Commission deals with rezoning, hospital funds

Posted on Friday, January 24, 2014 at 11:33 am

In a standing-room only courtroom Thursday night during the Hamblen County Commission meeting, a motion to rezone a section of land on Spencer Hale Road to build affordable housing units was withdrawn by the landowner.

A separate motion to rezone property on Moorelock Road, also to build affordable housing, was shot down by a 12 to two vote.

“Due to the concerns that the neighbors have had he still reserves the right to develop the property in the future, but is respectful of the neighbors and wants to make sure that the motion is withdrawn at this time and we’re not asking for the rezoning,” a representative for the property owner on Spencer Hale Road said.

The rezoning of the two properties met with opposition at the Hamblen County Committee meetings Jan. 13. Commissioners Herbert Harville and Howard Shipley, the respective commissioners for Districts 10 and 7, also said they had received numerous phone calls in opposition.

Another hot topic Thursday evening was the request from Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System for $100,000 to pay off the recently completed inpatient cancer ward which has seven patient beds, four hospice beds and four surgical cancer beds.

Several attendees opposed the move, saying it was a waste of taxpayers dollars, and if the commission gave the money to MHHS, they should also give funds to Lakeway Hospital, a privately owned for-profit facility.

The money would have come from the so-called Hospital Fund. The fund was created after MHHS borrowed the county’s credit rating at 5 percent interest, prior to the hospital’s merger with Covenant Health, and which the commission resolved in 2011 to allocate to one-time capital projects. Currently, the fund has around $880,000.

However, the vote to fund the money to MHHS from the Hospital Fund failed by one vote.

Instead, the commission voted, and passed, for the $100,000 to come from the general fund. A budget amendment was motioned, and passed by eight votes for the monies to come from the general fund.

Commissioners noted the Hamblen County Government has an agreement with MHHS inmate patient services.

Tennessee State Law has minimum standards for the care of inmates and that includes access to health care. When an inmate does not have health insurance, it falls upon the responsibility of the county to pay for healthcare.

MHHS agreed to increase the inmate patient discount from 45 percent to a minimum of 50 percent, with the county seeing a return on its investment in a little over three years.

Ford asked Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain if he thought it was a good deal for taxpayer’s.

“Mayor, let me ask you, in your opinion, would this be a good investment for the taxpayers of Hamblen County?” Ford asked.

“I look at this as a business deal between the county and one of its vendors, and the vendor is Morristown Hamblen. With a payback in three to five years and (with) a long term agreement for a discount with the hospital I think it’s a good business deal for the county,” Brittain responded.

Commissioner Louis “Doe” Jarvis explained that the payback was calculated on additional discounts, which are frequently applied to inmate health care.

“If we want to manage the taxpayers money, this is one way we do it,” Jarvis explained.

The minimum discount for inmate health care is now 50 percent, according to an agreement sent from the hospital to the mayor.

The motion passed by a vote of 8-5, with one abstention.

Another motion at Thursday evening’s meeting was the passing of ambulance regulations, which authorities say will regulate patient care and ensure patients are receiving the same quality of care. Authorities previously said Hamblen County is one of only a few counties in East Tennessee that, until Thursday night, did not have regulations in place.

The motion came after months of conferring with local and state authorities.

The motion was first presented to the Public Safety Committee in July 2013, and after months of revisions it the 15-page ordinance was presented during the committee meetings Jan. 13.

“We have been working with CTAS (County Technical Assistance Service), Morristown Hamblen Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Bell, Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain, Public Safety Committee Chairman Nancy Phillips, over the last several months, putting together something that we believe would serve Hamblen County citizens regarding ambulance service,” said County Attorney Chris Capps. “It is a rather long ordinance, due to the fact that it is a very complicated area of regulation and attempted to ensure a high quality of (ambulance service).”

In other business, the Popkin Town Center Food City received a TIF. approval from commissioners.

It will be the third new Food City to benefit from the program.

The Popkin Town Center will be the site of a new Food City and retail shopping facilities that will bring more than 130 jobs to Morristown.

-By Aletheia Davidson, Tribune Staff Writer

Headlines of the Day