published Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Whirlpool to meet with Bradley County, Cleveland leaders

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 will meet today with state and local leaders about challenges to proposed road improvements linked to the company's relocation to Benton Pike.

On Monday, economic development officials and the Bradley County Commission discussed an apparent impasse between the county and Cleveland to jointly fund upgrades to portions of Benton Pike, Durkee Road and Michigan Avenue.

"I think they [Whirlpool] are interested in having a dialogue in how we can get beyond this and try to make those improvements for both the general public's health and safety as well as for them to have good ingress," said Doug Berry, vice president of economic development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.

The $4 million project requires $2 million in local government expenditures, according to Tennessee Department of Transportation estimates, with the county funding $1.6 million and the city paying $336,000. The county shoulders all roadwork and right-of-way expenses outside of city jurisdiction and splits those costs 50/50 with the city for improvements within city jurisdiction.

City leaders recently rejected a proposal by the County Commission to reduce the scope of the road improvements to only Benton Pike and to split the smaller $1 million price tag evenly. If the city agreed, it would need to provide an extra $160,000 in funding. The county also agreed to fund Durkee Road improvements in the future, if possible.

The Cleveland City Council will uphold its resolution to fund half of the costs associated with city road segments, Cleveland City Manager Janice Casteel said on Friday.

"We feel it's fair," she said.

Casteel said city property owners already fund 55 cents of every county property tax dollar collected, so they already are contributing to road improvements outside of city jurisdiction.

Many county commissioners have said they believed that the county and city were going to split the road improvement costs evenly from the beginning, just as they equally divided the Benton Pike site's $1.8 million infrastructure costs.

Regardless of how the two might share the costs, county leaders say that $500,000 is all they can allocate now to the proposed road improvements.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock opposed the limited Benton Pike plan, previously stating he felt that the county might be perceived as reneging on its commitment to Whirlpool.

In a letter emailed in late November, Whirlpool representatives urged state and local officials to "find an immediate resolution that will allow the roadway improvement project to commence without delay."

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

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