Newly appointed Hamblen County Trustee Scotty Long has been approved for a $2.8 million insurance bond, according to the county’s mayor, Bill Brittain, who presented the information to the county commission’s finance committee.

The committee approved, by unanimous vote, the payment of the $3,188 bond premium that extends the coverage for Long to August 2020, with Cincinnati Insurance Company. The county had been unable to obtain a bond for the previous trustee, John Baskette.

“We have traditionally and historically always insured the county trustee with a bond,” Brittain said. “We were not able to do that for a year. Right now, all elected county officials are covered by insurance of $400,000, under a law that was passed in 2016 … The bond for the trustee is always higher, because all the money that flows through the county flows into that office,” Brittain said.

The increasing legal expenses affiliated with the county jail are presenting a challenge for budget allocations, according to Finance Director Anne Bryant-Hurst.

Her request, which met with the committee’s vote of approval, to move $23,399 in surplus dollars from three budget line items into Liability Claims was based on her confidence that the initial balance of the account, $60,000, will not be sufficient.

“We have been seeing a lot of activity, specifically this year. We’re going to outspend that line item, it’s evident already. We’re asking to move these funds, we may spend more than that,” Bryant-Hurst said.

She explained to committee members that the fees, which have been paid to one insurance company to cover the deductibles for legal fees regarding liability claims generated from the jail, have now been extended to two more companies.

“So, we’re going to have three insurance companies that are going to be handling liability claims for the jail,” she said.

Committee chairman Randy DeBord posed the question, “What is increasing those liabilities?”

“As the attorneys are beginning to try these cases, it’s coming home to roost, so to speak,” Bryant-Hurst said. “Right now, we’ve got 32 claims out there. As the deductibles and claims begin to add up, the bills start coming in.”

Brittain added, “There are a number of lawsuits involving the jail. We have 15 individuals that are filing federal and state lawsuits. This is our deductible and the insurance plans on the jail. We spent over $78,000 last year.”

“Going all the way back to 2010, there are 32 claims. There were different insurance carriers involved. This particular increase, asking for unappropriated surplus, will handle at least the beginning of this,” Bryant-Hurst said.

Hamblen County Schools Finance Director Traci Antrican reported an increase of more than $104,000 in the school system’s budget, thanks to grants from local industry and community programs, and an insurance payment of $45,734 for damage to the Witt Elementary School roof. The roof repair project is currently out to bid.

The public service committee voted to approve a proposal by Brittain for county information technology manager Jeff Akin to investigate upgrades and/or replacements to the sound and video equipment in the courtroom where the commission meets. The costs discussed ranged from $25,000 to upwards of $50,000, with a goal of enhancing the experience for participants and spectators, along with recordings of proceedings. The equipment would also be used by the county court system.

Commissioner Wayne NeSmith chided a fellow member whose assigned seat is located across the well of the courtroom: “Maybe I’ll be able to hear Cutshaw,” he said.

“I hope you can,” Commissioner Chris Cutshaw responded.

Budget housekeeping included reporting the county has received $11,299 from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program that reimburses state and local governments for the costs of incarcerating unauthorized immigrants; the amount is nearly double what was received in 2018, according to Bryant-Hurst.

The day-to-day proceedings in the county’s circuit court will be enhanced by hearing-assist technology. According to Bryant-Hurst, “routinely and sometimes commonly,” court participants cannot hear well. The $5,637.99 cost will be covered by the court’s reserve for automation account.

Chancery Court will be upgraded with seven new computers and two printers, using $7,000 in budget funds that were approved for fiscal year 2018-19, then held unused after a vendor issue.

Citizen comments at designated times during committee meetings range from speech-making to direct interaction with commissioners.

In response to a citizen’s comment regarding the body’s alleged intent to “do away with bulk waste pickup” during the public Service Committee meeting, Commission Chairman Howard Shipley said, “The purpose is not to do away with bulk waste. The purpose is to separate the trees in one pile and the bulk waste in one pile, so we can extend the longevity of our landfill. Another thing, these commercial people going out and cutting down trees and wanting the county to pick it (limbs, branches, etc.) up for them, you see, we wanted to put an end to that.”

“How are you going to do that?” the citizen asked.

“Well, that’s a good question. That’s why the committee wanted to meet, to see if they could come up with some solution,” Shipley said.

He added there are no plans to bring before the full commission the issues of bulk waste pickup and property maintenance, based, in part, on the time that will be required to be spent on the jail project and community response, in particular to the property maintenance issue.

“I heard what the people had to say. And so, it will be a good while before that will come up on the commission’s agenda,” Shipley said.

The public service committee unanimously approved rezoning of a parcel on East Andrew Johnson Highway in Whitesburg from commercial to agricultural. The owner intends to demolish an existing, dilapidated building and replace it with a single wide mobile home. Both the Morristown regional and county planning commissions approved the rezoning prior to the meeting.

Commissioners will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18 in the large courtroom of the Hamblen County Court House to discuss the jail project and hear from those who have served on the jail design committee.