County agrees to place health levy on ballot

The Highland County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution Wednesday to place a one-half mill, 5-year levy on the March 17 primary election ballot for the Highland County General Health District.

Health Commissioner Jared Warner and Board of Health President John Holt told commissioners that for five of the last six years, the health department has operated at a deficit with losses of between $9,000 and $74,000 annually.

“It’s not hard to follow that train where it’s going,” Warner said. “Eventually you lose money every year until you get to a point where you’re out of money.”

He said his department’s problem stems from not having had a levy passed in 30 years, and with not enough money coming in to cover expenses the health department “is eating through what little carryover we have from the previous year.”

In meeting with the board of health Tuesday evening, he said the only choice was to seek approval from commissioners to place a half-mill, five-year levy on the March ballot.

Warner said that in 2018 the health department completed:

• 4,457 nursing home visits and phone calls

• 4,321 environmental health consultations

• 3,750 immunizations

• 903 sewage system inspections

• 655 food inspections

• 69 nuisance inspections

Figures provided to The Times-Gazette showed that levy funding supplied 54 percent of the health department’s annual operating budget, while fees and licensing generated 27 percent, and grant funding, which Warner said will expire at the end of the year, supplied the remaining 19 percent.

“We’re getting to the point that we’re having difficulty meeting our state-mandated programs, in addition to paying our bills and staying in operation,” he said.

Also Wednesday, Highland County sheriff Donnie Barrera and Deputy Lt. Keith Brown described problems facing the security system at the Highland County Justice Center, citing an aging system and changing technology as the issues.

Brown said that the last time Stanley Convergent Security Systems was called to effect repairs, he was told “it was like putting a Band-Aid on” and that “when it crashes, they won’t be able to repair it.”

The problems stem from the facility’s aging analog cameras that can no longer be repaired or replaced, Brown said, and the system must be improved in order to remain in compliance with state law enforcement standards.

“We have a lot of blind spots,” he said, “and unfortunately the inmates know where they are at, so we’re having to deal with assaults and drug activity, and if we added about 20 cameras we could take care of a lot of these issues.”

Brown and Barrera submitted to commissioners a pair of proposals from the company, one for $136,000 for installation of an all-digital surveillance system and the other an $84,000 package that would combine new digital cameras to operate with the existing analog imaging system currently in use.

Brown said the sheriff’s office would prefer going to the all-digital system, since while the existing cabling installed in the justice center could still be used, once the older analog cameras start to fail there would be no repair options and no replacements.

Abernathy pointed out that moving forward with the surveillance upgrade effectively would put on hold acquisition of a proposed body scanner, but Barrera said surveillance at the justice center is a more pressing issue at the present time.

He said his office would check into any grant funding that may available to allay some of the costs.

In other matters, following up on a request from last week’s meeting, commissioners confirmed that a letter of support had been drawn up as requested by Barrera in regard to applying for a reimbursement grant for upgrades to the 9-1-1 emergency system.

Britton said that due to the state adult parole department “pushing down some of their activities to the county level,” remodeling upgrades were necessary in the probation office to accommodate additional personnel.

The remodeling would include adding walls to increase office space, with the cost of construction estimated at $1,200, and commissioners approved a motion to proceed with the renovation.

Sewer rates will remain unchanged in the coming year at Rocky Fork Lake, Duncan said, with the figures from an annual review showing that the county was at a “break even” point, where income and costs effectively balanced each other out.

Britton said that though the engineering firm that manages operations in the lake region had recommended a rate hike, the commissioners decided to hold off on any increase.

“They recommended a rate increase of 2.63 percent per month,” Britton said. “That would be about a dollar extra a month, but we’re going to hold off on that until we revisit this next year.”

Commissioners received a quote from Biggie, Inc. for a cap for the new truck recently purchased for the Highland Cunty Dog Pound.

Britton said plans were to buy a new shell top in addition to slide-outs for the truck bed to make it easier to load and transport animals and supplies.

Abernathy said that repairs and upgrades were progressing at the dog pound, with new volunteer group president Ted McReynolds submitting a list of repairs he felt were necessary to the facility.

He said the “comprehensive list” that was received was being tackled by county maintenance employee Chuck Taylor, with items such as doors, downspouts and other smaller items.

Other repair projects such new windows for the kennel would have to wait until the year-end budget process was complete, he said.

Correspondence was received from American Electric Power regarding continuation of a licensing agreement with the county to use the Highland County Fairgrounds as a temporary staging area.

Commissioners moved to renew the existing five-year contract, which would enable the electric utility to use the fairgrounds in the event of an emergency situation.

Duncan expressed condolences to the family and friends of former Highland County commissioner Michael Rector, who passed away Nov. 13 at the age of 79.

Rector served as commissioner from 2003-08, according to commissioners’ office clerk Mary Remsing.

Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.


From left, Highland County Deputy Lt. Keith Brown and Sheriff Donnie Barrera brief county commissioners Wednesday on the urgent need to upgrade the surveillance system at the Highland County Justice Center. left, Highland County Deputy Lt. Keith Brown and Sheriff Donnie Barrera brief county commissioners Wednesday on the urgent need to upgrade the surveillance system at the Highland County Justice Center. Tim Colliver | The Times-Gazette
Sheriff’s office requests upgrades

By Tim Colliver