By Kendal Groner
In its Monday, March 26, meeting, the Unicoi County Commission failed to pass a resolution adopting the County Budgeting Law of 1957, which would have created a centralized system of accounting.
Unicoi County operates under general accounting laws, with various county departments performing their own accounting and financial management duties. The Budgeting Law of 1957 entails three separate acts that includes the Unicoi County Highway Department and county offices and brings them under one financial management system. The 1957 acts call for the creation of a finance committee, established purchasing laws and purchasing agent, and a budget and finance director.
Last month, County Commissioner Glenn White said he had favored adopting the County Budgeting Law of 1957 to improve efficiency, but has since had a change of opinion.
“I think it’s a want not a need,” White said. “I believe it is an extension of government that will cost the county $100,000.”
White was referencing the undetermined cost to hire a finance director, and also stated that he felt the county should be focused on addressing the ambulance issue before diverting funds elsewhere.
“I don’t like that if you get into it, you can’t get out of it,” said White. “We’re not giving the next group of commissioners a chance.”
Unicoi County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes was concerned with the timeliness of having to go through a purchasing agent to make emergency purchases for equipment that isn’t functioning properly.
“I’d like to see a little more research done … but whatever (the commission) decides, I’ll go with,” Haynes said.
According to Rick Hall, county government consultant with County Technical Advisory Services (CTAS), a provision could be included in the purchasing policy to allow for emergency purchases.
County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice felt that making the move to central accounting could improve efficiency, and also noted that very few counties still operate under general accounting laws.
“Most of the other surrounding counties either have the 1957 act or a finance director,” she said.
The amount of time spent on the budget was mentioned by County Commissioner Bridget Peters; however, she said she felt uneasy approving anything that the officeholders were not on board with.
“There’s pros and cons to everything,” she said. “But I’m interested in the officeholders’ comments … I hate to adopt something you all don’t feel comfortable with.”
Mitzi Bowen, Unicoi County clerk, agreed with White by voicing her opinion that the county’s top priority should be addressing the issue of inadequate ambulance services.
“The biggest thing I see, if we had a finance director, this process with the ambulance service would be easier,” said Rice. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword.”
County Commissioner Kenneth Garland said he favored the 1957 acts because he felt it would remove politics from the budgetary process.
“Government is politics,” White replied.
Garland added that he felt the commission needed oversight with their spending and felt that money had been “thrown away.”
“I think we’ve done a good job and the county mayor is doing a good job,” White said. “We’ve brought the fund balance from $60,000 to over $1,000,000 this year.”
Rice mentioned that it could make the transition period easier for any new commissioners from the upcoming election if there were a finance director in place.
“I don’t want to box them in though,” White said.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said that if they continue under the general accounting laws, the mayor’s office will need at least one additional employee to manage the workload.
“Are you all ready to do that, because it’s coming,” Lynch asked.
Garland made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Todd Wilcox to approve the resolution for the Budgeting Law of 1957. The motion failed with commissioners Loren Thomas, John Mosely, Glenn White, Bridget Peters, and Gene Wilson voting in opposition. Commissioners Jason Harris, Todd Wilcox, Kenneth Garland, and Marie Rice voted in favor of the resolution.
Peters made a motion to table discussion and voting on adopting the Purchasing Law of 1957 and the County Fiscal Procedure Law of 1957, the corresponding acts to the Budgeting Law of 1957. The motion passed, with only Thomas, Mosely, and White voting in opposition.
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Also during Monday’s meeting, Unicoi County resident and mayoral candidate Johnny Day addressed the panel with information on the ambulance issue that has been a pivotal concern for the county in recent weeks.
“I want to say up front that I don’t have any financial interest with any ambulance services,” Day said.
He shared his findings after looking for the best ambulance services in the nation that might be willing to provide services to Unicoi County. He spoke with several associations, once of which was the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services and looked at their list of nationally accredited providers.
He spoke with Jessie Wallace, county executive for Humphrey County in Waverly Tennessee, who has conducted extensive background over the years on ambulance service providers.
Day said he came across the ambulance service provider known as Lifeguard Ambulance Service which is stationed in Birmingham.
“They are very interested in providing services here,” Day said. “They have offices all over the place, one is in Knoxville. They have three people that would love to come and talk to you folks.”
Lifeguard provides services to Lamar and Forest counties in Mississippi and Day said that those two counties are ecstatic over their services.
“Response times are excellent they say,” said Day. “I don’t think it’s costing us anything to have their high-level folks come and sit down with you … estimates on running our own service are low.”
Rice said they believed Lifeguard was going to bid the last time the county accepted bids for ambulance service providers; however, when it came time to place a bid they failed to do so.
“I don’t know what changed, but they are excited to come up,” said Day.
Rice said they can discuss the option in upcoming Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meetings which are open to the public.
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Erwin resident Charlotte Banner approached the commission regarding excessive speeding taking place in the Martin’s Creek community where she is a resident.
“We’ve got a petition up and we would like to have some speed bumps put up there,” Banner said.
Banner said speeding has increased since a garage opened in the area that is run by several young boys.
“They disregard the speed limit,” she said.
Banner said the speeding has been excessive, and law enforcement has been called multiple times; however, it has been difficult to catch the speeders in the act.
“Somebody’s going to get hurt … I implore you to do anything you can to help the situation,” she said.
Both Wilson and Thomas attested to the fact that there is excessive speeding taking place that poses a danger to the county.
Haynes said that speed bumps were an option as long as they were state regulated. He said he would contact the state traffic control office and look into the matter.
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In other business:
Mayor Lynch recognized Public Health Week with a proclamation. Public Health Week begins the first of April, and the theme for this year is “healthiest nation 2030, changing our future together.”
The board adopted a resolution to request unclaimed balance of accounts remitted to the state under the Unclaimed Property Acts.
The board adopted a resolution to require County Board of Equalization members and it’s county board hearing officers to complete annual continuing education.
The board adopted a resolution to support state legislation repealing the provision that reduces the commission retained by the county register of deeds.