By Jonathan Pleasant
Following the results of the recent city elections, the Mountain City town council meeting kicked off early this month with a special organizational meeting at 6:15 to facilitate the swearing in of returning incumbents Bud Crosswhite and Kenny Icehour. Conducted by Mayor Lawrence Keeble, the ceremony went smoothly and provided time for both Crosswhite and Icenhour to express their appreciation to those who voted for them.
Bringing in the most votes on the ballot, Crosswhite seemed particularly pleased. It made me feel good, the alderman said. Im glad to be here and will continue to do the best job I can do. Holding the top spot, Crosswhite was also the traditional shoe-in to be nominated as vice-mayor, taking the reins from current vice-mayor Jerry Jordan, who racked up the most votes during his election two years ago. Jordan had only good things to say about both Crosswhite and Icenhour, stating that he was glad to see the final results and looked forward to being able to continue working together. Both Mayor Keeble and Alderman Morrison expressed their satisfaction with the results as well.
With the conclusion of the organizational meeting and the beginning of the official council meeting at 6:30, the atmosphere took a solemn turn as alderman Bob Morrison made an emotional presentation in recognition of his late friend and neighbor, Brian Adams. Reading a town resolution, and presenting it to Adams family, Morrison detailed Adams long history as an extremely talented steel guitar player and notable citizen.
Introducing MSHA government relations representative, Jill Stott, as well as Johnson County Community Hospital administrator Lisa Heaton, the council also listened to a presentation concerning future changes resulting from extensive Medicare cuts in Tennessee. With the Affordable Care Act being implemented the federal government is making extensive cuts to the program that were deigned to be offset by expansion at the state level. To soften the blow, federal money would then be made available to cover the majority of this expansion over the next few years.
However, the choice of what to do at the state level is left up to the discretion of the individual governor, in Tennessees case Bill Haslam. According to Stott and Heaton if the cuts are not offset by the state, local hospitals will ultimately lose billions of dollars of funding, including seven million in Johnson County alone. As a direct result, Heaton fears that this will mean 37 of the countys 70 full-time positions would also have to be cut. Only about eight percent of patients coming into Johnson County utilize private insurance, leaving the vast majority to depend on Tenncare and other programs.
Because this scenario is similar in all the local MSHA facilities, Stott has been going from one city and county to another to ask for support in trying to convince Haslam to proceed with the expansion and avoid this disaster, at least in the short run. However, Stott also announced that the Governor did make a decision last week to try an alternate course, where Tennessee would still receive the federal money but could divert it into a new program that will purchase private health insurance for those who could not otherwise receive coverage.
While this avenue is still largely unexplored, Stott did express her relief that the governor is at least trying something, and encouraged the city to send their official support to help the local hospitals. Because of the huge impact that could be felt in the city and the region as a whole, Mayor Lawrence Keeble went on to request a motion approving Stotts resolution of support. Citing the potential jobs and community benefits lost, Alderman Morrison made the official motion, which received positive confirmation from the rest of the council.
The other big topic of the night was a final discussion and conclusion on the boards recent decision about whether or not to continue a fluoride program in the city water supply. Having listened to various concerns from both sides of the issue at last months meeting, the council was prepared to take a vote. However, one last comment from Willie Wolfert, who missed the last meeting, was still heard.
Wolfert was particularly concerned about the fact that different people have different tolerances to certain chemicals. Noting that fluoride is used in various toxic compounds there was even information cited that fluoride could be attributed to a rise in diseases such as Alzheimers, leaving Wolfert to conclude, Down the road I hope we wont find that we have poisoned ourselves.
Despite this last word, the council also had to consider the professional opinions of many local and regional dentists that all expressed their strong support for keeping the mineral in the water supply, as it has been for many years. With both sides making strong arguments, the vote was naturally split. However, following a motion by Mayor Lawrence Keeble, the board decided to continue the fluoride program. Alderman Bob Morrison made a special point to note that the city would be operating under the states current requirements for fluoride, leaving Alderman Jerry Jordan as the only vote against the decision.
Listening to comments from the citys department heads, collection-distribution superintendent Jerry Horne informed the council that the truck used to haul the water departments backhoe to various locations in the county was not longer operable. As a result, the department has to drive the equipment to the work site, which in the case of Butler or Laurel Bloomery, can take an extensive amount of time.
A new truck in Crossville was located, but because the purchase is over $10,000 the city would normally have to put out a bid. However, because of the need to be able to quickly move the equipment in case of an emergency, the council gave Mayor Lawrence Keeble authority to make an emergency purchase to alleviate the situation. Setting aside a budget amendment to acquire the new truck, Horne along with the citys mechanic and a couple members of the council will make the trip to Crossville to inspect the vehicle and ensure it meets the citys criteria, hopefully bringing the department back up to full capability.
Horne also announced that his department will have to replace a 3,500 foot section of water line on Ackerson Creek, having patched and re-patched the aged and deteriorating pipe multiple times. As a result the city granted a $9,000 budget amendment to make the repairs, with all work being done by the department itself.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.
By Jonathan Pleasant