Commission approves JECDB agreement amended by City Council
Published 8:35 am Tuesday, May 17, 2016
In a split decision Monday night members of the Carter County Commission approved the amended inter-local agreement previously passed by the City of Elizabethton to establish a new Joint Economic and Community Development Board.
At the Commission meeting Monday evening, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey told the commissioners there were two versions of the inter-local agreement that would establish the JECDB — one which he said he and city leaders negotiated as a nine-member board and the other version which was passed by the Elizabethton City Council last month after it was amended by that body during their meeting to form an 11-member board. The version approved by the Elizabethton City Council was submitted to the County Commission for approval already bearing the signature of Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander.
In his explanation to commissioners the differences between the two versions, Humphrey said the City of Elizabethton wanted to add additional board members that were not required by the state statute governing JECDB’s. Among those changes he noted a request to include the director of the Elizabethton Electric Department along with a representative from the local school systems.
Humphrey said he felt the inter-local agreement was not “properly” presented at the City Council meeting, resulting in some confusion as to what had been passed by the body. In that meeting, Humphrey said City Councilman Richard Tester made amendments to the agreement but directed his fellow Council members to refer not to the agreement that had been provided in their packet but the one which was on the table before them.
“There were some major differences,” Humphrey said. “It was not represented properly.”
Commissioner Al Meehan asked Humphrey if approving the nine-member board as opposed to the city-approved 11-member board would put the county back at the beginning by having to send the agreement back to City Council for approval and Humphrey said it would.
Meehan then asked if the 11-member board model was “so egregious” that the county should not approve it. Humphrey responded that it was not his choice but the choice of the Commission which plan to proceed with.
Commissioner Danny Ward inquired if the county should proceed with the city-approved version as a way of expediting the process since the JECDB is needed to qualify for government grants.
“It’s not us that’s holding us up,” responded Commissioner Robert Carroll. “We passed the five-member board and the City of Watauga passed the five-member board. The City of Elizabethton stopped this.”
Commissioner John Lewis made a motion to approve the nine-member board but that motion failed to pass on a vote of 10-14.
After that vote failed, Commissioner Mike Hill made a motion to approve the 11-member board, which ultimately passed on a vote of 16-8.
In other business, the Commission decided on a 20-4 vote to renew their contract with BlueCross BlueShield to provide the employee health insurance plans despite a cost increase of 13.65 percent on premiums for the coming year.
The county’s insurance broker, Jon Manfull of Mark III Employee Benefits, told commissioners the original offer from BCBS came in at an increase of 30.5 percent but he and County Finance Director Christa Byrd had negotiated that number down. Manfull said he then got bids from other insurance providers on comparable healthcare plans and United Healthcare came in with a bid that would have been an increase of only 6.08 percent.
Several Commissioners said they had spoken with county employees who had overwhelmingly requested to stay with BCBS. Some reported having difficulties with their insurance when the county previously contracted with United Healthcare.