Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, right, listens as Tom Seeley requests that funding for Children’s Advocacy be restored to the 2019-20 fiscal year budget. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Budget Committee continued budget talks for the 2019-20 fiscal year during a meeting held on Tuesday, May 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

The committee was met with an emergency budget amendment at the start of budget talks because the Unicoi County Jail Annex is in need of a new heating and air unit.

“We had a jail inspection recently and we have 60 days to get in compliance, and the heat and air are out,” Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said.

According to Hensley, the rough estimate to replace the heating and air unit is $8,000. The committee decided that Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely would move $10,000 out of the general fund over to the Sheriff’s budget to fix the heating and air issue.

“Go ahead and get me the final figures and we will get that unit replaced,” Evely said

The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department was also hit with $64,790.22 in medical costs recently. “We thought the bills were coming in all along,” Unicoi County Budget Committee Chairwoman and Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice said.

The surprise medical costs came from drug-related problems and prior health conditions of the inmates.

“It’s very, very expensive,” Hensley said. “The only thing saving us is we go to urgent care as much as we can to save on charges.”

It was discussed at the March 8 Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee Meeting that a significant medical cost for the county is from inmates who are addicted to drugs. Hensley explained that roughly 95 percent of his inmates are being held on drug charges and experience medical issues that arrive from drug withdrawl.

Judge Stacy Street suggested at the March 8 meeting that the counties of Northeast Tennessee get together and push for a regional intensive drug rehab facility.

“Judge (Lisa) Rice and myself have pushed Congressman Phil Roe and Senator Lamar Alexander to commit to opening a regional facility,” Street said during the March 8 meeting. “It’s time they put their money where their mouth is on this issue.”

At the time of the March 8 meeting Street suggested that area county commissions push the state to find funding for a regional intensive inpatient rehab facility. Street backed up his comments by stating that he would send drug addicts to the rehab.

“I would love nothing more than for everyone that has a drug problem to sentence them to a drug rehab,” Street said at the March 8 meeting.

During last week’s meeting Commissioner Marie Rice acknowledged that medical bills will need to be addressed at the next county commission meeting.

“The bills (medical) will have to be paid, but that will have to be something to present at the commissioners meeting,” Rice said.

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Also last week, Unicoi County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes was on hand to request funding to replace equipment that is more than 14 years old. The equipment in question is four bush hogs. According to Haynes he needs two short arm bush hogs that cost roughly $99,568 a piece, and two long arm bush hogs that cost roughly $119,569.

“If I can have help with two bush hogs, I can buy two,” Haynes said. “I know it’s trying times; I’m a little better off then most offices, but we need these bush hogs.”

According to Haynes, the new equipment should last 14 years.

During the May 28 meeting, Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley inquired about the amount of money that the Town of Unicoi contributes to the highway department.

“They are charged by the hour on machine and man time,” Haynes said.

According to Mosley, the Town of Unicoi should be contributing what the county and the Town of Erwin contribute.

“It’s like with the animal shelter’s budget, they (the Town of Unicoi) are paying $3,500 less,” Mosley said. “I’d like to see them pay the same as us.”

Unicoi County Commissioner Jason Harris agreed with Mosley.

“I’d like to see (the Town of) Unicoi step it up,” Harris said.

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Also last week, the budget committee looked to save money by cutting expenditures to Unicoi County Assessor of Property Teresa Kinsler’s budget.

“If we cut a $1,000 that will still leave $2,000 total,” Rice said.

The proposed $1,000 cut will come out of the travel budget of Kinsler’s office.

“Just remember that does contain the training that is required for my staff,” Kinsler said.

Unicoi County Trustee Paul Berry presented the committee with his proposed budget for the upcoming budget year and, according to Berry, it closely mirrors last year’s budget of $192,352.

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In a final order of business last week, the committee heard from the Children’s Advocacy’s representatives Linda Bailey and Tom Seeley. Bailey and Seeley were addressing the proposed cut to the agency’s upcoming budget.

During the April 23 Unicoi County Budget Committee meeting, the committee voted unanimously to move $1,000 from Children’s Advocacy to give to the Door of Hope and to approve the same numbers as last year in regards to contributions to nonprofits.

Bailey explained the importance of funding to the agency and what the agency does.

“We saw nearly 700 students at our center, and 69 of them were from Unicoi County, that have been physically or sexually abused,” Bailey said. “Statistics show one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old.”

Seeley explained that finding funding from outside services is very difficult.

“This money we receive, every little bit is critical in helping provide services,” Seeley said. “Fundraising is a hard job for us because no one wants to talk about sexual abuse.”

The committee agreed to take these concerns into budget talks.

According to Rice, the 2019-20 budget is going to be a struggle.

“Revenues are down and expenses are up,” Rice said. “We are going to have to make cuts or raise property taxes.”

The committee agreed to take Haynes’, Berry’s and Kinsler’s budget request to the commission as the county budget begins to take shape.

Rice scheduled the next Unicoi County Budget Committee meeting for Tuesday, June 18.