KINGSPORT — The Model City is a $215 million business that strives for efficiency, is fiscally responsible and is always working toward a bigger vision. It has the lowest cost of living in the Tri-Cities, its housing market is strong and its unemployment rate is at historic lows.
These were some of the comments made by City Manager Jeff Fleming during the State of City event Friday morning at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.
More than 100 city and county officials and business and community leaders turned out for the 90-minute event to hear more about the current state of Kingsport, what’s been accomplished this past year and how things look for the future of the Model City.
Here are some of the highlights from Fleming’s presentation:
On population — Since 2007, there have been 851 new housing lots in Kingsport with 503 receiving building permits and 400 issued certificates of occupancy.
It’s hard to look at any neighborhood around town and not see homes being remodeled, Fleming noted.
“Kingsport averaged 1.8 percent growth per year until annexation ended in 2011. Since then, we’ve averaged 1 percent growth,” Fleming said. “It might surprise you to know that Kingsport’s 10-year population growth is greater than the total population of Abingdon, Virginia.”
On efficiencies — Kingsport is using technology like never before, Fleming said, from automated garbage and recycling collection, automated meter reading, online payments for city services and using the YourGov app for the reporting of issues within the city.
“In the past five years, we’ve reduced employee overhead by $2.3 million. At the same time, we’ve been able to increase employee pay at a competitive rate,” Fleming said.
During the same period, Kingsport has added 4 percent more miles of waterline with 8 percent fewer employees. The city also has 15 percent more miles of sewer, while the number of sewer employees has remained flat.
On the budget — Kingsport experienced a $644,000 reduction in school funding from Sullivan County last year. Fleming said the city made up that loss by tightening its belt and managing the budget.
“We reduced borrowing by $8.2 million, we didn’t hire new employees ... and we invested in technology,” Fleming said. “We were still able to fund $1 million in school capital, $1.2 million for Bays Mountain Park, honor our commitment to remodel the library and expand the Aquatic Center through a dedicated funding source.”
At year’s end, Kingsport’s rainy day fund increased for the fourth year in a row, Fleming said.
On accomplishments — Fleming gave a quick rundown of some the businesses and industries that have made headlines over the past few years because of expansions and job creation: RMC Advanced Technologies, Ware Manufacturing, Home Shopping Network, Cooper Standard, Homeland Vinyl, Techni-Glass and Landair.
“Aerospace Park is the most notable community development story of the year,” Fleming said. “The state, TVA, two counties and three cities came together to create a 160-acre, build-ready site for maintenance and repair of any size aircraft. At build-out, it could accommodate up to 2,000 jobs.”
Mayor stresses five initiatives
Following Fleming’s presentation, Mayor John Clark weighed in on the state of Kingsport and where the city should go from here.
“Kingsport is moving forward and has a lot of momentum,” Clark said. “So the question is, where do we go from here? We have good news. ... We know where we’re going and we’re getting there.”
Clark offered a list of five initiatives the city plans to continue pushing forward to ensure a prosperous future for all residents. These include:
— Maintaining excellence in the public education system.
— Marketing and promoting Kingsport’s unique high quality of life.
— Making investments that will make the city even more unique.
— Continuing with downtown revitalization.
— Help citizens who are struggling financially to achieve marketable skills.
“Our city’s future is very bright. Let’s continue working together to reach our potential,” Clark said.