By Meg Dickens
During the November County Commission meeting, officials discussed the future of the Johnson County Department of Human Services (DHS). Several changes are in motion, but the subject came up because its ten-year contract was about to expire. County Mayor Mike Taylor proposed a two-year agreement at the same rate, which will keep a deal intact while specific details are decided.
“If we lose that contract, we’re losing about $69,000 a year from our budget,” said Mayor Taylor. “Before we can get to the point where we can get that all renovated, he (State of Tennessee Leasing Agent David Cawood) figures it’s going to take two years.”
According to Mayor Taylor, Johnson County spent $280,000 to renovate the former film salvage building for DHS use when the agreement started in 2010. Now, ten years later, the organization is looking to expand. The expansion would increase the square footage from 15,777 sqft. to 75,041 sqft. Currently, DHS pays $12 per square foot, costing $5,777 monthly but, as the area grows, prices increase. According to Mayor Taylor, DHS officials agreed to increase payments to $15 per square foot for the next five years after the current proposed plan and increase again to $15.50 per square foot for an additional five. DHS officials are still finalizing plans, reportedly sending in eight pages of “very specific” recommendations.
Mayor Taylor estimates that the requested renovations will cost between $300,000 and $500,000, but the county can avoid some negative effects by borrowing from within. According to Director of Accounts & Budgets Russell Robinson, the county can move funds from the Debt Services to the Community Development Fund, eliminating interest from the equation. Using two five-year plans, officials plan to use the increased payments to put the borrowed money back into the fund.
“We’re going to be borrowing money from ourselves,” Mayor Taylor explained. “We’re paying the money back from ourselves with this rental agreement.”
For now, the County Commission unanimously authorized Mayor Taylor to sign his proposed two-year agreement and discuss other details when more information is available. Signing this does not obligate the county to renovations. At this point, all the county has agreed to is to continue the current agreement for two more years.
The Johnson County Department of Health Services is located at 370 Cold Springs Road in Mountain City. For more information on DHS, visit tn.gov/humanservices. For more information on the local office, call (423) 727-7704.