2015 marked by controversy, accomplishments for county

Published 9:24 am Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Star File Photo A "Roan Mountain Lives Matter" campaign formed after the Carter County Rescue Squad announced its decision to close the substation in that community.

Star File Photo
A “Roan Mountain Lives Matter” campaign formed after the Carter County Rescue Squad announced its decision to close the substation in that community.

In a year filled with activities and accomplishments, funding battles and controversy regarding economic development dominated county news for much of 2015.
Two of the biggest debates brought before the County Commission this year have both dealt with funding — a request for increased funding for the Carter County Rescue Squad and a proposal to withhold funding from Carter County Tomorrow and the Chamber of Commerce.
In May, the CCRS announced to the county’s Financial Management Committee that it was in dire financial hardship and unless additional funding was received the non-profit agency might be sold to an outside agency to operate.
During the county’s budget workshops later that month, the Rescue Squad requested an additional $387,000 in funding from the county. After the budget workshops were concluded, members of the Budget Committee voted to leave the allocation for the Rescue Squad the same as last year with no increase in funding.
In July, just about a week before the full Commission was scheduled to vote on the budget, Rescue Squad officials announced that without additional funding the emergency medical service would have to close down satellite substations in Roan Mountain and Hampton.
As a result of the announcement, a large crowd of residents attended the county’s public hearing on the budget as well as the full Commission meeting where the budget was voted on. Many of those in attendance held up signs proclaiming “Roan Mountain Lives Matter” following comments by some members of the Commission protesting the rest of the county having to pay to provide services to Roan Mountain and other rural communities.
When the budget was passed by the full Commission at a special called meeting in August it included no additional funds for the Rescue Squad. However, when the Budget Committee met a week later, it approved a one-time “bailout” of $160,000 for the Rescue Squad in order to keep the two substations open while the agency and the County worked together to come up with a permanent solution to funding issues.
The bailout was approved by the full Commission one week later, but attached some strings to the additional funding. Among the conditions were a stipulation that the Roan Mountain and Hampton substations remain open and a joint task force be created to look at a permanent funding solution.
Rescue Squad board members agreed to the plan and the bailout was approved by a vote of 21-3.
Funding for the county’s emergency medical service agency was not the only matter of contention during the 2015-16 budget process for the county.
During budget workshops, funding for Carter County Tomorrow, the county’s joint economic development partnership with the City of Elizabethton and Watauga, came under fire. Some members of the budget committee attempted to strike funding for CCT from the county’s budget while members of the Commission spoke out questioning CCT’s effectiveness and progress at bringing jobs to the county.
When the budget was presented to the full Commission for consideration, Commissioner Robert Gobble made a motion to “do away with” funding for Carter County Tomorrow until the group could “come up with another program” for economic development. When clarifying the motion, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who serves as chairman of the Commission, asked Gobble if he meant to place the $40,000 for CCT, as well as the $90,000 for tourism through the Chamber of Commerce, in reserve. After a brief moment, Gobble replied that he did mean both funds. The motion ultimately passed by a margin of 14-8.
Later in August, the commission approved filing a lawsuit against CCT, claiming the agency illegally took possession of Private Industry Council assets when the PIC dissolved. The lawsuit further alleged that a lease agreement between PIC and CCT is null and void.
The PIC leased the Workforce Development Complex from the county and later subleased the property to CCT, giving the economic development agency control of the property.
While the county claimed in the lawsuit that the lease agreement was null and void, it later offered to settle its own lawsuit by paying $75,000 to buy out the CCT’s lease on the Workforce Development Complex.
The lawsuit between the county and CCT is still pending at this time.
In other county news for 2015:
• In January, the Tennessee Attorney General rendered an opinion that the Commission violated state law during the 2014-15 budget process by altering the debt service allocation after a public hearing had been held on the budget.
• In March, Commissioners Jerry Proffitt and Beth Depew resigned from their seats on the body. Proffitt resigned after being forced to move out of his elected district after his home was claimed as part of an expansion of the Elizabethton Municipal Airport. In her resignation, Depew cited a new job opportunity that would prevent her from fulfilling her duties as a commissioner.
• In May, Dr. Robert Acuff and Bradley Johnson were appointed to fill the seats vacated by Proffitt and Depew. Also in May, the new landfill convenience center at Little Milligan opened after lots of hard work and delays due to funding issues and the Roan Mountain Farmers Market kicked off its inaugural season.
• In August, the Carter County Election Commission moved into its new office space located at 116 Holston Avenue, next to the Carter County Health Department.
• In September, Fidelitone opened a new warehouse operation on Highway 91 in Stoney Creek. The move combined the operations of two existing Fidelitone warehouses — one in Johnson City and one in Gray — and consolidated them into one warehouse here in Carter County. Fidelitone officials said the move would create about 200 jobs in Carter County before the end of 2015.

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