Commission rejects fees to help fund CASA

Tammy Cheek-News-Herald

A request to add fees to court cases and convictions to pay for the Court Appointed Special Advocates Program in Loudon County was voted down Monday by Loudon County Commission.

CASA was asking for a $5 fee to be added to all civil and criminal cases and a $45 fee to be added to all convictions. Those funds would have been used by CASA to continue its program, Tracy Blair, county budget director, said.

County Mayor Estelle Herron said she spoke with General Sessions Judge Rex Dale and former Judge William Russell about the program and was told a judge appoints the CASA advocate, a volunteer who remains with the child involved in the justice system. Herron said there were 10,036 cases last year in Loudon County that would have generated about $50,000 through the $5 fee.

Herron said Morgan and Roane counties are currently footing the bill for Loudon's CASA program, which is part of the Ninth Judicial Distrcit covering Loudon, Monroe and Roane counties.

Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough made the motion to approve establishing the fees. Commissioner Steve Harrelson seconded the motion.

But it was Commissioner Don Miller who said he thought the resolution was confusing, emphasizing requests for funding should go through the budget cycle rather than during the year.

"Also, this is a lot of money," Miller said. "Other non-profit groups get nowhere near this."

Yarbrough argued the requested fees for CASA are not the same as requests from non-profit organizations.

Commissioner Bob Franke said the amount is not actually going to be taken out of the county's budget. Miller contended the $5 fee comes from taxpayers using the court system.

Yarbrough said commissioners should be concerned about the 10,000 case load. "We are neglecting some of our duties," she said.

Commissioner Austin Shaver said he had problems with the resolution's wording, describing it as ambiguous. "I can't vote on something that doesn't make sense," he said, adding he opposed a $5 fee for users of the court system.

"We have voted on resolutions that were not clear - that being the debt management policy," Yarbrough retorted.

Herron said the state legislation allows such a fee.

"If we don't pass this, who will be helping these children?" Harrelson asked.

A CASA representative replied "no one."
"That's what I was afraid of," Harrelson said.

The motion failed despite "yes" votes from Yarbrough, Harrelson and Commissioner Brian Jenkins.
In an unrelated matter, another request for funding was put on hold so it could be presented to the budget committee.

David Brashears, president of the Loudon County Livestock Association, said plans are in the works to build a multi-use agricultural center. The structure would provide space for horse shows, trade shows, 4-H and other agricultural events.

"I believe we started the committee almost a year and a half ago," he said. "A number of folks are working hard on this. We're at the point of doing a feasibility study." 

"We're submitting a USDA grant for $25,000, and part of the application requires a contribution - or match - from the city of Loudon and Loudon County," Donna Eason-Pile, assistant development director for the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, said.

Brashears said the match would be $6,000 from Loudon County and $4,000 from the City of Loudon.
Eason-Pile said the property first under consideration is owned by the City of Loudon and the county. She said the grant will fund a feasibility study to detail the economic impact of a multi-use agricultural center and whether the location is right.

"We're ideally suited for a facility like this," Eason-Pile said. "We've gotten little negative feedback on this, but we want to make sure we are not looking through rose-colored glasses."

Brashears said the grant application would have to be completed by April 1. "I think it would be a positive impact (for Loudon County)," he said.

Since allocated funds are involved, Commissioner Mark Harrelson said he thought the request should go before the budget committee.

Franke agreed.

The committee is scheduled to meet 4 p.m. Feb. 21 in the county building. Organizers of the multi-use center are on the agenda for Monday's Loudon City Council workshop.
In other business, the commissioners:

Agreed to authorize the submission of a Community Development Block Grant for up to $500,000 to fund waterline extensions to unserved areas along sections of Ross Road and Stockton Valley Road in the southwestern part of the county. Blair said this is a matching fund grant, but the Watts Bar Utility District, not the county, will match the funds.

Agreed to authorize an application for a Homeland Security Grant worth $31,971.

Approved the appointment of Don White, Daryl Smith and Richard Martin to the Loudon County E-911 Board.

Took no action on a request to buy an electronic voting system for commissioners. "A lot of counties have it, and they really like it," Herron said.

  Approved a summary for the county's debt management policy. Miller said the summary would be included with the formal policy document and available to the public. Yarbrough voted against the summary.