Commission OKs 4-year forensic services contract with ETSU

Published 7:51 am Wednesday, October 22, 2014

In a meeting largely overshadowed by committee appointments and questions on legality of previous actions, members of the Carter County Commission voted to approve some items of county business while postponing others.
Members voted unanimously to approve a four-year contract with East Tennessee State University for forensic services. The contract is administered through the William L. Jenkins Forensic Center at the Quillen College of Medicine.
Under the terms of the contract, ETSU will provide forensic services including autopsies and forensic death investigations to Carter County.
During Monday’s meeting, County Attorney Joshua Hardin said state law requires a forensic investigation of all suspicious deaths, such as homicides or death scenes where drugs are found.
“This agreement with ETSU will make sure the county is complying with that,” Hardin said, adding the agreement does not replace the need for a county coroner.
As part of the contractual agreement, ETSU will provide continuing forensic training to the county coroner and will dispatch a medical investigator employed by ETSU to select death scenes ­­— homicides, infant/child deaths and unusual circumstances ­— upon the county’s request. ETSU will also provide consulting services to the county medical examiner, medical investigators and county coroner 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year.
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said the contract was not a new issue for the county. He said the county has used the forensic services of ETSU for years but a new agreement has been reached between the university and the eight counties of the First Tennessee Developmental District.
Humphrey said under the previous agreement, the eight counties paid fees for forensic services but Washington County bore the bulk of the cost. Under the new agreement, Humphrey said, all eight counties will pay a per capita rate based on the county’s population.
County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach also spoke to the commissioners about the contract.
“This is already in your 2014-15 budget,” she said. “We cannot fund our own medical examiner, death scene investigator and coroner on our own cheaper.”
During the budget workshop process in June, Humphrey told members of the budget committee if the county did not contract with ETSU for forensic services the county would have to transport bodies to Knoxville every time an autopsy is required.
Deloach pointed out the contract rate is not set for the four-year period but fluctuates each year. She said the contract increases on the second year, then decreases the third year and increases again for the fourth year. If approved, Deloach said the contract would lock the county into the agreement – and those rates – for four years.
For the first year of the contract, the yearly rate is $92,955.24 which will increase to $115,323.72 for the second year. For the third year the rate will drop to $112,455.96 but will increase in the fourth year to $113, 603.04.
During the Sept. 15 meeting of the Commission, members decided on a split vote of 16-8 to require two readings of a resolution before approval. At that meeting, both Humphrey and Deloach cautioned the commission that some matters that are brought up are time sensitive and require a vote before two readings could be held.
On Monday, Humphrey said the contract for forensic services was “one of those resolutions that is a first reading only.” He said the contract was time sensitive, adding it should have been approved earlier this month.
Also approved by the commission on Monday was a motion to retire K-9 Deputy Diesel with the Carter County Sheriff’s Department and turn care of the animal over to his handler, Deputy Dave Ryan.
Hardin said the agreement to retire the K-9 “relieves the county of all responsibility and liability of this animal.”
The commission unanimously approved a resolution on first reading to retire the animal and turn him over to Ryan.
Monday’s meeting agenda included the possible approval of International Building Code standards but that action was delayed at the request of Planning Director Chris Scheuttler, who said a public hearing had not been advertised. Scheuttler also said with new members on the Planning Commission he would like for the County Commission to send the matter back to Planning Commission for discussion.
The County Commission unanimously voted to return the building code issue to the Planning Commission.

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