Fifteen to 20 people turned out for Thursday evening's town hall meeting at Westmore Church of God's Element Building, although a few left for other meetings, and a few came late from other …
Fifteen to 20 people turned out for Thursday evening's town hall meeting at Westmore Church of God's Element Building, although a few left for other meetings, and a few came late from other meetings.
Bradley County 7th District Commissioners Bill Winters and Kevin Raper were hosts for the opportunity to gather with their West Cleveland constituents. They emphasized prior to the start of the program they were open to complaints, ideas and suggestions.
"This is an opportunity for everyone," said Raper.
Winters and Raper listed priorities facing county government, compiled and ranked by the 14 commissioners.
Easily the top priority is the equalization of salaries for Bradley County employees (at the 86th percentile).
"What we want to do is close the gap, from top to bottom," said Raper.
Winters said salaries need to be increased for those with lesser pay, such as first responders, corrections officers, emergency medical technicians, and others.
Other top priorities, determined in the commission survey, include: Education (71 percent), Infrastructure and Economic Development (tied at 57 percent), Building Maintenance (35 percentile), and Reduce Debt (21 percentile).
Other categories included Water and Sewer, the PIE Center, Building Demolition, County Engineer, Spring Branch Business Park, Maintenance Plan, School Expansion, EMS Personnel, Ambulances, EMS Renovation, In-House Septic Permits, Overhaul Buildings, Inspections, Part-Time Coroner, Inmate Medical Services, Better Roads, Mental Health, Broadband, Animal Control, Health Insurance, Paperless Initiative, Capital Outlay Goals, Workhouse, Homeless Coalition, and the HCI Foundation.
The two commissioners expressed appreciation for the attendance of a number of Cleveland officials, including Mayor Kevin Brooks, Councilmen nDale Hughes and Tom Cassada, City Manager Joe Fivas, and Board of Education Chair Dawn Robinson.
Joining the discussion when a 3rd District meeting drew little attendance, were Commission Chairman Johnny Mull, Finance Committee Chairman Milan Blake and Bradley County Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash.
There were also some comments from longtime Industrial Development Board Chairman Ross Tarver, who was asked by the commissioners to discuss the anticipated impact of Bradley County's proposed Partnerships in Industry & Education — or PIE Center, and what the vocational training will mean to the future and success of Spring Branch Industrial Park, industry which already exists in the community, and prospective recruits.
Winters also provided a welcome to the Westmore Church of God campus, with the church's new facilities rising nearby. Youth Minister Zack Clevenger also attended the meeting.
Winters pointed out the meeting was being held on Maundy Thursday, during this Easter Week.
He said the town hall meetings are an outgrowth was something initiated by all 14 commissioners.
Winters and Raper touched on tentative expansion plans for Black Fox and North Lee elementary schools, since there were several educators in the audience. They emphasized existing portables are not adequate at Black Fox, while North Lee is unique, diverse, and the only county school located in the city, but overcrowded.
"There is a drastic need for expansion at North Lee," said Raper, himself an educator.
Raper mentioned that educators have always pushed students to get a college education. "But now, many college graduates are having trouble finding careers," he said. "In Bradley County schools, 50 percent of our students are tracking toward college, but 50 percent of those will be out the first year."
He said this creates a need for vocational training to develop an employable workforce, training opportunities such as the PIE Center.
The host commissioners also referred several times to comments by PIE Center Director Kyle Page.
"Page said if we can get to 60 percent for the PIE Center, it will sustain itself," they said. "Right now the goal is 'a warm, dark, shell.' We think the PIE Center will be something very few communities will have."
"I look back, and I don't remember Bradley County being more futuristic than it is right now," said Raper. "And, if we don't prepare [for the future] now, we're going to pay in the end."
Tarver then addressed the same issue, the PIE Center.
"The PIE Center is going to impact us so much," he said. "Although we've had success in recruiting new industry, like Wacker, we continue to lack a skilled workforce.
"We're at a very pivotal point in our community (with the need to provide skilled laborers). If we're not careful our successes may slow down, or even stop," Tarver added.
"I commend what the county commission is doing with the PIE Center," said Tarver, but later emphasized it needs to be a joint effort of the county and City of Cleveland.
"It's an investment in our community," he said.
Tarver then touched on a word often dodged in governmental circles, especially in Bradley County.
"I'm not one to talk about taxes, but it's something we need to look at," he said. "These needs (priorities) are now. As community leaders, our decisions are not always popular.
"Still, we want to make our community a better place," he added.
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