Budget Committee approves funds for cemetery road maintenance

Published 3:32 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Members of the Carter County Budget Committee are working with county officials to find a solution to caring for roads which lead to public cemeteries.

During Monday evening’s Budget Committee, the group in a split vote of 7-1 approved allocating $20,000 to a special fund to contract with a private agency to perform maintenance work on roads leading to cemeteries which are not county-owned roads.

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In years past, the Carter County Highway Department would repair roads leading to cemeteries and perform any grading, brush removal, or place of gravel that was needed to improve access to the cemetery for a pending funeral. However, a change in state law made that practice illegal. Now, county highway departments are prohibited from working on “private” roads and can only perform maintenance functions on a county, state, or federally owned road.

County officials have been looking at the issue for some time, and developed a plan to enter into a contract with a private company to perform the cemetery road maintenance. The contractor would then be paid from a specially designated pool of funds.

To check the legality of the proposed plan, county officials requested Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slattery III to ensure that state law was being followed.

“The County Attorney (Josh Hardin) finally got the AG opinion back that made it perfectly clear the county Highway Department cannot do any work on cemetery roads that are not on the county road list,” Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said. “You can’t put county equipment and county manpower on private property.”

However, the AG opinion said also said under certain circumstances counties are authorized to pay for the costs of maintaining the road by use of a private contractor.

Humphrey presented a funding request to the Budget Committee asking them to set aside $20,000 to create a special pool of funds which the county could use to maintain these cemetery roads.

“There is a need for this,” Humphrey said. “It is pretty hard to turn a family away at a time of loss like this, but we have to follow the law.”

Carter County Road Superintendent Roger Colbaugh said he gets phone calls from the public requesting his department to repair a cemetery road for a funeral to make it easier for the funeral home to transport the body and for mourners to attend graveside services.

“Some months you might get one, or two, or three, but some months you might get 10,” Colbaugh said.

Under the new proposal, Colbaugh said when the funeral homes check the funeral road before services if they see a need for repairs they would contact Humphrey’s office and Humphrey would be the person tasked with contacting the contractor to set up repairs.

Humphrey informed the committee that the county had sent out a request for proposals on two previous occasions to try to find a contractor to take on the project but had received no response.

Budget Committee member Commissioner Kelly Collins questioned why Humphrey wished to submit the proposal for a third time.

“I don’t see if you couldn’t get a response before why you think you will now,” Collins said. “What has changed?”

Humphrey responded that he had recently spoken with some individuals who would be interested in taking on the contract for the repairs.

Commissioner John Lewis made a motion to allocate $20,000 from the county’s fund balance reserves to create the special funding pool. The motion passed by a margin of 7-1 with Commissioners Lewis, Collins, Dr. Robert Acuff, Ronnie Trivett, L.C. Tester, Ross Garland, and Committee Chairwoman Commissioner Sonja Culler voting in favor of the allocation. Commissioner Al Meehan cast the sole dissenting vote.