ELIZABETHTON — A funding problem with the Carter County 911 system will be brought to the Law Enforcement Committee of the Carter County Commission next month after Sheriff Chris Mathes said the emergency communications office is experiencing financial problems.
Mathes, a member of the 911 Board of Directors, told the committee that the agency has been losing revenue over the past several years as more people discontinue landline service in favor of cell phone service. Landlines provide a larger tax for 911.
Mathes said the agency’s audit has shown a decrease in assets over the past two years.
“It is not considered financially balanced,” Mathes said. Two years ago 911 had a negative amount of $6,187 at the end of the fiscal year, the sheriff said. This past year the deficit grew to $42,117. He said the audit warned the agency could become financially distressed.
“I don’t know whether we can afford to keep 911 as it is,” Committee member Ronnie Trivette said.
The committee voted to hear a report from 911 at its next meeting in preparation for taking the problem to the County Commission later in the month.
“The state of Tennessee will not let 911 go under,” County Commissioner John Lewis said. “It will make the county do something.”
In other matters, Mathes told the committee that the department’s police dog, Maxx, is beginning to suffer from arthritis. The dog was injured in the line of duty in a shooting two years ago. Mathes said he would like to keep the dog working if able, but the dog is not on duty at the present time because his handler recently accepted a position with the Elizabethton Police Department.
The matter will be brought up again at next month’s meeting.
Committee Chairman Ken Arney said the county’s fireworks ordinance is currently being written and will be available for study by the committee at its next meeting.
During a time for citizens to speak, Wanda Markham asked the sheriff about the status of several investigations of thefts and burglaries on her property. Mathes said he would not discuss the matter publicly.
The committee also met as the Rules and Bylaws Committee and Arney discussed a problem with courthouse security. He said several citizens surrounded Commissioner Bill Armstrong after the last Planning Commission meeting in a manner he thought was intimidating. He asked the sheriff what could be done to prevent future problems.
Mathes said there was a fine line he must respect. He said citizens “have a right to talk to a public official about an issue.” Mathes said members of the public do not have the right to loiter or make threats in the courthouse. He said he would remove anyone from the courthouse who was disorderly. He said intimidation will not be tolerated and will be investigated.
As the Building and Grounds Committee, the group approved a recommendation brought by member Jo Ann Blankenship to set aside a section of the first floor wall of the courthouse as a place for historically significant pictures to be displayed. She suggested a gallery of historical photos collected by Keith Hart and Joe Alexander also be placed on the county’s Internet site.
The Health and Welfare Committee heard from Carter County Rescue Squad Director Terry Arnold about response times.
Arnold said the worst response times are from the Hampton station to Elk Mills, which was 32.6 minutes. He said the squad has five ambulances at four stations in Stoney Creek, Roan Mountain, Hampton and West Side each night.
Trivette said several years ago there had been a suggestion that the rescue squad stations be located in volunteer fire department stations. Blankenship said there would still be the problem of placing an ambulance, which Arnold said would cost $190,000 to purchase and fully equip.
Arnold said at current funding levels “we can maintain where we are at, but we can’t grow.”
Arnold said “the people in Elk Mills deserve (a station) just as much as anyone else, but their call volume doesn’t justify it.”
The committee was also updated on the Emergency Management Agency’s research into a mass alert notification system and Alexander Angel, an instrument and control engineer with the Tennessee Valley Authority, discussed the newly installed system of lights and horns to warn of water discharges below Watauga and Wilbur dams.
Angel summarized his message by saying when the lights and horns go off, “leave the area immediately.”