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On the agenda …

Several meetings throughout Unicoi County this week will be keeping officials busy, and members of the public are invited to attend each of them. The following is a look at this week’s county-wide meetings:
• Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 2 p.m. – CTAS to discuss upcoming UCSD staffing analysis
Officials from the County Technical Assistance Service will present information regarding an upcoming Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department staffing analysis in a public meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 2 p.m. in the main courtroom of the Unicoi County Courthouse.
The CTAS study comes as a result of repeated requests by Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris to have the county examine issues surrounding jail and patrol staffing for the department.
On July 1, Harris sent a letter to county officials outlining more than $800,000 in requests for the department’s 2011-2012 fiscal year budget. Included in the letter were requests for funds to hire four more full-time patrol deputies and seven new jail employees.
The letter states that four additional full-time employees are needed at the Unicoi County Jail facility in downtown Erwin and that three more employees are needed for the department’s new workhouse annex facility on Jackson-Love Highway.
Harris also says in the letter that he will not sign an agreement with the county mayor “until these matters are resolved.”
A few weeks later, in a meeting with the Unicoi County Commission’s finance committee, Harris said he would work with commissioners to reach an agreeable budget for his department.
Harris said he and Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins were able to resolve certain items within the department’s budget requests, leaving only staffing and police vehicles at issue. Harris said the department needs a minimum of seven new cruisers this year.
Harris later said he would be willing to pledge half of the needed funds to purchase new cruisers from the money earned by the department’s “drug fund.”
First-district county commissioner Doug Bowman also said the anticipated $400,000 of revenue coming into the department from the state could help offset the cost of purchasing new vehicles.
It is unclear at this point when CTAS will officially begin its study of the department, or when the analysis will be complete.
• Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 4:30 p.m. – Finance committee to re-address budgets
Unicoi County commissioners, acting as the finance committee, will meet on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 4:30 in the Unicoi County Courthouse, immediately following a public information session by the County Technical Advisory Service, to discuss budgets they had previously tabled or failed to approve.
Three weeks ago, the committee voted 7-1 to table the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department’s budget, pending further information about the department’s staffing and vehicle needs.
At that time, requests from Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris included funds for a full-time jail cook, nurse and dietitian.
Those concerns have since been addressed, and Harris has made other concessions to drop his proposed budget down to a more reasonable figure, Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said.
The finance committee will also re-examine the proposed budget for the highway department, which failed to pass due to a tied committee vote of 3-3 last week.
• Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. – NRC to present NFS ‘restart readiness’ assessment
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will meet with Nuclear Fuel Services officials, as well as the general public, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at Erwin Town Hall, to discuss its recent assessment of the plant’s readiness to restart the uranium hexafluoride, or UF6, processing line.
The UF6 line was the last of five processes to be restarted after NFS voluntarily shut those lines down in December 2010, following an October 2009 incident in which an unexpected reaction rate produced chemical fumes and forced the plant to evacuate its employees.
Joey Ledford, a public affairs officer with the NRC, previously said the meeting will open with a presentation by NRC officials explaining the commission’s restart readiness assessment, which began in May of last year.
“We’ll talk about our team and what it did to come to the determination that NFS was prepared to restart that line,” Ledford said. “After that presentation, we will have a Q-and-A session and take questions from the public and hopefully try to keep those questions on the subject of the restart.”
• Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. – Congressman Roe to tour, speak in county
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, is expected to tour the Erwin National Fish Hatchery this coming Wednesday, Aug. 17, beginning at 9 a.m.
Recently, Roe worked to push legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives that would restore $3.3 million in funding for national fish hatcheries in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget for the upcoming year.
The USFWS had previously cut $6.3 million from its proposed budget, stripping the Erwin hatchery and nine others throughout the country of their primary funding source.
The Erwin hatchery supplies eggs to five national production hatcheries located in the southeastern United States, which together generate more than $150 million in retail sales, approximately $9 million in tax revenue and are responsible for employing more than 3,200 people.
Roe and fellow lawmaker David Price, of North Carolina, addressed a letter to the USFWS to address the negative impacts of cutting fish hatchery mitigation funds.
“Any reduction … would eliminate jobs, harm the communities that depend on reliable fish stocks as a source of revenue and have a negative impact on our state and local economies,” the letter said.
Roe is also scheduled to make an appearance at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, 220 Union St., Erwin, at 11 a.m., where he will conduct a town-hall style meeting to discuss issues affecting seniors in today’s economy, including Medicare and Medicaid.
• Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 4:30 p.m. – Negotiators to meet with Limestone Cove parties
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch announced last week that a negotiating committee will meet with representatives of the Ruritan Club, volunteer fire department and community center in Limestone Cove on Wednesday, Aug. 17, at 4:30 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall.
The negotiating committee, which consists of commissioners Sue Jean Wilson, Doug Bowman and Bill Hensley, was formed to settle conflict between the parties stemming from the use of land owned by the community center in the Limestone Cove area.
On June 21, the finance committee voted to withhold a $15,000 donation to the fire department until county officials could meet with the involved parties and obtain information regarding ownership and use of the property.
Currently, the fire department operates from a building on the same piece of property as the old school building in Limestone Cove, which is also used for meetings by the Ruritan Club.
Recently, the department applied for a fire station construction grant from FEMA, and ground was broken on an adjacent parcel, also owned by the community center.
Ruritan Club president Pat Gouge obtained a copy of the grant application and said the department included inaccurate information about ownership of the land within the application, and should not receive the grant based on what was submitted.
While the fire department does have a five-year lease on the property where the station is to be built, reverter clauses in the deeds to the property reveal that if the land ceases to be used as a community center, it will fall back into county ownership.
“Ever since we got the grant, some individuals from the community have tried get it killed,” said LCVFD board chairman Brad Moffitt.
County officials asked involved parties if they would be willing to submit to negotiations in order to “reach an equitable solution,” to which they agreed.
• Thursday, Aug. 18 at 4:30 p.m. – Finance committee to discuss budget’s ‘big picture’
The finance committee will meet again on Thursday, Aug. 18, at 4:30 in the conference room of the Unicoi County Courthouse to discuss the county’s overall budget.
At that time, the committee will have heard from each officeholder regarding their individual budgets, and the panel is also expected to begin discussing raises for county employees across the board.
At previous committee meetings, commissioners have told officeholders they will not approve any requests for salary raises until they can see the “big picture” and raise all employees at once.
Some commissioners, as well as Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch, have suggested that the county follow suit with the school system and incorporate step raises to reward employees with more experience and to establish a precedent for starting salaries.
It is unclear whether or not the county commission will have a proposed budget in place for a final vote by its August meeting, which will take place next Monday at 6 p.m.