City votes to renew I-75 billboard contract

There was a full house during Monday evening’s Clinton city council meeting, as concerned business owners turned to council to address their concerns about the possibility of getting rid of the billboards of I-75.

Last month, councilman Jim McBride questioned whether it was fair that the city contributes 75-percent toward the cost of three billboards that promote downtown Clinton. He said that if the city continues to contribute, then other businesses should be included, too.

McBride suggested making a motion to cancel the contract with the company that owns the billboards since it expires on July 1.

This month, half a dozen people spoke in favor of keeping the billboards.

Angela Galen, who owns 305 Market Street, said that when people are drawn to downtown Clinton due to the signs, it boosts business for all the other retailers in town as well.

There are billboards at the Rocky Top, Clinton and Raccoon Valley exits. The city pays around $15,000 per year for them. City Manager Roger Houck said that they considered cutting the most expensive one, which is the one at the Clinton exit.

That billboard alone costs around $10,000 per year.

Councilman E.T. Stamey voiced support for keeping all the billboards.

“I remember growing up here and everything was full in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” he said. “And I remember later when nobody was here.”

He congratulated Galen on helping revitalize the downtown area. He said he was afraid that if they voted to get rid of the billboards and then realized the importance of them later, they wouldn’t be able to lease them at the current price.

Don Raines, owner of 355 Market Street, said the billboards are the antique merchants’ lifeline on the interstate. He and others talked about how Clinton is known as an antiques destination, and how that has drawn people to the area for years. Much of that traffic comes from people seeing the billboards.

“I don’t have a problem with the billboards being general,” said McBride. “If one area does well, they all do well. Our biggest competition is online, not each other. That hurts local business.”

But he said he would have a problem if the businesses in Tanner Place, for example, came together and asked the city to pay for 75-percent of its advertising.

“That’s the struggle I have,” he said.

He proposed a billboard that advertised the city as a whole rather than just the antique district and let the city pick up 100-percent of the tab.

In the end, a vote passed to renew the contract for the billboards, with councilmen Jim McBride and Rob Herrell voting against it.

Other items discussed:

• Purchasing a rescue boat

• Expanding the historic district to include the historic depot on Market Street

• A possible water rate adjustment to address a shortfall

• A possible delinquent tax sale to include the property of homeowners who are delinquent on their 2011-2015 taxes

• Legislation passed that would make local election commissions responsible for their own attorney fees if they have insurance for that purpose. Moving forward in the lawsuit between resident Ron Young and the election commission, the City of Clinton will no longer be responsible for footing the election commission’s bill.