Cumberland Gap council meets electronically

Published 1:27 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2020

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The Cumberland Gap Board of Mayor & Aldermen met electronically on April 6 to conduct town business via Zoom. All council was present except Alderman Susan Bain, making the necessary quorum.

Town businesses not deemed essential have closed their doors in respect to Governor Bill Lee’s recent Executive Orders. Those small business owners are being hit double by the Covid-19 restrictions. The owners are losing valuable tourism dollars while receiving monthly utility bills.

Alderman John Ravnum objected.

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“Our businesses are going to be closed for another 5 months but, yet they’re going to get a bill for their sewer, water and trash. I personally don’t think that that’s right – to ask somebody to be closed and then say ‘oh, and by the way, pay us the $90.10,’” said Ravnum.

Some of the town businesses remain open – in particular, the restaurants that are now providing curbside service while eat-in dining is closed.

Ravnum clarified his statement by listing other businesses that are currently closed including the Artists’ Cooperative, Papa Chum’s and the two antique stores, among others.

“When you’re asked to completely shut down, but yet still pay the bills – I’m not asking anyone else to do it, but I lowered my rent 25 percent for my renters,” said Ravnum.

City recorder Linda Moyers reminded Ravnum that services could be switched off during this time and turned on when the businesses can reopen.

Under normal circumstances, disconnections and reconnections of services cost $25 each. Mayor Neal Pucciarelli said the town has waived all late fees, interest and finance charges on debit cards.

“If you guys want to come up with a proposal – we’ll carry people, too. We’ll try to work out payment plans for them,” said Pucciarelli.

“I understand what you’re saying, and my heart goes out for these people. But, at the end of the day, it’s not just the business (owners). What about the person who loses his job.”

Alderman Kathy Maxwell suggested the owners check into the various federal programs that address this type of situation.

Pucciarelli said the BMA needs to brainstorm what can be done for the businesses while still keeping the town revenues solvent.

In other action, the council agreed to spend an estimated $4,500 to address asphalt cracks in the downtown district. The repairs will concentrate along S. Cumberland Ave. and moving onto Colwyn and portions of Pendleton Streets.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown a major curve in upcoming festivals and other events for the historic town. Those event coordinators whose applications have been approved need not reapply. The Mayor said the promoters need only to have their reschedule dates approved by the town council.

“For example, the ABC licenses for the Wine Tasting. Insurance for the Mountain Fiesta,” said Pucciarelli.

Alderman John Douglas asked just when the town parks will reopen.

The Mayor said he was “ready to go with that” as soon as the governor gives the okay. He suggested a roll-call vote be taken by the council once the governor releases the ban on the parks.

Water losses continue to plaque the town, with a 32 percent loss of the wet stuff during the previous month. Pucciarelli assured the board that the town maintenance department would resume its sleuthing for water leaks as soon as the pandemic subsides.

The Mayor said he spoke with David Breeding, executive director of the Claiborne Emergency Management/Office of Homeland Security. Apparently, there are no masks available in the county. They have all gone to the first responders, he said.

“Even some of the Sheriff’s deputies don’t have masks. He told me he thought the hospital was in good shape and most of the first responders are in good shape – that, if there was an outbreak in Claiborne county, any of the overflow would go to a regional hospital which is a field hospital that would be set up close to Knoxville,” said Pucciarelli.

The town received its latest fiscal year audit from Richard Hill, partner with the CPA firm Mitchell Emert & Hill. The council approved a $500 increase in the firm’s service fees, raising the cost for services to $10,450.

The next meeting of the Cumberland Gap Board of Mayor & Aldermen is tentatively scheduled for May 4 at 7 p.m. Due to the pandemic, it is likely the council will again meet electronically.