Jasper, Tenn. – The Marion County Commission convened their May meeting as a virtual meeting, pursuant to state restrictions on public gatherings. Whereas not completely free of technical challenges, the meeting was a little smoother than last month’s inaugural video platform meeting. The Commission’s Emergency Services’ Committee nominated new members to the 9-1-1 Board of Directors. County Mayor David Jackson asked the Commission to acknowledge this year’s senior graduating class in a special way. Jackson also updated the Commission on a number of projects of interest throughout the county.
Jackson introduced a resolution aimed at recognizing the local high school graduates for 2020. “As you know, schools have been out since Spring Break. Our Seniors are not going to be able to graduate on time. The graduations for our three high schools have been set for July 23rd and 24th. Some of the officeholders and some of the commissioners thought we should do something to recognize these seniors. So what we’re going to do is we have this proclamation to proclaim the month of July as our “2020 Senior Class of Marion County High School Students.” So I’m going to ask the Commissioners to approve this proclamation and that we recognize these students. All the cities are doing something now with banners and other things; so we thought it would be best to give these students recognition in July. This comes in the form of a recommendation, and I’d appreciate you all’s support.” All the Commissioners seemed to agree as, the request passed without dissent.
The Board also took up the overdue reappointment of the Marion County 9-1-1 Board of Directors. The 9-1-1 Board has overseen the implementation of a new digital emergency communications system to replace the existing analog radios. Going into its third year, the new system is still “in process,” as the 9-1-1 Board looks to continue to tweak the system. Meanwhile, the new system has garnered a cool reception from some members of the first responders’ community citing inconsistent dependability of the devices. Jackson said, “The emergency services committee met back in March. Our current 9-1-1 Board, all of their terms have expired. None of them have been reappointed as they should be and their terms have just carried over without being reappointed. The Emergency Services Committee has recommended for some new members to be appointed and some of the existing members to stay on the Board. These are the recommendations from the Emergency Services Committee. These appointments: Sheriff Bo Burnett for a two-year term, Steve Lamb as EMA Director for a two-year term, Lester Roberts for a three-year term, Jody Rollins for a three-year term, Jasper Police Chief Billy Mason for a four-year term, South Pittsburg Police Chief Wayne Jordan for a four-year term, Crossroad’s Police Chief Kenneth Seagraves for a four-year term, Kay Roberts for a three-year term, and County Commissioner Steve Franklin for a two-year term.” The recommendation carried unanimously.
Jackson addressed a largely perfunctory issue regarding the County’s computer audit. “This just needs to be read into the minutes of the meeting. The state comptroller’s office is currently conducting our annual audit for this year,” Jackson continued, “There were no findings on the computer audit this year for our computers. There are a couple of recommendations that are beyond our control and have to do with local government.”
Jackson summarized the budget amendments for the county’s general fund:
- $14,000 invoiced for the Extension Office that actually was supposed to have been billed in FY 2019;
- $3,000 to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to supplement the administration of the sexual offender program
- $5,200 incoming from the Tennessee Highway Safety Program earmarked for the sheriff’s department overtime
- $28,550 was a portion of the County’s part of the water extension project going down Alvin York Highway
Jackson gave an update on the County’s status regarding COVID-19. “Since May 14, we have had seven new cases bringing our total to 37 with 26 recoveries and 1 death. There are 781 people that have been tested, which is about 2.7 percent of our population. We encourage everyone to practice social distancing, good hygiene, and if you’re a high-risk person wear a mask when you’re out, and if you’re sick please stay home. We don’t need to let our guard down.” Jackson explained that there were some people’s tests coming back positive while they were not exhibiting any symptoms.
The contracts on the hangar renovation and the sewer line have been signed and there was a planned pre-construction meeting scheduled later in the week. The Mayor also mentioned that the county’s match funds for the grants that were received for these projects have been sent to the state. This project was delayed after one bid went unanswered in the Fall of 2019.
Mayor Jackson announced that the County was awaiting the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s (TDOT) approval of the rail spur proposal to cross Highway 156 in the New Hope area to serve the Nickajack Port Property, which local officials have been attempting to market for commercial development and to assist existing commercial partner Colonial Chemical. Jackson said he hoped the project could be sent out for bid as early as late July.
Mayor Jackson told Commissioners that the jail expansion project was on hold right now. The County has already paid for the preliminary engineering drawings for the proposed 60-bed expansion. The detention facility was regularly bumping its capacity limit and the state had cautioned that the facility would need to expand as not to endanger its certification from the state. In the era of COVID-19, efforts to increase off-premises monitoring and other considerations have thinned out the capacity for the short term. Jackson said the architect felt like the county might get a better deal on construction and materials if the county waited anyway. Mayor Jackson indicated that the School District’s building project will be ready for presentation at the July Commission meeting.
With a thinned veiled exasperation, Mayor Jackson formally announced to the Commission that the County did not receive any financial help from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) with individual property damage stemming from the April 12 flooding damage. Jackson said, “I can go all the way back 2003, 2007 when we had the flooding at Wal-Mart. You got ’13, ’15 and now ’20 where we’ve had floods and we’re just not getting any help from FEMA on any of those occasions. Along those lines, Jackson told the Commissioners that the municipalities within Marion County along, with representatives of the Southeast Tennessee Development District office held preliminary meetings looking at doing a comprehensive flood mitigation study for the whole county. Jackson said that everybody needed “to have skin in this game” for it to be a successful study and the financial burden-sharing was going to need to be spread throughout the multiple local and county governments to make it more successful than previous efforts. “We can’t stop the flooding, but we can work to minimize it,” Jackson said.
Commissioner Kenny Cookston requested that Aetna Mountain Road be posted with a 15 mile an hour speed limit sign. Cookston said he had already spoken to Road Superintendent Jim Hawk, and Hawk was on board pending approval from the Commission. The measure was approved unanimously.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the full Commission will be June 22 at 6 p.m. This will be a virtual meeting, as well. Jackson said he hopes the restrictions will be relaxed as they are scheduled to be to allow a “normal meeting” in July. The June meeting, however, will be closed to the public and will be broadcast on local media and those outlets’ social media.