By Marlana Ward
Leases, budgets, and reviews were all on the agenda as the Johnson County Commissioners met on December 21, 2017. Early in the meeting, the commissioners heard from individuals who had registered on the public comments sign-in sheet to present concerns to the assembly. Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons came to the podium to first thank the commission for the continued cooperation between the city and county governments. He expressed a hope that the two governing bodies will continue working together as 2018 is expected to be a tight year financially for the county and all city and county officials will need to work together to bring new businesses into Johnson County ensuring financial stability for the community.
Parsons also brought before the commission a proposed proclamation that would acknowledge the outstanding job done by the 2017 Longhorn Football team. He stated that he would like the proclamation to be approved by both the city and county and for representatives from the commission to join the city council as they officially recognized the amazing year for the team at the January 9th Johnson County High School basketball game. The commissioners unanimously agreed to accept the proclamation and echoed the mayor’s excitement and appreciation for the team.
In regular business, the November meeting minutes were approved and no committee reports were given. Approved notaries for the night were Lisa M. Osborne, Janice Russell, and Kevin Parsons. The monthly budget amendments had been given to the commissioners to review prior to the meeting and the budget committee had given its approval earlier in the evening. In addition to the budget amendments given, the Headstart program’s budget of $556,000 dollars was approved by all in attendance.
Johnson County Accounting and Budget Director, Russell Robinson presented the next item on the agenda. Robinson asked the commissioners for their approval to make Skyline/Skybest the county’s sole provider of telecommunications and Internet services for the county government, excluding the school system. He explained that the county had already invested $75,000 in phase one of the upgrades to the county’s telecommunication systems and that more funds would be spent as the first upgrade in over 20 years continues to progress. Robinson added that a $400 savings had already been noted in only one month of services provided by Skyline/Skybest. County Purchasing Agent Dustin Shearin informed the group that he had already heard good things from the offices which had been using the improved system. Attorney Perry Stout asked the commission to determine if they would like to make the change an official resolution or to simply enact the agreement by changing services over as allowed by contracts currently in place with other providers. Thirteen commissioners voted to approve the simple, most direct method without a resolution with one commissioner passing on the vote.
Two community center leases were the next item on the agenda for discussion. Commissioner Scott Mast brought forth the desire of the Forge Creek Community Center to extend their lease with the county for use of the old Forge Creek School. He shared how many improvements had already been made to the location and that the group would like to continue improvements but would like to have an extended lease before continuing improvements. Likewise, Commissioner Bill Roark informed the group that Trade Community Center also would like to extend their lease with the county for use of the building at the old Trade School. He spoke of how the building receives a lot of use by the Trade community and improvements were continuing there as well. Both commissioners stated that liability insurance was either already provided or would be obtained soon by the organizations using the buildings at no cost to the county. It was discussed by the commissioners and county attorney that the leases could be one year or up to 99 years according to the will of the commissioners. It was also mentioned that a clause would be added into the lease contracts that upon the discontinuation of use by the community groups, full rights to the locations would revert back to the county. Additionally, the restriction of sub-leasing the buildings without the approval of the commission was also to be added into the agreements. The commissioners voted unanimously to extend the leases 99 years upon completion of the new lease contacts.
County Mayor Larry Potter led the next few discussions regarding proposed road projects forecasted for the county. The first was the First Tennessee Regional Planning Organization’s proposed improvements for Highway 91 scheduled to begin between 2019 and 2021. Potter explained how the fuel tax law was supposed to guarantee that this project would be undertaken by the state. Potter expressed his hope that with the a new governor being elected in 2018, the county would be able to establish a good, working relationship with the governor’s office and that plans for the road project would continue as it should under law.
Next, Potter excitedly shared about the state’s Tennessee Music Pathway program. He reminded those in attendance about the county’s rich musical heritage and how it could boost tourism revenues within the county if the state program were to be embraced locally. Qualifying locations with historical importance to Tennessee’s musical history would be marked with a guitar-pick shaped sign and added to a map of locations to visit for music enthusiasts. Commissioner Mike Taylor stated that at least three locations within Johnson County were qualified to be included. Both Taylor and Potter shared a few examples of musical heritage within the county. Potter additionally spoke of how the state’s tourism director had visited the area and encouraged the community’s involvement with the program and its expected positive effects for the area.
Potter next updated the commission about the progress he had made trying to bring the Tennessee College of Applied Technologies (TCAT) to Johnson County. He expressed his appreciation to the school system and Johnson County High School Vocational School staff for their cooperation in providing a feasible solution to the building needs for the school should it decide to offer classes in the county. He also explained that he had taken driving times and mileage samples from various communities within Johnson County to the nearest TCAT locations and presented them to TCAT with an explanation of how travel difficulties dissuade potential students from being able to take advantage of the program. The program has looked at bringing nursing, auto/diesel, and HVAC classes to the area. It is hoped that additional support from Tennessee State Representative Jon Lundberg will help see this project come to fruition with the next two years.
Lastly, Potter presented the commissioners with a list of grants and achievements made possible by continued cooperation between county offices, commissioners, and the community. These included: Community Block Grant to help local fire departments ($342,391); Economic Community Grant for Parkdale expansion project ($14.5 million); Appalachian Regional Commission Grant to help Mountain Electric infrastructure ($392, 603); USDA Grant to assist fiber optic upgrade to courthouse phones ($23,000); Job Corps assistance in road for building trades subdivision and Lady Longhorn practice softball field; Appalachian Service Project’s continued yearly assistance for some county residents; TCAT at JC Vocational School ($1.6 million); Workforce Development’s assistance in allowing for a full-time employee to be available to assist county residents with various needs at no cost to the county; Home Grant ($500,000); Three Star Grant for Junior Appalachian Musicians program ($25,000); ECD Grant to assist with water/sewer plant improvements ($1 million); Butler Ruritan Park upgrade ($2,000); transfer station’s improved management savings ($90,000 yearly); Fast Track Grant to assist Star LED ($275,000); Assistance with Jones Hardwood Floors and Mountain Youth Academy expansions; Pursuing of safety improvement grants for the county ($250,000); and continued cooperation between all county offices and commissioners to find savings for the county.
The final item for discussion of the evening was the need to approve E-911 board members due to ending terms. Commissioner Chris Pierce informed the board that he, Jeremy Brown, and Tom Neaves were seeking appointment or continuation of appointment to the board. The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the three men for service to the board.
The next meeting of the Johnson County Commission will take place on January 18, 2018 at 7:00 pm at the Johnson County Courthouse.