Mayor floats office plan

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

After Loudon County Commission previously considered a plan to build onto the administrative office building in Loudon for $300,000, Mayor Estelle Herron on Monday proposed an alternative method to address spacing concerns.

Herron recently evaluated utility bills for the Loudon County Technology Center for the last two years. Loudon County Schools paid $36,224 during the 2011-12 year, and more than $51,000 in 2012-13, which includes utilities, insurance, mowing and pest control.

She, along with two other county officials, recently paid a visit to the center to get a first-hand look at building conditions and how the building was being used. She said while the school system was paying a lot of overhead on the building, the facility was sparsely populating during the work week.

"The day that we went up there there was one person in this building," Herron said. "They are, the Board of Ed is paying heat and air to cool and heat this building 12 months out of the year," Herron said. "To me that is a great, great waste of first and foremost space, as well as county taxpayers' dollars."

Loudon County Schools has considered adding a new roof to the center, which would cost an estimated $400,000.

Herron said she thought a feasible plan would be to move the school system offices into the technology center and put on a new roof, which would provide more space in the county office building. Currently, the board of education, the mayor's office and other county departments are housed in the office building in Loudon.

She said structurally the technology center facility was sound and that it just needed a new roof. Commission previously considered a plan to expand the county office facility, which would cost about $300,000.

"I can't afford to ask you all to support $400,000 on a building that may house eight people," Herron said. "Eighty percent of that building is empty. Maybe I should state it as a little bit (more) cultured way, but I don't know how to say it other than it's become a dump for the school system."

Herron said she also could not justify spending $51,000 on utilities and upkeep on a building that is not being used to its full capacity. She said she previously consulted with County Attorney Bob Bowman, and while the mayor's office has to be in the county seat of Loudon, the BOE does not.

"It's not about me wanting to run the school board out of this building," Herron said. "This has nothing to do with it. So, if you think I'm trying to run them off, I'm not, but I want that perfectly understood up front, but it makes sense. It's common, common sense as big as that school board, their department has got, for them to be in their own building the same as us being in our own building."

Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough questioned Herron's information on the technology center's utility bills and current usage, adding that she thought the mayor had switched agendas. Yarbrough also criticized Herron for not mentioning the plan earlier during the meeting when Director of Schools Jason Vance was still in attendance.

Vance briefly praised commission for funding the Fort Loudoun Middle School construction project near the start of the commission meeting and left.

"It seems that you are not providing the county commission enough data to make valid decisions in a timely manner, and I resent this, Estelle," Yarbrough said.

"You'll get over it," Herron said.

"I certainly won't," Yarbrough responded, adding that she wanted the information to be reviewed by Vance.

"This data?" Herron said, holding up a record of the utility bills.

Yarbrough said she thought the data and information about the technology center should have been introduced during earlier capital projects committee meetings.

"You're campaigning in a different direction now," Yarbrough said. "You misled the capital projects committee, and that's my story and I'm sticking to it."

Commissioner Don Miller said plans to move the board of education and reconfigure the county office space were still in the preliminary stages.

"This discussion is step one in what will be a full multitude of steps here trying to address a problem, and the problem is we have a greatly under-utilized asset being asked to invest another $400,000 in a roof, and it's still under utilized," Miller said. "And I guess my feeling is we need to solve the utilization first, and then when we've figured that out, we fix it up."

Commissioner Steve Harrelson said he thought Herron's plan was a solid strategy.

"I've always thought personally the idea you're proposing is a good idea," Harrelson said. "It opens up room for the county office here. (It) gives the school board more room where they're at, and they're not as crowded down there."

Miller said the county had more than $1 million in adequate facilities tax money that could be used to reconfigure the county offices and renovate the technology center roof.

"That could be turned into a first-class facility, assuming that structurally the exterior structure is sound, and my understanding is that it is," Miller said. "But again, nobody wants to put that kind of money in there until we can decide how we want to utilize it with more than the occasional person being up there."

Also during the meeting, Bowman gave an update about the cow deaths in Loudon from 2010 after consulting with Scott D. Reed, laboratory director with Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory.

"... There is nothing that specifically points to toxicity as a cause of death," Reed wrote to Bowman. "The report emphasizes the parasitism and finding associated with change from parasitism. Rumenitis and reticulitis (inflammation of the forestomachs) are not likely related to toxicity, but toxins cannot completely be ruled out. ... One could justifiably argue that this report most likely paints a picture of herd mismanagement (lack of appropriate deworming and parasite control) rather than any environmental contamination."

Before the commission's workshop, the board held a closed session to discuss pending litigation. Herron said that during the closed meeting commission did not discuss the recent resignation of Rosemary Quillen, a county commissioner, from the Lenoir City Board of Education.