ELIZABETHTON — With a decision on how much to increase property taxes looming, the Carter County Commission tabled a wheel tax Monday and heard from an expert on how many more employees would be needed to staff the new jail.
The proposal for a $25 wheel tax to benefit education came out of the Budget Committee, but Committee chairman Thomas “Yogi” Bowers was less than enthusiastic in presenting it to the commission. He said he could not support a wheel tax at the same time the commission was raising property taxes.
Following Bowers’ lack of enthusiasm for the tax, the commission voted 13-10 to table the proposal.
With the commission meeting several hours before the Budget Committee was scheduled to hold a meeting to set the property tax rate for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Bowers did not have many committee recommendations, but he did have a recommendation from the committee, which sat as the Reappraisal Committee, on how the county election districts should be set up for the next 10 years.
Because the county’s modest growth had been fairly uniform, Bowers said there was an easy fix to bring the county in compliance with state and federal apportionment requirements. All that was necessary was to move the 4th District north to take in 243 residents in Minton Hollow, Judge Ben Allen Road and around the Elizabethton Municipal Airport.
That minor change would mean all eight districts are within the federal limit of 10 percent variance from most populous to least populous.
The second part of Bowers’ recommendation was that each of the eight districts elect three commissioners to the County Commission, which is the same as the current 24-seat commission. There have been calls in recent months to downsize the commission to as little as nine members.
The recommendation was approved by an 18-4 vote, with Nancy Brown, Joel Street, Steve Lowrance and Scott Sams voting in opposition.
The commission was less eager to hear a recommendation from Jim Hart, the jail staffing consultant for the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service.
Hart has been working to develop staffing recommendation on the county’s $26 million jail for two years and has reduced his staffing recommendation to 37 new employees.
Hart said there were several reasons for the need for so many additional employees. He said sight lines from the control towers were obscured by the several rows of thick glass between the towers and the cell blocks.
“Even if you stand with your face against the glass, you can’t see,” Hart said.
Another problem was the high amount of movement that was needed during the day to operate the facility and take prisoners where they needed to go. He especially discussed the “inconvenient design” in moving from a lower tier to an upper tier in the cell blocks.
Hart said he has never seen another jail quite like the new Carter County Jail in all of his years of experience.
One problem he had in attempting to decrease the staffing was that the building was already under construction when he started his study. He said he can be most effective during the design stage, when he can make recommendations to the architect to make things more efficient. He did not have the opportunity in the early stages of the Carter County Jail.
Several commissioners asked Hart if there were not any other ways to cut staffing, but Hart stood by his recommendation. Street asked if “indirect supervision” had been considered. Hart said the way the jail is designed requires guards to be assigned to the tiered cell blocks, but he said if classification is effective, there is no need to assign a guard inside the dormitories.