Commissioners to talk budget, cable tv, ethics in June 18 meeting

At the Thursday, June 18, commission meeting, Blount County commissioners will debate a measure to restore $5,000 to the budget and do away with one of the video camera’s covering their meetings, look at the future of the ethics committee and vote on the 2009-2010 fiscal year budget.

The proposal to remove the camera currently situated in the middle of the commission chamber generated fierce debate during the June 9 commission workshop.

Commission Chair Steve Samples said the proposal would not eliminate coverage of the commission meeting, but would institute a new method that would save money. “We’re not cutting out the cable. We’re paying $200 an hour for something we can do ourselves for free,” he said. “It won’t be the same quality of picture, but audio will be the same.”

Removing the camera and replacing it would save $5,000, supporters said, but several commissioners raised questions.

“I don’t understand why we’re worrying over $5,000 when we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollar elsewhere,” Commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves said. “I feel strongly we have to keep the camera up close as it is. Where did this come from?”

Samples said using the cable camera, which is used on a contract basis, while also having a camera in the back of the room, was repeating services. The cable camera costs taxpayers $200 for each meeting.

As to where the proposal came from, Samples said, “We were planning the budget, and we were looking at taking other money out of contracted services.”

Commissioner David Graham made a motion to amend the proposed budget to allow $5,000 back in for the contract camera and commissioner Monika Murrell seconded it. “The $5,000 would come out of fund balance,” he said.

The measure passed, putting it on the June 18 commission meeting agenda

The commissioners also discussed a new ethics measure that would replace the existing ethics committee with a new policy. The new policy would be for an attorney to be hired to determine the legitimacy of any ethics complaint filed against a county employee.

Commissioner Ron French said the motion would cost the county money. “For every complaint we get, we send it to attorney. If we have an ethics committee, we look and determine if there’s problem,” he said. “There’s no reason to send every complaint to an attorney. We’re spending money we don’t need to spend if we don’t have an ethics committee.”

The measure passed 11-10-1 and went on to the full commission. It will be discussed on the agenda at the June 18 commission meeting.

County Finance director Dave Bennett reported that the total proposed budget for 2009-10 is $156,315,171. “The amended budget last year, as it stands, is $162,822,885,” he said.

The budget was passed on to the commission meeting with everyone voting yes except for Commissioner Gerald Kirby, who abstained.

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