Carter County Commission approves funds for new Emergency Operations Center

John Thompson • Nov 19, 2018 at 10:36 PM

ELIZABETHTON — After a lengthy discussion Monday night, the Carter County Commission voted 17-7 to approve an expenditure of $192,984 in county funds for a new emergency operations center for the Carter County Emergency Management Agency.

Commissioners Robert Acuff, Mike Hill, Brad Johnson, Gary Bailey, Travis Hill, Sonja Culler and Aaron Frazier voted against the expenditure.

The county funds will be combined with a Community Development Block Grant of $315,000 to compete the operations center in an unfinished half of the building that houses the Carter County Emergency Communications (911) District on North Sycamore Street.

The county’s current emergency operations center is located in a fire safe originally designed to safeguard courthouse records from a catastrophic fire to the courthouse. The safe is located inside the office of the Carter County Emergency Management Agency, and was used during the Doe River Flood of 1998.

Carter County EMA Director Gary Smith told commissioners that the small safe offers cramped space for only about six individuals.

Commissioner Mike Hill objected that details about the plan were not given to the commissioners until just before the meeting. He said a quick glance led him to suspect inflated estimates. He gave one example — a soap dispenser, available online for $13, was estimated to cost $30 in the plans.

Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett warned the commissioners that they were on a ‘time line with the block grant” and could risk losing the $315,000 by delaying approval.

The commissioners approved several other budget amendments during the meeting. The new commission voted to keep a promise made by the previous commission and repay funds taken from the Highway Department and the Emergency Management Agency.

The money was borrowed to balance the budget, and both agencies were promised the funds would be restored when the state forwarded money it owed the county from unclaimed property.

In keeping the promise, the commission approved the transfer of $55,162.10 to the Highway Department and $20,000 to the EMA.

Johnson City Attorney Jim Bowman took advantage of the time allotted for the public to speak in order to discuss a controversy in which Carter County constables have been denied the use of law enforcement radio frequencies. Bowman has been hired by the Carter County Constables Association to represent them in the dispute.

Bowman told the commissioners that Sheriff Dexter Lunceford recently denied the constables the use of radio frequencies used by the sheriff’s department.

Bowman argued that the Federal Communications Commission assigned the frequencies to Carter County and not just to the Carter County Sheriff’s Department. He said radio communication “is an essential tool of law enforcement,” and to deny the constables the right to use the frequencies not only endangered their lives, but the lives of those they serve.

Bowman told the commissioners that the constables want the County Commission to pass a resolution affirming the constables’ access to the frequencies.

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