By MIKE WEST/Courier Editor
Cannon County Commission approved a property tax rate of $2.53 Tuesday night (Aug. 13) but not before lengthy discussion and several counter offers.
The new rate is a nickel higher than the current rate of $2.48.
Commissioner Clint Higgins made the recommendation that passed the panel 6 to 4. Voting "No" were Commissioners Russell Reed, Kevin George, Jim Bush and Bob Stoetzel.
Most notable was that the new budget includes a 3 percent raise for county employees and two School Resource Officers for Cannon County Schools. One of the officers will "rove" system schools while the other will be assigned to Cannon County High School.
Higgins' proposal split the funding differently than originally proposed by the county's Budget Committee.
Under Higgins' plan, $1.28 of the new tax rate will go to the County General Fund. The General Purpose School Fund will get 88 cents while the Ambulance Service will get 20 cents. The General Debt Service is earmarked for 3 cents. Solid Waste's rate was cut to 14 cents compared to 17 cents for the current budget year.
Prior to the series of votes, the Commission heard presentations from two sides of the budgetary issue.
"We need to move forward. A nickel increase is just a stop gap," Commissioner Todd Hollingsworth said.
Hollingsworth labeled himself a conservative but said "the budget in this county is too lean."
He recommended approval of the two proposed SROs as a start for improved school security. "That's a good compromise," Hollingsworth said.
Citizen Bill Asbury of Porterfield took an opposing view, supporting a security system for schools instead of SROs. Such a system would keep "the nuts out of the building," Asbury said.
Commissioners returned again to the ongoing problems between the various agencies dealing with Homeland Security and hazard mitigation and Emergency Management Agency director Faye Morse.
"It's got to the point where it's not funny anymore. It's getting dangerous," said Chairman Tim Bell. "The coordination between departments is limited when you can't set down at the table and have clear conversation."
Bell cited several joint meetings where Morse either left early or did not attend.
Bell said the County Commission needs to do something about the situation.
Commissioner Kevin George said there is little the County Commission can do. It is the responsibility of County Executive Mike Gannon and Morse.
"We can certainly make a stern suggestion," said Commission Chairman Bob Stoetzel. "We can go down there and drag all the equipment out and place it at the E-911 Center."
Bell said he was coming to the Commission because "you guys were the ones who appointed us. We will do whatever you want us to do."
Commissioner George said Morse should be allowed equal time to present her point of view.
Morse said she wasn't informed about some of the meetings.
"On Jan. 25, I asked to be excused early to attend my grandson's birthday," she said.
On another meeting she didn't receive notice until shortly before the session. When she got the message, she was at Centennial Hospital in Nashville with her father.
Morse said some of the EMA equipment had been transferred from her home in Gassaway to the Eastside Fire Hall.
"Everybody knows that. When they need it, all they have to do is call me," she said.
The Commission then adopted a formal contract between the county and the Cannon County Rescue Square. They also extended the lease on the Rescue Squad Building for 20 years.
Audit Committee Chairman Glenn Steakley presented the results of his committee's year-old study of Cannon County's audit.
Steakley said two major points resulted from the study. The first is that Cannon County's personnel policy needs updating. It's not been charged since it was created 14 years ago. The second is that job descriptions need to be drafted and put into writing for various county positions.
"That ought not to be difficult," Steakley said.
"It badly needs to be redone," agreed County Executive Gannon. "It is really outdated. It doesn't even deal with cell phones."