As most of you probably know, Commissioner Clyde “Catfish” Cramer passed away recently. Catfish was a good person and represented the 9th District with class and integrity. His passing is a loss to his family, friends and the entire community. I am proud to have known him and to have called him a friend.
The regular May meeting of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners followed a special called meeting concerning the Big South Fork Visitor’s Center held on April 30 and reconvened on May 9. That meeting resulted in the CountyCommission agreeing to partner with the City on the Visitor’s Center. Under the resolution, the City would fund a required twenty percent match of $120,000 for construction of the facility. The City and County would also each fund half of the annual operating costs of the center up to a maximum of $30,000 annually. This motion passed and I supported it for several reasons. I am fiscally conservative. I believe it is my duty to make conservative decisions when it comes to spending taxpayer money. Before I was elected to the CountyCommission, CumberlandCounty received multiple grants for this project that total $243,000. All of this money has been spent on items such as land acquisition, land preparation, architect fees, and site improvements. $20,000 was spent on creating a DVD for tourism in CumberlandCounty. Of the $243,000 in grant money spent, that $20,000 is probably the only money that the county would not be liable to repay. This could result in a real loss of up to $223,000 of taxpayer money. Land has been donated to the County specifically for this project as well. The County would also stand to lose out on future TDOT grants if we stop the project at this point after so many years.
There are many opinions on this subject. Some think the visitor’s center may be the worst idea in the history of CumberlandCounty, while others believe it may be the best idea since the wheel. What matters most to me at this point is protecting the taxpayers of CumberlandCounty to the greatest extent possible. Considering all the factors I have mentioned and considering the new revenue that should be generated which was mentioned last month, I believe that making a revised deal with the City would be in the best interest of the taxpayers of CumberlandCounty. A majority of the Commissioners agreed in a 10 – 4 vote. Those voting in favor were Harry Sabine, Nancy Hyder, Robert Safdie, Joe Koester, Jan McNeil, Larry Allen, Terry Carter, Roy Turner, Jeff Brown, Sonya Rimmer and me. Those voting against were David Hassler, Johnny Presley, Mike Harvel, and Carmin Lynch. Commissioners Brian Houston and Charles Seiber were absent. Other motions were made during the second session of the meeting on May 9, but none passed.
The regular May meeting of the Commission would prove interesting as well. CumberlandCounty is on a continuous five year property reappraisal cycle. The first resolution of the night was a unanimous vote to approve the continuation of this cycle.
The next resolution concerned filling the vacancy in the 9th District that was created by the passing of Commissioner Cramer. As you may recall, in September of 2011 the Commission created and approved a redistricting plan as mandated following each full census. The 4th and 9th districts were the only two that were over the averages required by the state. Approximately 400 voters were moved from the 4th District to the 1st District, and around 700 were moved from the 9th to the 6th. The resolution concerning the 9th District vacancy called for these new district lines to be used. This made sense to me as school board members will be elected in August based on the new boundaries that were set in September. Commissioner Carmin Lynch objected to using the new lines. He stated that he was assured that no local election would be affected until 2014. I wasn’t present for every minute of the Redistricting Committee meetings last year, but I never recall that being stated, especially considering the fact that the school board races are running according to the new boundaries this year. Commissioner Lynch also stated that one of the affected voters living in the area that was moved into the 6th District was interested in running for the seat and was “disenfranchised” by the Election Commission. Of course, no one is being disenfranchised. The use of that term can be inflammatory in nature and in my opinion significantly overstates the actual situation. Our Administrator of Elections, Suzanne Smith, has done an exceptional job in handling this situation in a professional manner and has ensured that everyone was treated fairly and in accordance to the law. Using the new boundaries keeps the process simple and legal and prevents the Election Commission from having to create a special precinct for this election while saving approximately $1,000 in taxpayer money. The motion was passed in a 14-3 vote, with Commissioners Brown, Rimmer and Lynch voting against.
The next resolution was in support of attempting to get a new Veteran’s Hospital located in RoaneCounty. The City of Harriman is considering donating the building that currently housed the RoaneMedicalCenter to the Veterans Administration. This location would be much closer and would better serve the local Veterans. The resolution was approved unanimously.
Robert Purser, Jr., Willie Hargis, Linda Baehr Caldwell, William H. Moon, and Bennie Brown were appointed as members to the Cumberland County Board of Equalization. This is the board that hears appeals of property tax appraisals for those that believe their appraisals are incorrect. Several budget amendments were passed as was an application for a litter and trash collecting grant for the 2012 – 2013 fiscal year. A resolution declaring a school bus no longer in service to be surplus and to be donated to the State of Tennessee Department of Corrections Southeastern Tennessee Regional Correctional Facility was passed 15 – 2, with Harvel and Lynch voting against. The Southeastern Tennessee Regional Correctional prisoners do a lot of work in our school system during the summer that saves CumberlandCounty taxpayers thousands of dollars each year. This bus will be used to transport prisoners to work, as well as for other needs.
At this point in the meeting, the BigSouthForkVisitorsCenter was brought back to the Commission for discussion. The City did not like the cap on spending as passed in the Special Called meeting discussed earlier. The City Council voted to enter into an agreement with the county, paying the $120,000 construction match, with either the City or County running the Visitor’s Center. Commissioner Rimmer sponsored a resolution that agreed to those terms with the County running the Visitor’s Center. This would allow the County to be sure the costs are kept to a minimum while still splitting the operational costs with the City. During discussion, Commissioner Carmin Lynch presented a motion to amend the resolution with the following clause:
Whereas, Cumberland County’s 50% share of the operating expenses shall come from the County General Fund and, over 90% of the incremental revenue, if any, directly attributable to the Visitor’s Center, will accrue to the City of Crossville and the Cumberland County Schools Fund, not to the General Fund,
Therefore, be it resolved that the General Fund Tax rates will be increased or reallocated from current programs for the purpose of funding CumberlandCounty’s portion of the operating expenses for twenty years.
His amendment also removed a clause in the resolution that called for a contract between the City and County to be completed within 120 days. I was fine with the removal of the clause, but the language of Commissioner Lynch’s motion to be inserted was objectionable to me on several levels. I disagree with the revenue assumptions as I don’t believe they take into account increased hotel/motel taxes, and I don’t believe that the schools receiving additional funding from this process is a bad thing. I also believed the amendment was an obvious attempt to coerce Commissioners into voting against the Visitor’s Center. An article in the Crossville Chronicle confirmed this as it stated Commissioner Lynch sent an email saying, “The purpose of my amendment was not to make (the resolution) acceptable to me, but to clearly document that anyone voting for the resolution with the amendment understood that it was also a vote for a future General Fund tax rate increase. My hope was it would dissuade some commissioners from voting for the resolution itself if that was clearly spelled out. Apparently, I was wrong …” Again, I disagree with this assertion as there is little evidence to support the statement that a tax increase will be required to fund this. Each year, items are added to and taken away from the Cumberland County Budget and this year will be no different. The County is experiencing growth in sales tax revenues and an increase in the hotel/motel tax has been implemented. In addition to this, I also fundamentally disagree with this tactic. I do not believe it is appropriate to insert inflammatory statements into resolutions or motions in order to attempt to manipulate the outcome of the vote. Open and honest discussion of the issues allows for the facts to be presented in order to provide each voting member the opportunity to represent our constituents appropriately. The amendment to the motion ultimately passed in a 9 – 8 vote (only 9 votes were required due to the 9th District vacancy). I believe some Commissioners voted in favor of the amendment hoping to compromise and work with those against the Visitor’s Center. Voting in favor of the amendment were Hyder, Hassler, Presley, Seiber, Allen, Harvel, Turner, Rimmer and Lynch. Voting against were Houston, Sabine, Safdie, Koester, McNeil, Carter, Brown and me. With the passage of the amendment, I was unable to support the resolution. It ultimately passed in a 10 – 7 vote, with agreement that the CountyMayor’s Office would oversee operations. Voting in favor of the full resolution as revised by Commissioner Lynch’s amendment were Houston, Sabine, Hyder, Safdie, Koester, McNeil, Allen, Carter, Brown, and Rimmer. Voting against were Hassler, Presley, Seiber, Harvel, Turner, Lynch and me.
The final resolution was one allowing the county to start a spay and neuter program using monies collected during the animal adoption process. By law, these monies have to be used in a specific manner, and this resolution allows this to occur. The motion passed unanimously.
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