Utility districts could be consolidated

Posted By | January 13, 2006 12:00 am

Kim Swindell Wood
An unprecedented move by White County Board of Commissioners may eventually consolidate three utility companies that service thousands of customers in the rural areas.
During the Monday night meeting of Steering Committee A, commissioners unanimously voted to send their recommendation to the full court about combining O’Connor, Quebeck-Walling and DeWhite utility districts under one board of directors. If the consolidation were successful, the board of directors would be elected by the people instead of appointed. BonDeCroft Utility District is not included in the consolidation because it maintains its own water treatment plant.
White County Mayor Herd Sullivan, who makes the recommendations for memberships to the utility boards, sought a legal opinion about the matter from Denny Mitchell, attorney for White County. However, Sullivan said Mitchell cannot draft the potential resolution because he also represents O’Connor Utility District. Mitchell will be referring the matter to another attorney.
In other business, the committee was presented with a resolution to urge the passage of legislation to grant greater local autonomy to county governments.
“If enacted by the legislature, it would give the counties more power to impose taxes, other than property taxes and sales taxes,” said Gary Cox, chairman.
“It just kind of gives the county more leeway to raise the needed revenue that they need, other than going to the sources Gary [Cox] mentioned,” said Sullivan.
Wallace Austin asked who drafted the resolution. Sullivan said another county in Tennessee had sent the resolution to garner support from White County.
“Do they have any specifics – what they’re thinking of to further our tax base?” said Dewayne Howard.
Sullivan said the resolution was appealing to the State of Tennessee to allow counties to have the power to regulate taxes.
“If you’ve got good people in office, they’re going to do the right thing by it,” said Cox.
However, Cox said some elected officials could take advantage of this particular form of power.
“They could just easily, by the stroke of a pen, raise the tax burden on the citizens,” said Cox. “It looks to me like they’re trying to circumvent the voter.”
Austin said he had attended numerous Tennessee Chambers of Commerce Association meetings in Nashville, and from discussion at these gatherings he said he did not think the legislature would pass this law.
Sullivan said he believed the counties supporting the resolution were attempting to find a way to fund mandates from the state.
Those voting in favor of the resolution included Kenneth Milligan and Raymond England. Those voting “no” were Jerry Lowery, Loyd Hutchings, Dewayne Howard, Wallace Austin and Gary Cox.
The motion to approve the resolution failed for lack of a majority vote.
Committee members also discussed the possibility of purchasing the property adjacent to White County Health Department.
Sullivan said the health department was “landlocked” and could not expand if more space was needed in the future. The Whitley and Bessie Roberts property, which includes an older house, is for sale.
“The family was wanting to know if the county might need it,” said Sullivan.
Austin, Milligan and Sullivan were appointed as a committee to look at the property and find out if it is still for sale. They will report their findings at February’s Steering Committee A meeting.
Another item of business discussed by the committee included discussion of the problems at a state leased facility in White County known as The Agee House.
The facility, which is leased by Community Options, has been a source of concern for residents near the Golden Mountain Road facility.
“The situation, as it is presently – there’s not anything we can do to the home except make sure they go by the rules and regulations set by the state,” said Denton. “They have not been doing that.”
The home is under the jurisdiction of Tennessee Department of Mental Retardation Services. Cox questioned if the county had control over banning such facilities. However, Denton said problems had arisen about “correctional” issues, which included incarceration of at least two of the clients at White County Justice Center. At least one of the clients has been listed as a sexual offender.
“I did find out they’re operating under a contingency license for six months,” said Denton. “They’ve not been granted a full license yet.”
Denton said Denny Mitchell, attorney for White County, is working with State Representative Charles Curtiss to draft the appropriate resolution that will specifically define what is prohibited.
Committee members once again discussed the ballpark on Smithville Highway.
Cox said Little League representatives, Dan and Dora Cummings, had given him a list to be presented to the committee. Cox said the list stated if the items were “in place” by March 1, 2006, the Little League teams would play ball at the Smithville Highway location.
“Some of it’s nit-picky – some of it’s not,” said Cox.
The list includes gas grills, an air conditioner in the cooking area, relocate the sink, adjust height of door in storage room and add shelving, Plexiglas on the outside windows of concession stand for insect control, benches and tables for scorekeepers in the press box, handrails and lighting for stairs, public address system in place, fans to set on press box benches and shelving in press box.
Cox said the list indicated there were some small holes in the field that need to be filled with sand. They also requested the county finish the interior walkway by either concrete or paving. They also requested bleachers and water added near the dugout. Little League officials also requested a secure storage building and the use of a four-wheeler.
“They want exclusive use when and if we move our entire schedule down there,” said Cox.
Cox said basically, from March 1 through the end of Little League season, the keys to the ballpark would be “handed over” to the organization. However, Cox said the keys should be turned back over to the county after Little League season is complete. Then, the field could be leased to other ball organizations during the off-season.
“We met with them at the field, and we told them we wanted them to play ball down there – whatever it took,” said Jerry Lowery, committee member who also serves as the director of parks and recreation for White County. “They came down and raked the field over pretty good. A lot of that stuff is simple stuff that I’ll take care of.”
Raymond England responded.
“What amazes me [is] the rest of the group is playing ball on this field, and it’s good enough for them, but it ain’t good for the Little League,” said Raymond England.
According to Cox, Dora said at the meeting, “I’m one vote, but I would never, never vote to go down there.”
“Some of the coaches that were on the board went down there to look it over,” said Cox. “They’d never been there before, but they were convinced in their minds this was the worst thing in the world. They got down there, and they said, ‘Gee, this is nice.’
But, they were going off the recommendation of the president of the league that this is awful.”
Cox said he and Howard attended the Little League meeting for the election of officers.
“They never elected officers,” said Cox. “They came up and said, ‘We’re going to elect a president. Who wants to be president?’
Nobody said anything, so Dora got it by default. From that point on, she appointed the rest of them.”
Lowery asked committee members to attempt to accomplish as many of the items on the list as possible.
Cox said some of the Little League coaches said the ballfield was better than the ones they had played on in other towns.
“The worst case scenario is we complete this list of some things that need doing, and they choose not to go down there, it’s on them,” said Lowery. “We’ll bring Travel Ball in and whatever else we need to do, and we’ll go from there.”
“If the parents of the Little League had a say in it, they would come,” said Cox. “Evidently they don’t have a say in it, unless they make their voices heard.”
Steering Committee A meets at 5 p.m., the second Monday of each month, at White County Courthouse. The next meeting will be Feb. 13, 2006.

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