Carter County Commission reverses 911 cuts

John Thompson • Mar 20, 2012 at 8:45 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Commission reversed a six-year-old funding cut on Monday that had threatened state support for the local 911 communications district.

The commission also approved two resolutions calling on its representative and senator in the state Legislature to support a bill to criminalize bath salts and other synthetic drugs.

Although the funding cut was only $4,000 per year, local 911 Chairman Matt Bailey said the state officials of the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board viewed the cut as a “back door tax” because the state had just agreed to a tax increase of 90 cents on residential and a dollar on commercial telephone lines in Carter County a short time before the county made its cut.

Bailey made the decision easy for the county commissioners by telling them that the state board was demanding the county immediately restore $24,228 that had been cut from the local board over the past six years. If the commission failed to do so, Bailey said the state board would consider reversing the telephone tax it had approved in 2006. That would result in a loss of $200,000 to the local board. He said the state could also cut another $200,000 in recurring expenses.

With such a threatened loss of revenue, the commission voted 20-2 to restore the $24,228 to 911. The funds were taken from the General Fund. Only Commission Chairman Thomas “Yogi” Bowers and Commissioner Steve Chambers voted against the motion.

Bailey answered several questions about the state’s demands. Following the meeting, he said it was clear to him that the commissioners had “a lot of unanswered questions.”

He said those unanswered questions were the fault of a communications gap between the local 911 Board and the County Commission. “It is incumbent on us,” Bailey said of the 911 board. He said the board should hold a workshop with the commissioners to explain the funding of 911. He said the technology used by 911 is “mind blowing.”

“It is clear by their vote today that the County Commission really cares about 911,” Bailey said. “They asked questions because they want to make certain the money is being used wisely. ... We have to tell them ‘here is how the money is being spent.’”

The need for clear understanding is important because with the upcoming budget-setting sessions, Bailey must return with further demands from the state board to redress a problem of more revenue being spent than being taken in, sending up a red flag in Nashville that the Elizabethton/Carter County 911 Board is financially “at risk.”

In other financial decisions, the board approved the transfer of $171,732.72 from the line item for salaries for jailers to a line item for equipment for the new jail. The money for salary was not needed because there was no need to hire jailers until the jail is ready to open.

On the matter of synthetic drugs, the commissioners unanimously passed two resolutions requesting Sen. Rusty Crowe and Rep. Kent Williams to support legislation to make the sale of synthetic drugs a felony.

County Attorney Keith Bowers said he was confident the Legislature will approve the new bill. He said state law is the most effective way to fight the spread of synthetic drug sales in the region. He said the county’s best alternative is to restrict it with the county’s zoning regulations.

The commissioners approved several other resolutions, including one calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to allocate funds for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to construct a state-of-the-art fish hatchery in land it has already purchased in the Cherokee Industrial Park.

Other resolutions targeting the General Assembly included a general call for no new state unfunded mandates and a specific call to reverse the unfunded mandate that counties are financially responsible for outpatient and inpatient mental health evaluations and treatment for people charged with misdemeanors.

Other resolutions passed on Monday accepted the terms and conditions of the Tennessee Department of Transportation project for the intersection of U.S. Highway 321 and Williams Avenue in front of Sycamore Shoals Hospital and the intersection of Tenn. Highway 91 and Don Lewis Road at the entrance to the Watauga Industrial Park.

The commission also voted to name a bridge on the Stoney Creek Highway between mile markers 17 and 18 in honor of Razor John “Doc” Campbell, a soldier who was killed in action on Oct. 3, 1951, near Huksok-Tong, North Korea.

The commission also honored one of its own, giving a standing ovation to recently retired Coach Charlie Bayless as Mayor Leon Humphrey read a proclamation praising his 60 years of coaching at Happy Valley High School, the longest in the United States of a basketball coach. Humphrey proclaimed Oct. 1 of each year will be “Charlie Bayless Day” in Carter County.

Two other long-serving employees of the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Office were also honored. Extension Agent Keith Hart was recognized for 40 years of service and County 4-H Director Camille Jessee was recognized for 30 years of service.

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