CC Notes – April 18th 2016
All were present for the April regular monthly meeting of the Cumberland County Commission except for Nancy Hyder and Rebecca Stone. The night’s agenda began with discussion of unfinished business from the August 24, 2015 meeting. In question was a resolution to provide insurance for employees that retire from Cumberland County with 30 years of service. The benefit is only for current employees hired on or before July 1, 2015. The new benefit would pay 100% of the retiree’s individual health insurance until the former employee reaches Medicare age.
You may recall that this issue was tabled last August until the laws of Tennessee were followed concerning the proper way to change Personnel Policy. At that time, I asked the County Attorney if the County Commission Rules gives the Rules Committee the authority to make suggested changes to Personnel Policy. The answer was no. The second question I asked, and the most important in my opinion, was in reference to Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA), the laws of our state. I mentioned that TCA specifically spells out the process that the county must follow when creating and modifying Personnel Policy. I asked the County Attorney if that process was followed when this resolution was created. The answer was no. Nothing has changed since that meeting regarding following TCA, so the resolution presented obviously still does not follow state law.
To be clear, I am against this idea on its merits as well. I believe this is bad fiscal policy that is going to cost the county significant money. We have lots of great county employees, and I’m sure we all are friends with more than a few, but I cannot defend this new Cadillac benefit. We have just witnessed the U.S. automotive industry fight through getting rid of these types of benefits. At the same time, the State of Tennessee has done away with this benefit as well. That is actually why the date of July 1, 2015 was included in the resolution. The state ended the benefit for all state employees. If this benefit were a cost saver, or even budget neutral, public and private entities would not be shedding it.
I voted against this new entitlement during last year’s Budget Committee hearings as I believe it is a huge financial liability for the County. The year one projected cost to the county is $106,100 (almost a penny of property tax) – and this is assuming no increase in the cost of insurance. All cost estimates provided to the Commission to date have shown expenditures based on an estimated ZERO increase in healthcare costs. This, obviously, will not hold true. With the way that insurance costs have historically been increasing, this will be a very large amount over the lifetime of the benefit as rates and the number of employees receiving the benefit increase. There is the potential for retired employees to receive this benefit for many years before enrolling in Medicare. As you can see, this will add up to a significant amount of money owed by the taxpayers in just a short amount of time. There is the potential that this new liability could even affect the County’s bond rating.
Commissioner David Hassler made a motion to provide the new benefit, seconded by Commissioner Tom Isham. Many stated that they were curious as to why we were rushing this vote through when TCA isn’t being followed. After much discussion concerning TCA and the merits of the benefit, Commissioner Harry Sabine (a retired lawyer), made a motion to table the resolution until proper legal procedures could be followed. I seconded the motion. I voted to table the resolution, effectively forcing the Commission into following TCA, along with Tracey Scarbrough, Tim Claflin, Sonya Rimmer, Woody Geisler, and Harry Sabine. Voting against tabling the motion was Tom Isham, David Hassler, Jack Davis, Terry Lowe, Terry Carter, Wendell Wilson, and Roy Turner. Passing were David Gibson and Elbert Farley. The vote totals were 6-7-2, and the motion to table failed. At that point, the main motion made by Hassler and Isham, granting retiree insurance, was back on the floor. When the dust settled, commissioners Isham, Hassler, Gibson (declared a conflict), Davis, Lowe, Carter (declared a conflict), Wilson, Farley (declared a conflict), and Turner (declared a conflict) voted in favor. I voted against along with Scarbrough, Claflin (declared a conflict), Rimmer, Geisler, and Sabine. The final vote total was 9-6. With a vacancy on the Commission in the Ninth District, only nine votes were required, and the motion passed. After June, if legislation passes in the Senate and the Governor’s Office that has already passed the State House of Representatives, any Commissioner with a conflict of interest will not be able to vote on an issue. As it stood tonight, four of the nine commissioner voting to give a new retiree insurance benefit declared a conflict of interest due to working for the county, and it passed.
The Ninth Civil District Commission seat that was opened when Commissioner John Kinnunen passed away has been filled. Four very qualified individuals addressed the Commission before the vote was held, including Sandra Dutcher, Dr. Robert Ochsenrider, John Patterson, and Robert Smith. These positions are always difficult to fill, but in the end I voted for Sandra Dutcher as I received the most support from the Ninth District for her leading up to the meeting. The position will be filled permanently in the August elections. Dutcher received nine votes from Hassler, Gibson, Davis, Lowe, Carter, Wilson, Turner, Rimmer, and me. Patterson received four votes from Sabine, Scarbrough, Isham, and Farley. Smith received two votes from Claflin and Geisler.
Committee assignments were also approved for the two Ninth District Commissioners. Woody Geisler will be on the Emergency Service, Rules, Beer Board, Debt Management, and Budget Committees. Sandra Dutcher will be on the Building and Grounds, School and Education, Delinquent Tax, and Environmental Committees. These assignments were unanimously approved.
The Cumberland County Veteran’s Service Officer requested and received authority to move $500 from part time personnel to travel to cover expenses through the end of the fiscal year. Another resolution for our veterans came with a request for funds in the amount of $9,813.50 to go to the Cumberland County Veterans Assistance Council. You may recall that the former VSO, Mark Daniels, pled guilty to criminal acts related to the office. As part of the agreement, he must pay restitution. These funds are a part of that restitution. These resolutions were approved unanimously.
A request by the Highway Department to move funds from Salt, Sand, Wood, Lubricants, and Fund Balance to Asphalt, Equipment & Machinery Parts, and Tires & Tubes in the amount of $27,209 was also unanimously approved.
Doug Scarlett was approved to a first term on the Cumberland County Library Board, and Martha McKnight was approved to a second term. J.D. Atkinson was appointed to the Falling Water River Regional Library Board for a first term as well. David Surles, Willie Hargis, Linda Baehr Caldwell, David Stout, and Daniel Lynn Husk were appointed to the Cumberland County Board of Equalization. These appointments were approved unanimously.
The next resolution of the evening was the disposal of real property of Cumberland County, namely the old Health Department building on Hayes Street. A resolution was presented for the County to sell the building to JPJG Properties, LLC, represented by Johnny W. Presley and Joan Gardner, for $350,000. Under the terms of the agreement, the county would owner financed for 10 years at a four percent fixed interest rate. On July 24, 2009 the 11,000 square foot building and 1.6 acres appraised at $561,000, but at that time the building was in much better shape. Currently the building needs significant roof repair, HVAC, and flooring and is not worth that amount. The resolution passed 15-1 with Commissioner Sabine voting against.
Finally, the Commission approved a resolution to enter into a maintenance agreement for the new radio system that was just completed. The first year the cost will be $45,000 for maintenance and updates. The vote was 14-2 with Isham and Lowe voting against.
Property tax collections year to date are at 99.9% of budget. The Hotel/Motel tax is still strong with $529,000 collected year to date of the $770,000 budgeted representing 68% of budget. Ambulance collections are still down with only $1,900,000 collected against a $3.373 million budget, or 57%. Prisoner boarding is at about 83% of the $500,000 budget with a total of $410,000 collected through 7 months. Local Option Sales Tax collections for the BOE continue to be strong with year to date collections at approximately $5.8 million against a budgeted amount of $8.3 million. That total is ahead of the annual budget by approximately $282,000 even though March was down against budget by approximately $2,600. Newer numbers are not yet available for sales tax.
Thank you for allowing me to serve the 4th District and Cumberland County. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at any time.
Board of Commissioners
4th District Representative