Loudon commissioners agree to merge Dive Rescue Team, Homeland Security

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com


LOUDON The Loudon County Commission on Monday voted unanimously to approve a resolution merging the volunteer Dive Rescue Team with the Loudon County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

According to Chad Walters, the leader of the dive team, the merger was necessary to keep the unit from having to dissolve because of administrative overload and lack of funding.

The merger would reduce the team's insurance from about $4,000 per year to about $300 on the county insurance plan.

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Several residents spoke in opposition to the merger, questioning the long-term cost to the county and the growth in the Emergency Management Agency budget.

The agency has expanded its budget by $20,000 per year over the last few years to a current level of $190,000, according to Wayne Schnell, a leader in the Cross County Patriot Tea Party.

Schnell said he was concerned that the move might set the stage for the volunteers becoming county employees at some time in the future. He said he was also concerned that the Emergency Management Agency has recently acquired a military surplus "drone."

"Did the commission know about this," he asked.

Commissioner Henry Cullen said had been briefed on the "drone."

"It's a quad-copter with a Go-Pro camera on it," he said.

Cullen, former chief of the Tellico Village Volunteer Fire Department said the "drone" would be useful during an emergency such as a toxic spill.

Richard Anklin said he was concerned that the funding of the team be considered as part of the upcoming 2015-2016 budget process. He also wanted the team members to sign a form similar to that signed by the Sheriff's Office that makes it clear reservists will not become county employees in the future.

"I'm concerned this resolution glosses over specifics," he said.

Walters said that the dive team members would sign the same form as the reserve deputies.

"I don't think anyone sees this as a way into a job," he said.

Commissioner Van Shaver said he would approve the resolution as long as the reference to funding of the program was removed. He said he would prefer to discuss the potential $4,000 increase in the county funding for the team during the next budget process. The resolution passed with the change.

Shaver also proposed a resolution that would support the commission petitioning the state Legislature to pass a law that would prevent elected officials from suing the county government for which they work.

The county is currently facing a lawsuit from Criminal and General Sessions Court Clerk Lisa Niles asking for more resources, including the addition of several court clerks.

The last such lawsuit cost the county $75,000, Commissioner David Meers said.

To prevent such lawsuits would require changes to a state law originally passed in 1921 that allows fee officeholders to sue for resources, Shaver said.

Commissioner Earlena Maples said such change of law was a "long time coming."

The commission unanimously voted to approve the resolution.