Town hall hosts a smaller crowd

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 4/18/19

The turnout for Wednesday night’s town hall meeting for the Bradley County Commission’s 5th District was smaller than for other districts’ town hall meetings so far, but the topics discussed were just as big.

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Town hall hosts a smaller crowd

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The turnout for Wednesday night’s town hall meeting for the Bradley County Commission’s 5th District was smaller than for other districts’ town hall meetings so far, but the topics discussed were just as big.

Commissioners Bobby Goins and Jeff Yarber welcomed about 15 guests to the meeting to hear about the County Commission’s priorities over the next four years.

PIE Center:

The audience also heard a presentation on the Partnerships in Industry & Education Center, or PIE Center. This educational opportunity will provide a “workforce development hub” for local high school students. The industry partners in the PIE Center will be training students to the level those companies want, said PIE Center project manager Kyle Page.

“If we can get this going, state officials would like to use it as a blueprint for other centers across the state,” Page said.

Yarber said it is important to understand why Bradley County needs the PIE Center: to develop a skilled trade workforce.

Page has also made the PIE Center presentation at the town hall meetings for the 4th and 6th districts.

Schools:

Dr. Kim Fisher, principal of Black Fox Elementary School, was also invited to speak at the town hall meeting. Fisher discussed the need for four additional classrooms at Black Fox, adding it is “not a spontaneous request,” but has more than eight years of student enrollment data to support the need for more classroom space. She added it is a “financially sensible request” and the “fair thing to do” for the students at Black Fox.

Part of the overcrowding at Black Fox can be attributed to the influx of students after the April 2011 tornadoes that damaged Blue Springs Elementary School.

Audience member Richard Burnette asked about the property purchased for a new Blue Springs school; it is sitting vacant.

Troy Weathers, chairman of the Bradley County Board of Education, said that property was purchased eight years ago. At that time the School Board told county residents that when the county population grows in that area, a new school would be built, he said, adding he is holding to that promise.

Audience member Dr. John Stanbery said he feels no one is held responsible for bad decisions. He added an engineering report after the tornado showed Blue Springs could have been repaired, but that school officials had already been looking to close the school. Weathers said he was on the school board at the time of the tornado damage and has never seen an engineering report.

“We never got a report, ever,” Weathers said. He added that if Blue Springs had been repaired, it would have had to be brought up to the building standards of the day.

Clarifying his earlier statements, Stanbery said when insurance pays a claim, an engineering report is required. He added there was never a public conversation about whether to rebuild Blue Springs.

Rodney Dillard, a member of the Bradley County Board of Education, said Blue Springs was not a safe school after the tornado, adding part of that was because of age.

County employee salaries:

Yarber said improving county employee salaries is the County Commission’s top priority for the coming budget year.

“Bradley County is not competitive in salaries,” Yarber said, noting that the “three biggest bleeds” in terms of employee turnover are in Corrections, EMS and Fire-Rescue.

Yarber said Corrections officers at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office start out at $29,000 per year, which is well below what other counties in the region pay. In EMS, emergency medical technicians start out at $31,000 per year, while paramedics start out at $34,000. Firefighters start out at $29,500 per year.

Yarber said changes to the retirement plan and insurance are also reasons why employees leave or prospective employees decide not to come to work for Bradley County.

Stanbery noted salaries have been an issue for years and that when raises are given across the board, it widens the gap between the highest earners and lowest earners. He suggested that any increases need to be tiered, with lower earners receiving a higher percentage.

He added Bradley County’s tax collection has gone up an average of $1 million per year and about $3 million in “new money” came in a few years ago. He asked where that money goes.

Yarber said Bradley County has about 600 employees and if each one is given a 2 percent cost of living adjustment, that comes to about $1.2 million.

The final two town hall meetings are slated for 6 tonight. The 3rd District meeting will take place at Ocoee Middle School, and the 7th District meeting will take place at the Westmore Church of God Element Building on Legacy Drive.


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