I had the honor of chairing the March monthly meeting of the full County Commission. Mayor Carey was out of town on legislative business in Washington, DC with the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency (UCHRA) and the Upper Cumberland Development District (UCDD). As Chairman Pro Tempore, or Vice Chairman, of the County Commission, the responsibility of leading the meeting fell to me.
All County Commissioners were present except Sonya Rimmer. The evening began with unfinished business from the January meeting. In January, Jennifer Phillips, Ron Erick, Greg Watson, and John Kirby were appointed as Judicial Commissioners for Cumberland County for terms of sixty days, starting January 16, 2018. These individuals were recommended by the Judicial Commissioner Committee and Len Blevins, Judicial Commissioner Director. The original resolution was for one year, but there were questions about legal issues as well as required training, so the timeframe was reduced.
The original resolution to appoint these individuals to a one-year term was again brought to the floor. A motion was made and seconded to approve the original resolution for a period of one year. Since that January meeting, the Judicial Commissioner Committee met and the County Attorney has researched the matter. According to state law, terms are to be four years, not one year. The original motion was amended in a 14-3 vote to change the dates to four-year terms, with Commissioners Davis, Isham, and Hassler voting against. The original resolution, as amended, was then voted on and approved 17-0.
When new business was announced, Commissioner John Patterson made a motion to suspend the rules to add a resolution to consider fast tracking adding 4 new SROs. After debate, the motion passed 14-3, with commissioners Scarbrough, Isham, and Hassler voting against the measure. As the motion received more than the required 2/3 majority vote, the SRO resolution was added to the end of the agenda.
The first resolution of the night under new business was to appoint Willie Freeman, Bill Hargis, Daniel Husk, James Inman, and Sherrie Walker to the Cumberland County Board of Equalization for two-year terms expiring April 30, 2020. The resolution was approved 17-0.
Next, a resolution was presented to accept the offer of Sam Boyd to purchase property owned by Cumberland County at 106 Essex Lane. Mr. Boyd agreed to pay $200 for the property. This was approved by the Delinquent Tax Committee and sent to the full Commission. The purchase was approved 17-0.
Two budget amendments closed out the night with unanimous approval. First, an amendment to accept donations to the Art Circle Public Library in the amount of $2,410 was approved, as was $5,833 in donations for the Animal Shelter.
Finally, the SRO resolution was addressed. As background, a few weeks ago, I was contacted to discuss some of the new, innovative safety devices that are now available to help improve the safety in our schools. I contacted Commissioner Wilson, the Chairman of the Schools and Education Committee, and asked about having a meeting concerning school safety. On March 8, 2018, we had that meeting at the Board of Education’s Central Office.
School locks and other safety devices were a topic for discussion. The staff at the Central Office is looking in to the various devices to see which could be the most help for our schools. We will get a report on those items in a future meeting.
You may recall that the County agreed to fund four SROs for the school system a few years ago. Those four officers are stationed across eight elementary schools, with each officer responsible for two schools. I have long supported an SRO in each school and it is time to make sure that happens. In addition to the protection they provide, SROs also form relationships with the students and become mentors to many. These relationships are important as these officers serve as a much-needed positive role model in the lives of our students.
Many questions were asked at the meeting, but the one that seemed the most prevalent was, “What is the life of a child worth?” I asked several questions during the meeting, and found that the new Crab Orchard building has been designed with school safety in mind. Startup costs for the SRO program are estimated to be up to $350,000, including salaries, in the first year. Annual recurring costs come in at around $200,000. After much discussion, a motion was unanimously approved to send a request to the Budget Committee to fund four new SROs in this year’s current budget. I commented that, with recent moves to retire debt early, we should have the funds to pay for the recurring SRO costs as well as the initial costs.
Mr. Patterson’s motion, in addition to skipping the budget process and allowing the Sheriff to begin the search for four new SROs, defined where the money would come from. This was a sticking point for many commissioners, including myself. Since the resolution was not known before, no one had the chance to check the financials to see how this could be accomplished. Mr. Patterson agreed to accept a friendly amendment that removed the stipulations concerning the allocation of funds. The Budget Committee will now find the appropriate funding needed as directed by the full Commission. The motion to proceed passed 15-2, with Commissioners Scarborough and Isham voting against.
The sales tax report given last month has been revised up by about $76,000 after an error in calculations was found. The County Finance Director, Nathan Brock, reported that the Trustee found an error in the sales tax amount collected in February. The correct figure was actually $898,277 instead of the reported $821,849. That was still below the $927,090 budgeted, but is a big improvement.
EMS collections came in at $388,819, which is above budget by $63,819. Collections are still behind budget by $22,803 but that gap is closing fast. Property tax collections are at 91.7%. The Hotel/Motel Tax revenue is $502,980, or 62% of the total budget. Prisoner Boarding collections are $383,946 against a budget of $525,000, or 73%. We are spending an average of $1.95 per gallon on diesel fuel, and $1.74 on gas, with both trending up slightly. $2 per gallon was budgeted so all is well with the average price compared to budget. Fuel usage is also in line with budgeted projections.
Thank you for allowing me to serve the 4th District and Cumberland County. It was an honor and a pleasure to chair this meeting for our County. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at any time.
Finally, if you are interested, you can subscribe to my County Mayor newsletter by clicking here: http://eepurl.com/c_Zx-L.
Board of Commissioners
4th District Representative