published Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Whirlpool urges quick resolution to road funding

By Paul Leach/Correspondent
  • photo
    Construction is seen at Whirlpool's 1-million square foot manufacturing plant off of Benton Pike NE in Cleveland, Tenn. in this file photo.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Whirlpool officials this week asked local leaders quickly to resolve the challenges to a road project associated with the company's planned relocation to Benton Pike.

Bradley County has struggled with how it will pay its share of the $2 million required from local governments to launch the project, which includes right-of-way acquisitions and upgrades to portions of Benton Pike, Durkee Road and Michigan Avenue.

In a letter emailed Monday, Whirlpool representatives urged state and local officials to "find an immediate resolution that will allow the roadway improvement project to commence without delay." The letter cited public safety, heavy congestion and development as reasons for the improvements.

The county's portion amounts to $1.6 million, according to recent Tennessee Department of Transportation estimates. The proposal calls for the county to pay half the cost of the city road segments and all costs associated with county road sections.

The County Commission Finance Committee spent much of November exploring options on tackling the project, including reducing the scope of the project and asking the city to shoulder more of the expenses.

The committee may call for a special meeting on the project before the County Commission's Monday voting session, committee Chairwoman Connie Wilson said.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland City Council declined the county's request to reconsider its contribution to project, City Manager Janice Casteel said.

In a Monday work session, the council agreed it would stand by an earlier resolution to fund the TDOT plan, which requires the city to pay nearly $337,000.

Several county commissioners have balked at the allocation of road costs, saying the entire project cost would be split evenly with the city, just as the two split $1.8 million in site infrastructure costs for the Whirlpool relocation.

City leaders say city residents already fund 55 cents out of every county property tax dollar, and for the city to match the county dollar for dollar would be unfair to city taxpayers.

"We support Whirlpool, let there be no doubt about that," Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said. "But this is a matter of fairness."

The county has only a little more than $100,000 budgeted for the road improvements, Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said at an earlier meeting. The county might be able to come up with $500,000 to put toward the roadwork deposit, he said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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