The Anderson County Commission met Monday at the Courthouse in Clinton.
During the three-and-a-half hour long meeting, Commissioners took action on several “big-ticket” items.
Chief among those was approval of a $1.4 million capital outlay note to pay for the purchase of the downtown Clinton building that will become the home of the Anderson County Office on Aging and the Senior Center, as well as renovations to a county-owned building to serve as the home of the Oak Ridge-based General Sessions Court, Division II.
The county has agreed to purchase the building and property at 205 Main Street in Clinton from Mike Farley for $600,000. The facility is currently home to an events center with bookings through the end of the year, and officials are working out the details of exactly how those commitments will be honored. To that end, Farley also agreed to sell everything needed to host an event like a party or reunion, from tables and chairs to high-end audio-visual equipment to the game tables to what was described as an “enormous” amount of Christmas decorations, to the county for $15,000. Officials estimate that if the county had to replace those items, it likely would have cost between $35,000 to $40,000.
Renovations to the Daniel Arthur Building on Emory Valley Road in Oak Ridge to make it suitable for use as a court will cost approximately $500,000, and that project will be paid for through this capital outlay note as well. The owner of the building on the Oak Ridge Turnpike, Tony Capiello, where the court is currently housed, has agreed to extend the county’s lease in that facility on a month-by-month basis until the DARC Building can be renovated. Officials have been in negotiations with the low bidder on the project to find ways to cut costs on the renovations, bids for which were higher than expected. Many of the cuts were to holding areas for inmates awaiting their hearings, as jail officials believe those individuals behave better in the courtroom in the presence of the judge.
The remaining $300,000 in the capital outlay will pay for projects with longer lifespans, such as roofs.
The Commission voted to approve a Request for Proposals from companies interested in performing a comprehensive operational audit of the county’s EMS Department to try and find ways to save money and operate more efficiently. On a related note, the Commission voted 10-4 against a proposed ambulance rate increase sought by the EMS that would have been rolled back to the current rates once federal officials approve changes to the way the county is currently reimbursed through medicare and other federal programs. EMS Director Nathan Sweet told the Commission that without the rate increase, his alternate budget proposal does call for cuts, including personnel. We will continue to follow that for you as the budget process plays out.
Speaking of the budget, a public hearing on the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1st will be held at 5 pm on Thursday May 25th at the Courthouse.
The Commission will hold a special session on June 15th at 5 pm to possibly approve the budget and if necessary, could take it up again on June 29th at 5 pm.
Commissioners voted in favor of a motion made by Commissioner Phil Warfield to not approve Mayor Terry Frank’s appointments of her chief of staff Richard Burroughs, and her assistant Leean Tupper to the Conservation Board. For years, Conservation Board members were chosen through the commission’s Nominating Committee but it turns out, that was not the way that it is supposed to be done. Instead, state law dictates the responsibility for those appointments falls to the county mayor, who in this case, rejected the applications of two citizens to serve on the board. The mayor told commissioners she was doing so because she did not want to expose two private citizens to liability in a lawsuit filed against the Conservation Board, details of which were not discussed in the open meeting. She also responded to questions from commissioners about a possible conflict of interest because of the appointments of staff members who report directly to her, by saying she did not perceive it as a conflict and instead called it a ‘benefit’ since she would able to work closely with both on matters concerning the county’s parks.
Citing possible conflicts of interest, Commission voted in favor of Warfield’s motion and, so two vacancies remain on the board responsible for the oversight and operation of the county parks.
The Commission heard from Mayor Frank on the current status of the Public Works Office, specifically an update on the status of Public Works Director David Crowley’s qualifications and certifications. The mayor told Commission that Crowley has neither the plumbing nor mechanical inspection certifications, but that he has received his residential certification. The office has spent approximately $17,000 out of the part-time employees fund to two independent inspectors to conduct mechanical and plumbing inspections so far this year.
The Commission approved a resolution signaling support for Small Modular Nuclear Reactor project sought by TVA, currently undergoing review and public comment period through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Finance Director Natalie Erb provided an update on the top-to-bottom review of the county’s Procurement Card–or P-Card–program. Erb said that early analysis of the program shows no indication of fraud or misuse but, that she and her staff are in the process of revising the official policies and procedures, contacting cardholders and asking them to justify why they need the cards and getting cardholders to sign updated guidelines
County officials, including Erb, members of her staff and county commissioners held a meeting with Sun Trust this morning at the Courthouse to discuss the program, and get more information on its benefits and the risks of the program.
The Commission also voted to assume the principal and interest payments on a USDA loan obtained by the Briceville & Anderson County Public Library Foundation and relieve the organization of their previous obligation to assume those loan payments. The foundation has raised approximately $22,000 to repay the loan and that will be given to the county, which will then take the matter through the Budget Committee to work on a plan to repay it within five years.