The Unicoi County Commission met on Monday, Feb. 25, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Areas of concern with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department were the focus of the Unicoi County Commission during a meeting on Monday, Feb. 25, at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

On the list of concerns were upgrades reportedly needed at the jail annex facility at 1570 Jackson Love Highway and the jail located adjacent to the courthouse.

On Jan. 23, the Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee voted to recommend to the full commission that the roof at the jail annex facility be repaired using money from the county’s general fund. However, on Monday no commissioner made a motion to make the repairs and the issue died on the floor. The motion would have been for the county to pay the $5,700 out of the county’s general fund.

The roof in question had been leaking, but has been patched. Sheriff Mike Hensley reported during the Jan. 23 Building and Grounds Committee meeting that the jail annex roof is in need of replacement.

“It hasn’t been replaced since we moved in over eight years ago,” Hensley previously said.

Commissioner Jason Harris disagreed with the assessment.

“If the roof ain’t leaking now, I don’t understand why we are discussing putting $5,700 into the roof,” Harris said.

Because the commission did not give the approval to pay for the roof repair out of the general fund , the $5,700 roof repair will be coming out of the UCSD maintenance funds.

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During the most recent Unicoi County Public Safety Committee, the committee decided to approve the purchase of four new vehicles for the UCSD. The vehicles were estimated to be less than $150,000.

During the same meeting on Feb. 20, the committee also approved funding for fencing upgrades and for new equipment for the UCSD. The estimated fencing costs are around $25,000. The new equipment for the UCSD would be new vests that are estimated to cost $20,000 and new security equipment that is estimated to cost $5,000.

On Monday, the commission approved a capital outlay note in the amount of $200,000 which, according to Chairman Loren Thomas, will be used for those projects for the UCSD.

The motion to approve the capital outlay note was made by Vice Chair Jamie Harris and was seconded by Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley. The request for the capital outlay note in the amount of $200,000 was approved by a 6-2 vote.

Thomas, Harris, and commissioners Stephen Hendrix, Glenn White, John Mosley and Matthew Rice voted to approve, while commissioners Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed. Commissioner Todd Wilcox was absent from the meeting.

Marie Rice objected to the short notice of the request during Monday’s meeting.

“I just found out about this Friday night,” she said. “I felt we didn’t give adequate notice to the taxpayers.”

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Also on Monday, the commission voted unanimously to prepare a request for proposal (RFP) for services to secure bids to acquire a new radio frequency along with the equipment needed. The RFP will include installation and implementation cost.

During the Feb. 8 Unicoi County Public Safety Committee meeting, it was decided that whichever ambulance service takes over in April will be required to seek a new frequency for communication. Currently, MedicOne shares the line that the local Firefighters Association owns. Firefighter Association President Robert Adams had previously stated that the Firefighters Association would no longer share the frequency with the incoming ambulance service. Adams also said that the ambulance service would have 90 days after the April 1, 2019, start date to find a new frequency.

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The commission also voted unanimously to approve an RFP be sent out for bid for fencing and fence repair at the facility at Jackson Love Highway. The Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee met on Tuesday, Feb. 19, to discuss upgrades to fencing and it was decided that the proposal would go before the county commissioners.

In other business, the board joined the Unicoi County School Board in opposing proposed state law SB0019/H80301. The Tennessee General Assembly code SB0019/HB0301 would make the position of director of schools an electable position. The director of schools is currently appointed by the school board, which is elected.

The motion to oppose the Tennessee General Assembly code SB0019/HB0301 was made by Matthew Rice and seconded by Mosley. The motion carried with a 7-1 vote, with Marie Rice the only one opposed. Thomas, Jamie Harris, Matthew Rice, Jason Harris, White, Hendrix and Mosley approved.

In closing, the board discussed inmate revenue. White said he wants to find more data regarding if the state inmates are making or losing money for the county and use that information to decide future plans.

“Let’s nail it down,” Commissioner White said.

Commissioner Marie Rice agreed.

“We need long-range planning,” she said.

Thomas reinforced the significance of the Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee.

“The Inmate Revenue Committee is new and we are looking through at least five years of data to gauge where we are,” he said.