KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull and City Manager Chris McCartt highlighted Kingsport’s challenges and successes during the annual State of the City address Friday morning.
“When you face a crisis like a pandemic, one of two things can happen; you can fall apart, or you can come together. And we’ve come together,” Shull told the crowd of community leaders gathered at MeadowView Convention Center.
The address began with a moment of silence for Pal’s Sudden Service founder Pal Barger and former Kingsport Mayor Ruth Montgomery. Both passed away on Oct. 29th.
Mayor Shull also honored retiring U.S. Congressman Phil Roe by giving him a key to the city and declaring Oct. 30th, 2020 as ‘Representative Phil Roe Day.’
The State of the City presentation labeled 2019-2020 as ‘A Year of Challenges’ and named street repair, the ‘hospital situation’, homelessness, and the pandemic as challenges.
The ‘hospital situation’ referred to the city’s response to a months-long protest outside Holston Valley Medical Center. The Kingsport BMA passed a controversial ordinance restricting non-permitted structures on public rights-of-way in November 2019.
“This is America and people can protest if they want to. But they don’t have the right to block the right-of-way. And so we had to kind of work through that situation,” Shull said on Friday.
Shull also touched on the city’s response to its ongoing issue with homelessness. The mayor asked the crowd to not believe everything they read on social media.
“The city has done more for homeless during the time Chris has been the city manager than any time in our past history,” he said. “It’s not our core mission. Our mission is things like water and sewer and public education and so forth. It’s not homeless. It’s not social services. But we have gone an extra step to address the issue.”
In response to the pandemic, Shull spoke of participation with State Economic Recovery Group, instituting safety measures, and the city’s conservative fiscal management.
“This has been a very unusual year,” said the mayor.
While cities everywhere have faced hardship, Shull told News Channel 11 he believes Kingsport is in a good position to recover.
“When we get to the point where we have a vaccine for instance, I think our new start point to full recovery is a lot better than it could have been. We tried to balance the safety along with keeping businesses open, but using the right precautions,” he said.
McCartt also spoke at length on the city’s pandemic response.
“I’m pleased to be able to stand here and tell you today that a lot of the measures we put in place in those early days, those measures that we put in place to reopen many of our facilities, became used as best practices across the state for how to go through this shutdown and reopen,” said McCartt.
The city’s fiscal strategy included freezing any vacant position, eliminating all travel, and delaying all capital expenditures. McCartt said despite the financial adversity of 2020, they finished ahead with $4.1 million surplus in revenue over expenses.
Mayor Shull also highlighted the city’s success in negotiating with Domtar, which will repurpose its Kingsport mill to produced recycled linerboard.
“I really think it was a win-win. Domtar saw a change in the market, they were affected by the pandemic, they had to do something different. We wanted to preserve jobs and keep a vital industry here,” said Shull.
Kingsport leaders went through a list of ongoing capital projects, including the $6 million Main Street improvement project funded largely through state and federal grants. McCartt also said the new city hall location will be ready around late January or early February of next year.
Completed capital projects include the Miracle Field complex, the completed Lynn View Track, Greenbelt extension, and new pool at the Kingsport Aquatic Center.
“This facility alone has a $2 million annual economic impact,” McCartt said of the KAC.
Paving remains a central focus of Kingsport’s infrastructure improvements, with the city putting $3,580,000 towards paving 19 miles of road in 2020.
Going forward, the city will prioritize the development of Brickyard Park, working on its Parks and Recreation masterplan, and increasing inventory for residential development.
“I truly believe , despite all the things that are going on, will be a positive year for Kingsport,” said McCartt.