In a 5-2 vote the Morristown City Council on Tuesday passed the $39.9 million 2019-20 fiscal year budget and set the new city property-tax rate at $1.50 per $100 of assessed value. The 25-cent tax increase will fund construction of a community center, which has an estimated cost of $36 million.

Predictably, Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney and councilmembers Kay Senter, Tommy Pedigo, Ken Smith and Al A’Hearn voted for the budget and the implicit tax increase. They all support building the community center on city-owned land south of the Merchants Greene development in West Morristown.

Chesney characterized Tuesday’s vote as a “turning point.”

“I think the building is a significant step forward for us and I’m happy we’re able to do it,” the mayor said. “It’s not just some knee-jerk reaction or a knee-jerk decision. There has been an extensive amount of planning and financial planning … all of which has played a part in this.

Equally unsurprising were the thumbs-down votes by councilmembers Bob Garrett and Chris Bivens, who have expressed strong reservations about the financial propriety and limited number of city residents they believe will use the community center.

No citizen spoke against construction of the community center on Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, councilmembers voted preliminarily to change the zoning designation of 18.5 acres off Thompson Creek Road from commercial to high-density residential for a proposed large apartment and townhouse development.

While Morristown real estate broker Paul LeBel requested the zoning change on behalf of the property owners, the man behind the scenes is Johnson City real estate developer Mitch Cox.

Cox has proposed building a similar apartment and townhouse development across Highway 25-E from Walters State College, a project that’s being held up while the Tennessee Department of Transportation decides whether to allow a left turn out of the development into the southbound lanes of 25-E.

If TDOT nixes the left turn, Cox plans to build on the Thompson Creek Road property. If TDOT green-lights the left turn, Cox will likely build on both properties, according to Steve Neilson, lead city planner.