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Doe Mountain property owners want $300,000 bond returned

By Jonathan Pleasant
The Butler Ruritan made a special appeal to the Johnson County Commission last Thursday night when one of the organization’s directors, Merry Murdock, explained ongoing renovations to the county owned Butler Community Park. Managed and monitored by the Ruritan, the much used facilities were in dire need of a facelift a couple of years ago when some of the park equipment had fallen so far into disrepair that it had actually become dangerous.
The Ruritan stepped in and have since resurfaced the basketball court and tennis court, repaired or replaced all of the damaged playground equipment, stained and cleaned up park benches and facilities and generally restored the grounds to the best state they have ever been in. Much of the work was funded through Mountain Electric’s Operation Pocket Change and the Ruritan itself.  The last phase of the project, according Murdock. is to create a walking trail around the park with help from community donations. After assessing the cost of the concrete and installation there was still more than a $4,000 shortfall.
Even though the land is the county’s, Murdock went on to point out that up to this point all of the maintenance and other expenses have been handled by the community itself. However, having exhausted all of their available avenues for funding, the Ruritan is now seeking aid from the county. Considering the already strained budget, Chairman Freddy Phipps indicated that there isn’t a whole lot that the county can do.
Acknowledging that any expenditures would have to go through the budget committee first, Phipps did welcome the Ruritan to bring the issue there but also pointed out that historically the commission has been unable to help other community groups with similar requests in the past, further citing issues of fairness. Commissioner Jonathan Pleasant did question whether or not it would be possible to set up a separate agency fund in the budget so that the Ruritan might be able to apply for outside grants in the county’s name. Although Budget Director Russell Robinson did state that this might be a possibility, further information from the state would need to be gathered first. In the meantime county Mayor Larry Potter did indicate that he might have some information on a different grant source and encouraged Murdock to speak with him later in the week.
The commission also reviewed and re-approved their existing Flood Damage Prevention Resolution at the recommendation of the County Planning Commission. A key part of the county’s participation in the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the resolution establishes definitions and standards for construction in FEMA designated flood zones. Although in place for years, Commissioner Jonathan Pleasant did have several concerns about the county’s current review process and whether or not the county is in compliance with federal guidelines.
There was some in depth discussion of the issue, with Commissioner Rick Snyder explaining some of the details of the program, including past problems with properties located in the flood plain even though there is very little risk based on elevation of the terrain. However with more questions than answers, Snyder went on to suggest that it might be a good idea to invite Mr. Stan Harrison, who has a long running history with the NFIP, to come to the next meeting to help ensure the county meets requirements. Pleasant agreed that this would be the best course of action, acknowledging Harrison’s unparalleled expertise with the program.
Mr. Art Fowler, representing the property owners of Charter Ridge Subdivision on Doe Mountain made his first official appearance before the commission, explaining an ongoing situation wherein the County Planning Commission submitted a bond for more than $300,000 to the state after the original subdivision ultimately went bankrupt. Even so, five lots were eventually sold with four property owners total. Having already come before the Planning Commission who declined to take action, Fowler indicated that those individuals who now possess the five lots would like to see the county build, maintain, and accept a road to the properties and complete utilities that were once proposed, including water and power. Further, Fowler went on to express the property owners desire to see the bond monies returned even though the state has already applied the funding toward the purchase of the Doe Mountain Recreation Area. Having made his presentation, attention turned to Chairman Freddy Phipps who addressed the commission. However, no action was taken.
For one of the first times in nearly eight years Sheriff Mike Reece came before the commission to make a request for a budget amendment. Now nearly 10 years old, Reece explained that there are several issues at the county jail that have had to be addressed. Most pressing was a recent shutdown of the fire system that had to be repaired, as well as the replacement of several specialized grinder blades located in the jail’s sewage pumps. Most of these problems have simply been attributed to the age of the equipment, but regardless the total cost was estimated at $20,000.
Reece explained that the county has been very lucky up to this point, and hopefully there won’t be any more expensive fixes in the near future, but with most parts being in the thousands of dollars there is little that can be done to avoid an amendment being taken from the fund balance. With that in mind, a motion was made by Commissioner Huey Long to approve the request, which passed unanimously.
Turning their attention to the County Transfer Station, the commission made efforts to clean up accounts at that facility, identifying four past due customers that continue to be on the books but are unlikely to ever settle their debt. County Attorney Bill Cockett explained that legally pursuing the accounts could be difficult if not impossible and would likely be more expensive than the debt is actually worth. Totaling approximately $1,300 altogether, there was some concern from members of the Solid Waste Committee, who had not met to discuss the issue at the time of the commission meeting.
Commissioner Jack Proffit in particular had several comments to make about simply dismissing the debt and pointed out ongoing questions about the county’s crediting policy to private trash haulers. With these issues in mind, Commissioner Rick Snyder made a motion to table the final decision until the next month’s meeting, giving time for the Solid Waste Committee to meet first. The motion was seconded by Proffit and received full support.
Other business of the evening included the approval of several pieces of highway department equipment to be declared surplus property and sold on Gov at the request of Superintendent Tony Jennings. The Commission also approved a $40,000 bond on 911 Director Jerry Jordan, and appointed Ms. Gail Tate to the Library Board, at that board’s recommendation.
The last announcement of the night came from County Mayor Larry Potter who explained that some progress is being made on eventually establishing a trade school and training facility in the vacant spec building located in the county industrial park. Potter has already met with Dean Blevins from the Tennessee Technology Center and State Representative Timothy Hill. However, with the short legislative session in Nashville this year, Potter did acknowledge that the school possibility would likely not be addressed until the next session. The building could potentially house training programs for HVAC, mechanical, welding, and even nursing, and may synch well with Governor Bill Haslam’s new Drive to 55 initiative for education.