TOP PHOTO: Left to right are Missy Tackett, Cliff Jennings, Randy Brown, Jack Lynch and John Branam.

By Charlotte Underwood

LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – The Joint Economic Community Development Board met Thursday evening and passed its budget. The board also discussed water line extension projects and other business.

During the Joint Economic Community Development Board Executive Board Meeting, Director Jay Willoughby recognized two new members, La Follette Mayor Cliff Jennings and Jellico Mayor Sandy Terry. Terry was absent. 

“We look forward to working with you,”  Willoughby said. 

During the JECDB full board meeting, the main business discussed regarded the budget, as well as water line extension projects. La Follette Utility Board General Manager Kenny Baird went over expenditures and fund balances and reported “no discrepancies.”

The board also approved the 2023-2024 budget. Several budget items listed will be $15,000 for fishing tournaments, as well as $10,000 for the East Tennessee Foundation that contributes to “worthy causes across the county,” according to Willoughby. 

“We had been overwhelmed by people requesting $1,000 for this or that, and we had no way to have oversight on these causes. People had worthy causes, but maybe didn’t meet our criteria, so we give those funds to the East Tennessee Foundation, and they can have oversight on those causes,” Willoughby said. 

Another $2,000 will be allocated to the industrial development board, which according to Willoughby has been a great investment. 

The total recommendation is $41,000 for contributions for this year’s budget. 

“The expenses add up to our revenue source for the year, so it’s a balanced budget. We try to manage our money and keep an eye on it,” Willoughby said. 

Willoughby spoke about the tax relief PILOT program for Gold Creek Foods. According to Willoughby, it is a tax relief program for seven years, where the business is tax exempt for the first two years, then it will be staggered at percentages. At year eight, the business will be back at 100 percent of their tax obligations. 

According to Willoughby, the Industrial Development Board has approved it. 

“This is a really good project that had a lot of team players. We had state people involved in it, even the state department of Agriculture, the industrial development board, the city of Caryville, the county commission and both utility boards; it was amazing team work,” Willoughby said.

According to Willoughby, Gold Creek Foods has “already invested $18 million and will probably invest another $10 million and perhaps another 100 jobs.”

Baird gave an update on the waterline extension projects. He spoke about the total allocation of $6 million for the Cedar Creek/Alder springs area water line project extension. According to Baird, it is more than $6.5 million dollars in extensions. According to Baird, LUB is basically doing half of this project with a $3 million dollar contribution. 

However, Baird said the water line extensions would take longer than originally anticipated.

“Easements have to be obtained, which is slowing the project down; we don’t know how soon it will happen what with supply shortages. Engineering is underway, and we will have a 50 percent loan forgiveness on the engineering,” Baird said.

According to Baird, he is not sure when it will go out to bid. “Projects are being pursued, but construction will be slower than hoped for,” Baird said. 

In other business, Marlene Broadway was reappointmented to the Joint Economic Community Development Board. 

A short status update on Gold Creek Foods was given by County Vice Mayor Randy Brown. According to Brown, the business currently has 229 employees. “It was at 167 employees at Christmas, and they say they need 40 to 45 more by March,” Brown said. Gold Creek Foods is the largest utility user in the county, according to Baird. 

Willoughby said he wanted to compliment Mayor Jack Lynch and Brown for their efforts in recruiting industry and visiting with local industrial businesses in the county.

In the old business portion of the meeting, an EMS Training update was given by TCAT Project Coordinator John Branam and Lynch.  Six students signed up for the EMS class, and two new dual enrollment students are signing up, along with nine students at Roane State. The hope, according to Lynch is that EMS students will stay to work in Campbell County where there is a need of additional EMS workers. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 02/10/2023-6AM)