County officials look to move forward, make improvements in 2016

Published 8:39 am Thursday, December 31, 2015

Carter County
As the new year approaches, several Carter County officials are eager to move forward with new projects and continued improvements as well as meeting goals in 2016.
When Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey looks forward to 2016, he also feels the need to look back over this year.
“Reflecting back on ‘15, it’s been a great year for Carter County government,” Humphrey said. “We’ve been able to work together and accomplish a lot.”
In 2015, the County was able to complete needed renovations to the courtrooms and offices at the Justice Center and the Sheriff’s Office, install a new alert system in the courthouse and the justice center, purchase an electronic voting system to be used by the Carter County Commission and move the Election Commission to a new office on Holston Avenue, as well as other projects.
“I’m encouraged and I believe we have accomplished more in the past year than we did in the previous four years with the previous administration,” Humphrey said, adding he feels he has a good working relationship with the Commission. “I’m going to remain committed to a spirit of cooperation.”
One of the major projects Humphrey said he looks forward to working on in 2016 is the much-needed remodelling of the Carter County Health Department.
In 2015, the Health Department received a one-time needs-based funding allocation from the state to help with the cost of the renovation. Those funds have been put in reserve until the county can secure the remaining funds needed to complete the project.
“We are working to complete an ARC grant,” Humphrey said. “If that grant is successful, this time next year we will be able to put that project out for bid.”
The Carter County Highway Department is also looking at some major projects for 2016.
“We’ve got six bridges we’re trying to build under the state aid program,” Road Superintendent Roger Colbaugh said. “They are in the engineering stage now. We hope to get contracts on two of them this year.”
The Highway Department is also working to repair a bridge on Old Railroad Grade Road in Roan Mountain that was closed earlier this year by order of the state due to structural deficiencies.
“The old deck has been removed,” Colbaugh said, adding crews are doing work on the bridge frame now. “We already have the concrete deck panels on site. We hope in the month of January to get that bridge reopened.”
Several paving projects throughout the county — including one on Cedar Grove Road — are on tap for this year, Colbaugh said.
“Our overall main goal is to maintain the county roads and keep them safe for the motoring public,” Colbaugh said.
Safety and service are also the goals of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department according to Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford.
“I want the department to keep moving forward,” he said. “Our goal is to provide the people of this county with the best, most professional sheriff’s department that we can give them.”
When Lunceford was elected Sheriff in 2014, he had several goals for the department, and he said so far he has made “great strides” on accomplishing those goals — one of which was improving the employee turnover rate.
“The turnover rate has been greatly reduced,” Lunceford said. “Of course it will never be zero, but it is down quite a bit.”
Lunceford said in the coming year he wants to continue making improvements to the department while staying within his operating budget.
“I want to make the Sheriff’s Department the premier law enforcement agency in the area, and we’re not far from it now,” he said.
This year, Lunceford will find himself working closely with Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Smith, who has several goals to help the county become better prepared to respond in the event of an emergency.
“We want to get the Everbridge system up and everyone on board with that,” Smith said.
Everbridge is a mass notification system that can be used by law enforcement or other emergency personnel to alert large groups of people in the event of an emergency such as severe weather, road closures or an active shooter. The county is currently in the process of setting up the mass notification system.
Smith said in 2016 the county will also be looking at alternate locations for an Emergency Operations Center. The current EOC is located inside the EMA office on the second floor of the Carter County Courthouse, but the center is small and outdated.
In the event of a large-scale emergency in the county, the heads of different emergency response services —such as law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical services — would gather at the EOC in order to better coordinate response and rescue efforts. The idea of locating a new EOC next to the Carter County 911 offices and dispatch center has been discussed, but funding would need to be secured before that move could happen.
The coming year will be a busy one for Smith and EMA Training Officer Billy Harrell as the agency must review and update the County’s Emergency Operations Plan.
“We have a plan that has to be reviewed every five years,” Smith said.
To develop the plan, the EMA works with the heads of the local emergency response agencies to come up with the best possible response plan to a variety of emergency situations and delegate responsibilities to each agency. Once developed, the EMA must send the plan to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency for approval.
“It’s a pretty big process and will take us most of the year,” Smith said.
The Circuit Court Clerk’s Office is also looking to make improvements in the coming year.
In 2015, the courtrooms and office spaces received much-needed repairs and renovations. In 2016, Circuit Court Clerk Johnny Blankenship will turn his focus toward the operations side.
“We are going to try to improve office functions with improved technology and teamwork,” he said.
One of the possible upgrades, Blankenship said, could be tablets for use in the courtrooms.
Improvements to the audio recording systems in the courtrooms could be in the future. Funding for the new recording systems is already in place with “no new money,” Blankenship said, adding he has already received some price quotes on the new systems.
A new system may also be in the works for the Finance Department — but this one could make the processing of employee payroll easier.
Carter County Finance Director Christa Byrd said her office is currently looking to acquire an electronic time sheet system that would digitally plug an employee’s time into the payroll system and eliminate the need for the data to be manually entered.
In addition to cutting down on the time required to process payroll, the electronic system would help in other ways, Byrd said. “It will help for the Affordable Care Act also because we have to keep track of each day worked and how much time worked,” she said.
Byrd said she will present the idea to the Financial Management and Budget Committees for approval, adding she and her staff look forward to continuing to work with those two committees for the betterment of the county.
On the education front, Carter County Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward hopes to build on the system’s success in recent years by focusing on key areas in 2016.
The Carter County school system has three key areas they will focus on in the coming year —ACT scores, dropout rates and reading.
A new program has been implemented for high school juniors that will help them better prepare for the ACT test, which is a requirement for many students wanting to attend college.
To help improve the system’s dropout rates, Ward said system supervisors are looking at several areas to make improvements.
A heavy focus is being placed on reading in the elementary school levels. “Everything comes back to reading,” Ward said, adding that when a child’s reading skills improve they often improve in other areas as well.

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