Blount County commissioners sifted through a hefty agenda at Thursday evening’s board meetings — with major takeaways being the go-ahead to hire a county facilities director and formal opposition to state legislation that could force local governments to pay for rights of way.
The county can begin the hunt for a facilities director to manage and plan potential maintenance and capital projects at county buildings, including all Blount County Schools buildings, after the commission approved a $37,848 appropriation for the director’s partial-year salary.
The money would pay the facilities director’s salary from March until the end of fiscal 2021 in June. The annual salary would be between $81,000 and $126,000, a salary calculation attached to the budget request stated.
The resolution was passed 15-4 with Commissioners Steve Mikels and Brad Bowers abstaining.
Many commissioners raised concerns about the lack of the Blount County Board of Education’s involvement in the decision.
“I feel like we’re getting the cart in front of the horse,” Commissioner Brad Bowers said.
School board member Debbie Sudhoff told commissioners during the meeting that she wants the school board to discuss the prospect of a facilities director. She also said she she’d like the matter to be taken to the commission’s Education Committee before a commission vote.
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell wrote in a memo attached to the resolution that following the hire, BCS and the commission would receive a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which would ensure all parties were involved in setting the facilities director’s duties.
But many commissioners wanted to wait until they and the school board received the MOU to appropriate the money.
Commissioner Dawn Reagan, who doubles as a seventh grade math teacher at Carpenter’s Middle School, proposed an amendment to table the resolution.
“It will be a great thing,” she said. “It would be a great relationship booster between the county government and the school board, but I really think that we need to postpone this until the school board is able to discuss it and vote on it and we get that MOU.”
Reagan’s amendment failed 9-12.
Mikels proposed another amendment that would eliminate the dollars attached to the resolution and have the resolution state “the county commission is ready and willing to look at a position like this and that we are willing to wait on the school board’s MOU.”
Blount County Director of Budgets Randy Vineyard said approval of the appropriation would signal the commission’s approval to move forward with the hire and that eliminating the money “defeats the purpose of the appropriation resolution.”
Further, Mitchell said if after receiving the MOU the school board doesn’t agree with the hire, “there will be no position.”
Mikels’ amendment failed 5-16.
Commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution to oppose a Tennessee General Assembly bill that could force local governments to pay for rights of way on roads near newly subdivided properties.
Current law gives local governments right of way on roads near and in newly developed properties. This gives highway departments the ability to expand roads as necessary, but House Bill 366 would allow property owners to reserve the right of way, forcing the government to buy it back if the road near the property needed expanding.
“It’s clear in this (bill) it’s purely the taxpayers subsidizing private developers,” Blount County Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick told commissioners during the Feb. 9 Blount County Commission workshop meeting.
Rodney Carmical, director of the Tennessee County Highway Officials Association, the Tennessee County Commissioners Association and the Association of County Mayors, also has voiced disapproval of the bill, which estimates say would cost local governments more than $1 million annually.
Headrick said acquired rights of ways in Blount County per year have been roughly 10.3 acres since 2016.
Commissioners also approved the following measures:
• $1.8 million for science lab and classroom renovations at William Blount High School. The money comes from BCS’s capital funds project. Knoxville-based Skilled Services LLC won the contract for the work.
• $42,988 for two new boilers at the Blount County Public Library. The boilers will be paid for with fiscal 2021 funds.