|County OKs new judge
A month after voting down a private act to establish a second General Sessions Court judge in Loudon County, Loudon County Commission secured the required two-thirds majority Monday to open the new court, a measure that is set to take effect by Sept. 1.
General Sessions Court Judge Rex Dale, in conjunction with Finance Director Tracy Blair, presented data to commission that he said supported his argument that an increase to the litigation tax on certain cases will assist in paying for the new position. The proposed cost of the two judges as part of the 2015-16 fiscal year budget is about $321,000, and factoring in an increase to the tax, from $17 to $68.97, the cost to the county will be $187,000 for a reduction of about $134,000.
“Those numbers basically support what we’ve been saying all along,” Dale said. “With two judges and the increased litigation tax, the county cost is less than the proposed budget for 2015-16.”
Commissioner Bill Satterfield made a motion to approve the private act. Commissioner David Meers seconded, which was followed by a brief discussion.
“If it passes, we’ll have to fund it,” Van Shaver, county commissioner, said. “I mean, we won’t have a choice but to fund it, whether we fund it through a general fund property tax or whether this body chooses to quadruple the litigation tax. That will have to be done. It doesn’t have to be done tonight.”
Shaver said commission will have numerous chances to work out a plan to pay for the second judge.
“We’ll have multiple opportunities to discuss and pass a litigation tax or if not, just pay for it out the general fund, and if that’s the case, the Budget Committee will have to do something about finding where to get the money to pay for it.”
Satterfield said he was concerned about the amount of time required to get court cases through the system. Dale has told commission multiple times in the past that he works long hours, including some weekend work, in order to stay current on cases.
“The extreme length of time to get a case through the court is, I think, unconscionable,” Satterfield said. “... I think we’ve got a problem that needs to be fixed as far as how long it takes for a case to travel through our court in Loudon County.”
The motion to adopt the private act passed by an 8-2 vote, with Shaver and Commissioner Earlena Maples voting against.
“I voted no on this issue last month simply because of the effects of the Lisa Niles lawsuit,” Commissioner Kelly Littleton-Brewster said about why she voted in favor in the most recent decision.
She said she was previously concerned about how the pending litigation between Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw and Niles may impact the decision to establish a new court. In her lawsuit against the county, Niles requested additional deputy clerks for her department, along with salary increases for current employees.
Littleton-Brewster said she had an affidavit from Niles confirming that the court clerk will not need additional employees beyond those that are requested in the lawsuit.
Maples said she was again casting a vote against the private act to hire a new judge because of how the decision could effect residents.
“There are too many uncertain things that could put such a burden on the taxpayers is my fear because that’s who it’s all going to back up to,” Maples said.
In other business, the board:
Passed the county’s $70.4 million funding plan for 2015-16 fiscal year by a 10-0 vote without discussion. As part of the appropriations vote, the county approved the county general fund expense budget of $16.6 million that includes no property tax increase and a 2 percent across the board raise for county employees, excluding elected officials. The budget also includes Loudon County School’s $37.7 million budget.
Set the tax rate at 1.8587 on each $100 of taxable property outside Lenoir City limits and 1.5387 for property inside the city.
Approved allocating $1.1 million toward various nonprofit organizations in Loudon County.
Voted to renew the county’s contract with Priority Ambulance for emergency services for a one-year term.