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County finally designates dollars

Commissioners approved allocating $150,000 from the Capital Projects and General funds to complete the downtown courthouse renovations during last week’s meeting, but postponed making a recommendation for changes in insurance benefits.
“I’m all for looking at insurance by a committee,” Commissioner Sam Humphreys said. “I think it should be looked at. I would be willing to lead the effort, but it can’t be done tonight.”
The comment was made after a lengthy discussion regarding a motion for an amendment to the County-Owned Property Committee’s resolution by Commissioner Ethan Flynn that proposed paying for the renovations with the health insurance premiums of a yet-to-be-elected commission who could choose to reverse the decision during its first meeting.
Regardless, Commissioner Mitch Meredith seconded Flynn’s amendment. “Since this issue has come up, 100 constituents have called,” he said. “They didn’t know anything about the courthouse renovations, but nobody wanted the insurance.”
County Attorney Keith Bowers offered another option. “I have all the respect for what Commissioner Flynn is trying to do, but a cleaner way is to have a separate resolution for the CIA Committee about insurance (recommendations) so you don’t cloud the issue,” Bowers said. “You can’t bind the new commission.”
COP Chair Phyllis Corso said the courthouse resolution’s being held hostage to a decision on insurance is the result of an insincere effort by the Budget Committee to identify a funding source. “We’re sitting on the biggest surplus we’ve had in the history of the county, and I don’t know why we can’t move on,” she said.
Mayor Dan Eldridge said the General Fund balance was $18.7 million at the end of fiscal year 2013, and estimated $61,000 is the amount left to spend for the project.
Commissioner Joe Grandy provided a third option though it never made it to the floor for an official vote. “Nothing has changed from the original plan we undertook for the project, but we can’t complete it in the same way according to this resolution,” he said, referring to the use of inmate labor. “We have gone to a contractor midstream. It’s also being given to an architect in Sullivan County, and I have a problem with that.”
Grandy proposed paying $3,000 to a contractor able to supervise inmates who would complete the renovations of the second floor office space with the exception of the commission chambers. While the commission meeting space would have to be completed later, allowing staff to move from the county office building would free up the facility so renovations for the archive could begin. “Not to muddy this up, but it is a resolution for consideration,” he said.
Corso said the commission voted unanimously to use Rash. “There is an old trick in politics; if you’re losing on one front, you open up another front,” she said. “I’m asking you to go ahead with what you’ve voted on.”
Eldridge offered a clarification on her statement. “This commission never voted to hire Hiram Rash and GRC to complete the project,” he said. “You voted to hire him to conduct a $6,000 assessment, which was unanimous.” Rash has since provided two reports on what it would take to finish the renovations.
A vote on the amendment to commit the next term of commissioners to end the health insurance and designate the first $120,000 in premiums toward the courthouse renovations failed 11-to-14, with opposition from Doyle Cloyd, Humphreys, Joe Sheffield, Alpha Bridger, Sam Phillips, Corso, Richard Matherly, Mark Ferguson, Gearld Sparks, Roger Nave, Mike Ford, Ben Bowman, Steve Light and David Shanks.
Commissioners approved designating dollars from the Capital Projects and General funds in a 17-to-8 majority, with Pete Speropulos, Meredith, Phillips, David Tomita, Flynn, Ken Lyon, Grandy and Mark Larkey opposed.
During the report from County-Owned Property later in the meeting, Corso referred to the committee’s recommendation for a separate audit of the courthouse project in order to get the actual numbers of what has been spent and committed.
“I thought that was the reason we approved $150,000 two hours ago,” Larkey said. “Did (Rash) not give us a price of $150,000?”
Corso said Rash had to make some assumptions in his estimates because complete information had not been provided from the mayor’s office. Eldridge referred commissioners to page 116 of the meeting packet, and the number of times and dates the figures had been provided before.
Chair Greg Matherly stopped the discussion, saying because there was no request for a resolution regarding the project audit, a motion to suspend the rules would be necessary to continue. “Does anyone want to make a motion to suspend the rules?” Matherly asked. No motion was offered, which ended the discussion