The Rhea County Commission passed this year’s $70.5 million budget without raising taxes. The first reading was held in a special called meeting with the county keeping the current rate of $2.2548 per $100 tax levy. A second reading will be held next Tuesday at the regular commission meeting.
But the meeting almost started out with some fireworks.
Jack Kauffman, unsuccessful candidate for the 4th District Commission seat, came into the office of County Finance Director Kelley Morgan and started loud complaints about the commissioners.
Chairman and county executive-elect Jim Vincent requested Sheriff Mike Neal to provide some deputies to keep the meeting in order.
Shortly after three deputies arrived, Kauffman left the commission meeting.
The budget was presented by Budget Committee Chairman Rusty Rogers, who praised all of the county officials and the school board for keeping the budget within limits even though there have been large increases in the cost of goods and services from inflation.
The County Commissioners also voted to enter into contract with Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative Fiber and Spring City Cable in providing high speed fiber optic service to the county.
“This came up during the COVID-19 epidemic when schools were shut down, “said Chairman Vincent.
He said around 40 percent or so of the students did not have Internet for us in keeping up
on their lessons.
He said, “The parents were shuttling the kids to grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends who had Internet so the kids could keep up. And I need to thank our school system for doing such a good job in trying to keep the schools open during this time. They did a great job on this.”
He said the funding for this will come from the American Rescue Plan Act that the county has and from grants the state has awarded to both BTC Fiber and Spring City Cable.
Chairman Vincent urged commissioners to approve the contracts with the two local companies as the grants must be in Nashville by the last day of August.
He said, “We have worked out a deal to have local store fronts versus calling 1 800 Taiwan." He was referring to Spectrum which services most of the Dayton area. Spectrum at one time had a local store in Rhea County but closed it many years ago.
Chairman Vincent said he tried to negotiate with Spectrum to get a store front and some other concessions for them to bring fiber optics into the county but they wouldn’t budge on them.
“At most they were only going to service people who didn’t have Internet. Bledsoe will come in and even if they have Internet but a low service rate will hook them up also. This will increase the number of people that will be served in the county."
Commissioner Bill Hollin brought up the point that the map that BTC Fiber provided didn’t show the Five Points community or Garrison Road.
“It doesn’t show out Highway 60 or Five Point Road. And it doesn’t have the some 300 homes in the Five Points subdivision,' he said.
A member of the audience, Michelle Horton, said that she is not serviced by Spectrum and they want an outrageous amount to do so.
Chairman Vincent reassured the commissioners and audience that “anybody who is unserved or even underserved, we will be able to get the fiber optics to them.”
The county has been negotiating with Spectrum for several months to come in to provide fiber optic service to the county. During the several meetings that were held on the matter officials said "horror stories emerged of people with a line going right in front of their residence and not able to get connected without paying thousands of dollars or of having the service and getting poor usage." Many pointed out that if something happened with the equipment that they had to have it shipped to them from the 800 service number by FedEx and they would be without Internet and phone service for days. And returning the equipment to either Cleveland or taking it to FedEx in Chattanooga was also a burden.
Commissioner Jim Reed made the motion with a second by Commissioner Dunn to approve the contract with Spring City Cable. All commissioners voted yes.
It was different with the contract for BTC Fiber. Commissioner Rusty Rogers made the motion with a second by commissioner Billy Thedford to approve the contract with BTC Fiber. Commissioner Hollin was the only commissioner to vote no on the motion. The other eight commissioners voted yes.