By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Commission’s Monday night meeting offered many goodbyes for commissioners who would not be rejoining the new commission at its September meeting. But the county also said “hello” to joining a lawsuit involving opioid abuse.
The county approved the resolution making Washington County the latest county entity to join the lawsuit against numerous drug manufacturers. Attorney Tom Jessee, who is working in the case, said 15 counties had joined the lawsuit so far. He also added that the case is not a class-action lawsuit and would be handled in Greeneville.
“It’s a local problem and it requires a local solution,” Jessee said.
The attorney said if the team wins the case, they will receive a 30 percent fee from the county. If they lose, he said, the county owes them nothing. He also explained that the suit was designed for counties to address the problem as a “nuisance case.”
“If you’ll think about it, 50 years ago, if you wanted to close a liquor house or a house of prostitution or stop the tannery from throwing dead cows in the river, the state didn’t come down here and do anything,” Jessee said. “The county sheriff and the county chancellor court —all those entities right here in the county — had to clean up the county. It was realized the money needs to come here.”
The commission also approved two resolutions involving Jonesborough courthouse renovations for the building’s archives space as well as Phase 1 of the renovations.
The archives renovation project is set at $382,500 to come out of the archives fund balance.
Meanwhile, the first phase of the exterior renovations to the courthouse come in at $1.1 million and would primarily include a new roof and guttering, a handicap ramp on the east side, new doors on both sides of the building, exterior painting and other exterior repairs.
Later the county will discuss Phase 2 of the courthouse renovation project, which will include security upgrades, replacement of the HVAC system and lighting upgrades. The courthouse renovations in its entirety are estimated to cost $2.2 million.
The commission also unanimously passed a resolution to use $1 million from the capital projects fund balance for the South Central roof replacement ($110,000), school buses ($640,000) and school technology equipment ($640,000).
Commissioner and Health, Education and Welfare Committee Chairman Tom Krieger explained to the commission that an amount for school buses was not included in this year’s budget due to doubling up on school bus funds in the previous fiscal year. He added that technology was not included in the budget due to uncertainty from the Washington County Board of Education.
“When the budget was put together, the school board had not taken a position on how those Chromebooks were going to be handled,” Krieger said.
“Were they going to be issued? Could they take them home or not? They have since have made a decision on that. The Chromebooks will be staying in the school and they will be issued to the appropriate classes at the discretion of the school board and the school administration.”
In biding farewell to non-returning commissioners — and in relation to school technology — school board member Clarence Mabe, who did not seek reelection to the board, offered thanks to the commission and a glimpse at the impact he felt the commission has offered the students of Washington County.
“One of the most important things you did was that you modernized our technology,” Mabe said. “What will the library look like in 10 years from now? What will the textbook look like in 10 years from now? You kept that in consideration and you kept us buying Chromebooks and smart boards and microphones. That is awesome because its in every classroom with every kid. That’s what I call where the tire meets the road.
“You funded the construction of Grandview, Ridgeview and now Boones Creek. You did it right. You didn’t half ass anything. I’m sorry to say it that way, but it’s true. I’m just proud of you. Thank you for loving the kids of Washington County.”
While those projects received final approval from county officials, commissioners also took a minute to give thanks to those departing the commission, which will be replaced with a 15-seat board of commissioners. Amongst those departing one last time from Courtroom 7 was Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who served for eight years before opting not to seek reelection.
“Through your leadership and involvement, the accomplishments of this commission have been many and, by my estimation, have been more impactful for the long term prosperity of the residents of Washington County than any other commission,” Eldridge said.
“You have displayed a vision and commitment for the future and made difficult decisions necessary to implement strategies that will yield great benefits for our children, our grandchildren — my grandchild. I think that’s exactly what you were elected to do and I am proud to have been able to serve with you.”