Ex-Sheriff: Audit Rescue Squad
Published 9:15 am Monday, August 31, 2015
A dozen constituents of Carter County’s First District met with their elected County Commissioners during an open forum town hall meeting Friday evening to discuss a variety of topics ranging from funding for the Carter County Rescue Squad to bringing more jobs to the county.
Friday night marked the first town hall meeting planned by Robert “Bob”Acuff, Willie Campbell and Buford Peters, who serve as the district’s three representatives on the Commission. A second meeting was held Saturday morning, and more are planned in the future.
A large part of Friday evening’s discussion centered around the Carter County Rescue Squad and its finances as former sheriff and First District resident George Papantoniou called for the Commission to launch an investigative audit into the agency.
The Rescue Squad was founded in the 1950s, Papantoniou said, but since that time it has changed tremendously. While he served as Carter County sheriff, Papantoniou said he worked alongside the Rescue Squad and even volunteered with the agency and served as president of its board of trustees for a time.
“They used to call us mercy angels,” Papantoniou said. “The people appreciated what we did and pulled money out of their pocket to support us. It has evolved into blood-thirsty and money-hungry individuals in my opinion.”
When the agency was originally formed, it was run by volunteers and they solicited donations throughout the community to operate, Papantoniou said.
“We would send a bill out, and if the people could pay a little, we would take it, and if not, we would take the bill and throw it in the trash,” he said. “Now they are suing the people who cannot pay their bills and getting judgments against them and ruining their credit.”
“I feel compelled to do something because there are people who need the Squad and can’t afford to pay their bills,” he added. “They should be compassionate, but they are not.”
Papantoniou asked Acuff, Campbell and Peters to get the Commission to do an investigative audit on the Rescue Squad and, if necessary, to look to the courts to settle the issue of finances.
“We need a lawyer to head that thing and go after them like we did the Carter County Tomorrow,” Papantoniou said. “I know that money has been mismanaged. This needs to be investigated.”
Peters said he, too, feels the Rescue Squad’s finances need a closer look.
“I feel there needs to be a complete audit done,” Peters said, adding he would also like to see an individual or committee appointed to help oversee how the Rescue Squad uses the money it receives from the county. “We need to find out what is going on. It is the people’s money we are giving them.”
“In my opinion, the City and the County needs to get together and see what’s going on,” he added.
Resident Michael Warren, who was born in Carter County and returned here after living in other places for his career, questioned what was being done to bring jobs into the county.
While about 200 jobs were brought into the county last year, Acuff said the County still needs to improve on the job recruitment front. Acuff briefly mentioned the county’s pending lawsuit against Carter County Tomorrow, the county’s economic development partnership with the City of Elizabethton.
Most of the development efforts have been focused on industry, but the county should look to other opportunities as well, Acuff said.
“One of the areas we have been neglecting is tourism,” Acuff said, adding Carter County has an abundance of natural resources like streams, trails and a lake that could be used to draw in tourist dollars.
However, not all in attendance agreed with Acuff’s opinion that more focus should be placed on tourism.
“We need some industry in here,” said resident Craig Davis, who also serves as the district’s representatives on the Carter County Board of Education. “The Tweetsie Trail is not going to provide us with a tax base. I’m not against the Tweetsie Trail, but it’s not going to create a tax base. I don’t think there are enough fishermen buying worms for the Watauga River to build a tax base.”
Davis pointed to industrial growth in the region, specifically a large manufacturing facility in Mountain City that recently expanded.
“Who is sitting on their hind end in Carter County and not doing what they need to in order to bring jobs to Carter County,” Davis asked. “If Mountain City can get jobs then there is no reason Carter County can’t.”
Peters pointed to industrial growth seen in recent years in Greene County and said he spoke to a commissioner there to see how the county was doing it.
“They hired them an industrial recruiter but instead of a salary they put him on a commission, he got paid for the jobs he brought in,” Peters said.
Using a performance-based payment plan might be a good idea for the county to consider in the future, Peters said.
“You put a recruiter on a $100,000 salary they know they can fake it out for five, six or seven years and not do anything,” he said. “That has happened in Carter County before.”