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Commission to fill 8th District seat; Mayor gets nod to refinance

“Really, it could be 17 or 18 months before he returns. We don’t know when he will return; he doesn’t know when. So the county attorney felt like (it was important) to go ahead and fill his vacancy temporarily.”

Greg Matherly

Washington County  Commission Chairman


Staff Writer

[email protected]

Washington County Commissioner Matthew Morris hasn’t been able to serve in his 8th Commission District seat since he was notified he would be called into service by the U.S. Army National Reserve in January. And whenever Morris comes back he will be able to reclaim his seat.

Until then, the Washington County Commission will appoint a temporary commissioner, Commission Chairman Greg Matherly announced during the commission meeting on Monday night.

Matherly said that the county attorney has had correspondence with Morris and this was the conclusion that was made.

“Really, it could be 17 or 18 months before he returns. We don’t know when he will return; he doesn’t know when. So the county attorney felt like (it was important) to go ahead and fill his vacancy temporarily,” Matherly said.

Temporarily means that if Mr. Morris never returns, than the person feeling his seat with finish out the remainder of his team. It also means that,  if he were to show up in the next couple of months, then he will be able to assume his position.

Also on Monday night, the commission unanimously approved resolution 16-04-17, which provided Eldridge with the nod that he sought in order to proceed with the advance refunding of the county’s 2007 debt, which could save the county $14 million.

While authorization wasn’t necessary from the commission, Eldridge wanted the commission to be aware of the future potential savings.

Now, the proposed advanced refunding will go to the state’s controller office for them to review and Eldridge will receive the document and then it will come back in front of the commission for their final approval. The timetable is about 30-45 days from start to finish and could be back in front of the full commission during their June meeting.

“I don’t want that to be the first time they see it, I want them to be prepared for it because this is something that we need to act quickly on,” Eldridge said. “The concern I have had all along is that there will come a time when the current benefit is greater than the potential benefit. And I think that is where we are.”

Commissioner Lynn Hodge spoke up in the meeting in support of the resolution, which unanimously passed 23-0.

“I think it is very important that we go ahead with the refinancing, lock that down with the savings of $14 million, then we have a debt that we are amortizing, we will be paying principal and interest on that debt,” he said. “In doing that, I think the bond market will look more favorable to us and our rating will be more favorable to us than if we don’t do it. So to me, it is a win-win situation.”

Amortizing means that the debt’s principal is not currently being paid towards, but only the interest is receiving funds. Under this current debt structure for Washington County, the principal cannot be paid towards until 2019. Amortizing this debt is important if the county hopes to pull out any substantial money in the future, which could come for the Boones Creek school or other construction projects.

“That is very accurate from the standpoint of being important, particularly to the rating agencies,” Eldridge said. “The rating agencies want to see us taking advantage of all the opportunities that are out there to restructure this debt and minimize our debt service obligation. And then consider new debt.

The terms of the loan would remain the same, unless the county decided to shorten them and increase their payment. The benefit would be that interest rates would be lower.

The commission also approved to fulfill their portion of an inter-local agreement that it had with Johnson City pertaining to radio communication systems and participation in the Tennessee Advanced Communication Network.

As part of the agreement, Washington County will pay a one-time payment of $572,024.00 to Johnson City to join Johnson City’s P25 Communications System that will serve the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, all Washington County volunteer fire departments, EMS and all Washington County Constables.

In addition to that payment, Washington County is responsible for two new radio locations. Those will be placed in Fall Branch and Viking Mountain and will came at a dollar amount of $738,000 which will be placed in the fiscal year 2017 budget.

While the dollar amounts might seem a bit staggering, Matherly, who has also served in the Sheriff’s department for over two decades said it will have immeasurable benefits for the community.

“I have worked in this county for 23 years and I would say this is one of the top 3 things ever done for public safety in this county,” Matherly said. “There are places in this county where 911 cannot talk to law enforcement, they cannot talk to these ambulances and it is a large section of the county. This will bring communications to a completely new level in the matter of probably six months.”

The placement of a radio tower in Fall Branch is heavily needed, as it was mentioned in the meeting that the school’s SRO officer isn’t able to communicate with 911 through his radio. Matherly also mentioned that there are parts in the George Jayne Courthouse that radio communication cannot be made.

Washington County will now pay $200 per radio, compared to the over $600 they are currently paying. The agreement will terminate on Dec. 31, 2023.

— Also agreed on was the repaving of the parking lots at the two Washington County High Schools which will come at a cost of $363,450.00. The school board will reimburse the highway department with an estimated costs for labor and tonnage of asphalt to pave the areas.

— Some good news did come back to Washington County from the legislative council that just adjourned as the money that was going to be used to staff two auditors for Washington County and McMinn County was reallocated to a different part of the state budget.