At the start of last night’s Cumberland County Commission meeting, four citizens addressed the Commission regarding poor, spotty or nonexistent internet access in large swaths of the county.
“We deserve better than this in this county,” said Angela Witzel, who spoke of the frustration of inadequate internet service provided by Frontier, and then being told by Spectrum that service was available at her new home, only to find out when they moved in, their area wasn’t serviced. “If you say the service is available, you should have to provide it.”
Realtor Leslie Price agreed. “It’s very important in this day and age,” she said, “to provide certain creature comforts.”
Several commissioners and members of the public could be seen nodding in agreement with the citizen speakers’ concerns.
County Mayor Allen Foster later said he shares their concerns and has been working to ensure better broadband access within all parts of Cumberland County. “We deserve better,” he said.
Perhaps the most hotly debated topic on the agenda was the first resolution, regulating usage of the courthouse lawn and War Memorial Park. First came an extensive discussion about what constitutes an “unattended sign” – and whether, as Commissioner Deborah Holbrook phrased it, one person could “attend” as many as 20 signs.
County Attorney Philip Burnett cited a case heard by the 10th Circuit Court in Colorado about an unattended sign ban in Denver, which addressed safety and aesthetics issues. He said the court found it constitutional and he feels confident a similar ban would pass muster here. “You can bring in signage,” he said, “but you have to bring it with you [when you leave].”
Commissioner Michael Speich wasn’t necessarily content to leave the matter with the opinion of the county attorney. “This is a can of worms and we all know it is. We ought to send this [resolution] to the Attorney General’s office and ask for an opinion on it,” Speich said, adding, “I don’t think we’re ready to pass this.”
Commissioner Wendell Wilson concurred, saying, “I have no problem with my comrade here asking for an AG opinion.”
In the end, the resolution passed 15-2-1 on a roll-call vote. Commissioners Carl MacLeod and Speich voted no; Commissioner Darrell Threet passed.
The second resolution, a similar one, was less contentious. It pertained to requesting that campaign vehicles not park in front of the courthouse. Only brief discussion preceded the vote. Commissioner MacLeod said the county can only enforce state laws in front of the courthouse, and a city ordinance would be required to do otherwise. Commissioner Rebecca Stone, who sponsored the resolution, said she wants to believe campaigners will respect the request not to park in front of the courthouse. “I think people will be courteous,” she said.
Commissioner Threet suggested putting copies of the two resolutions into candidate packets, so they know the ground rules before they apply for political office.
Stone said she has already spoken with the elections commissioner about just that. “She [Jill Davis] said, ‘I would have no problem putting that in the packet,’” Stone reported.
That resolution passed unanimously on voice vote.
Other resolutions included four budgetary amendments, which had to be brought before the budget committee with unanimous approval before being considered by the full commission. These include authorizing the issuance of interest-bearing general obligation capital outlay notes (Series 2019 of Cumberland County, Tennessee) not to exceed $928,500; a $1,600 general-fund amendment for the fire department; $34,000 for the Sheriff’s Department drug-control fund; and a $150,000 budget amendment for the general-purpose school fund.
Finance Director’s Report
The monthly report from Finance Director Nathan Brock was briefer than usual, as the sales-tax figures weren’t released yet; the February numbers, due to be released today, represent December’s cash-register sales, which Brock expects to be favorable. Through January, sales-tax collections were $4,857,401. January receipts were $11,132 above budget, at $779,663. For the fiscal year, collections are approximately $142,300 above budgeted projections.
The hotel/motel tax stands at $454,223, compared to $463,175 last fiscal year at this time. This represents 51.3 percent of the annual budgeted hotel/motel tax income for the fiscal year, compared to the 57.2 percent collection rate last year.
Prisoner boarding, received sporadically from the state, stands at $335,790 for six months, or 54.2 percent of the budget.
Ambulance collections came in below budget at $232,347, resulting from a backlog of billing on the county side, owing to sickness, vacation and holiday leave on the part of employees. Still, the backlog is narrowing and should be caught up within the next few weeks.
The EMS deficit for the fiscal year is $345,718, which should also close soon.
County Attorney’s Report
The County Attorney’s report included two items: First, the county has not been sued by anybody since the last meeting; and second, in court on the 12th of February, Jim Howe’s case against Len Blevins is being dismissed.