when Farmer was in office only calls for the revenue to be shared until 2027.

“I ask questions,” Woody said. “I research. I’m not going to let other counties say, ‘Roane County, give us some money,’ and just sit there and give it to them.”

Farmer said there is discord in Roane County and he wants to pull people together.

“We do need to come together,” he said. “We need to have unity. Together, we can move Roane County forward.”

Woody said Farmer is overplaying the unity issue.

“It’s a whole lot easier to have somebody in office you can control, and I guess I’m not,” he said. “Does that say you don’t have unity? I don’t think so.”

Election Day is Aug. 7. Early voting runs from July 18 to Aug. 2.