Hawkins water customers being tapped for artificial turf donations

Jeff Bobo • May 16, 2019 at 1:05 PM

Correction: First Utility District general manager Jeremy Jones told the Times News Thursday his board is considering placing the optional donation on water bills, but it has not been approved as of yet. 

ROGERSVILLE — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen won’t get in a hurry considering a request to add a voluntary donation option on city water bills to generate funds for artificial turf at both county high school football fields.

Volunteer High School teacher and football coach Josh Castle addressed the BMA Tuesday regarding a fundraising effort underway to pay for installation of artificial turf on the football fields at Cherokee and Volunteer.

The cost is estimated between $1.25 and $1.5 million for both schools combined.

To help raise money, Castle proposed a voluntary contribution option be placed on Rogersville water bills which would allow customers to contribute $1, $3 or $5 per month toward an “athletic activity fund.”

That fund would cover the cost of artificial turf on both fields and later help pay for other county school athletic facility improvements.

“It takes them to another level”

Castle said a big reason the schools are trying to get artificial turf on the football fields is safety.

He provided the BMA with study results which showed that on artificial surfaces there are 55 percent fewer neural injuries, 47 percent fewer craniocervical injuries, and 47 percent less playing time lost by athletes due to injuries.

“We think it enhances our facilities across the board,” Castle told the BMA. “Everyone (in Hawkins County) pretty much goes to those two high schools. Yes, we have Clinch, but the majority go to either Cherokee or Volunteer, so this is just going to enhance those facilities. We think it would improve the stock and appeal to Hawkins County as a whole.”

Castle added, “It takes them to another level. ... We think this would give a large portion of our county a better experience in high school.”

Survey says half would contribute

The First Utility District, which serves most of the eastern half of Hawkins County, has already agreed to provide its customers that donation option on its monthly bills.

Castle said he will also be making the same request of the other water utility districts in the county.

A survey indicated that about half of water customers would contribute at some level.

If half of the Rogersville and First Utility District customers make an average contribution of $2 per month, the Athletic Activity Fund would generate $1 million in 10 years.

“Everybody is scrambling for money”

“Eventually we’ll get to where this is not just going to fund turf fields,” Castle said. “This could fund a new basketball court. Right now, we’re at the point where when something needs to be resurfaced or redone, everybody is scrambling for money.”

Castle added, “After the first several years and this (artificial turf) is paid for, you’re going to be able to fund things like tracks, basketball courts, tennis courts — stuff that you’re not going to have to be dipping into academic money or searching for money.”

There is a possibility that the county Board of Education would fund the cost up-front from the undesignated fund balance if that money was being replaced with the donations, Couch noted.

Not happening in 2019-20

They would have to break ground by June 1 in order to have the field ready for the fall season, and that’s not going to happen.

Mayor Jim Sells asked if they had approached Holston Electric Cooperative about a similar billing program.

Castle said HEC participation isn’t off the table, but the problem is that HEC already has a donation option for its customers to help people who can’t pay their electric bill.

HEC doesn’t know if it can put a second voluntary contribution option on bills.

“You’re not forcing them”

Sells said, “We have our own city school, and you’re talking about money going toward education while we still have to keep up our education.”

Castle noted, however, that Rogersville City School students play some sports such as football on county facilities, and RCS graduates attend Cherokee.

“We’re needing to discuss it because we don’t know exactly how we would do it, how it’s going to affect the girls in the office. ... If we do this, what’s going to keep someone else from wanting us to add another thing to it, and then another thing?” Sells asked.

Alderman Craig Kirkpatrick added, “As long as you leave them an option to take it or not take it. You’re not forcing them. It’s a lot of discussion to get to that point.”

City Attorney Bill Phillips told the board that if it agreed to the request, it would require an ordinance with three readings.

No financial impact on the school system

The Hawkins County director of schools told the Times News Wednesday the idea to include a voluntary contribution on utility bills was discussed at the school board meeting when the turf project was proposed.

Several coaches took the initiative to meet with private donors, large companies, and utilities to get a feel for the interest within the county to support such a large project at both high schools.

“At this point, we have approved the school system to prepare a bid package to determine the total cost of said projects,” Matt Hixson said. “The only way the Board of Education will proceed is if it does not financially impact the system. Home Depot and others have stated they are potentially interested in donating to the projects. There was also a local survey conducted by one of the coaches asking community members if they would support a donation on their utility bills. He did receive fairly strong support via the survey.”