Conference held at Henry Horton
The executive director of Tennessee County Services Association told representatives of Marshall and 11 other Middle Tennessee counties Thursday night that most Tennessee counties are either about to build a jail, are building a jail, or have just finished building a new jail.
Tennessee County Commissioners Association holds a series of regional meetings each fall, and one is always held at Henry Horton State Park. Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett opened the meeting by welcoming the visitors to the county. Later in the meeting, TCCA honored county commissioners with lengthy terms of service, and Phil Willis of the Marshall County Commission was given a certificate for 28 years of service.
David Connor, executive director of TCSA, said the opioid epidemic and drug abuse have played a part in the state’s jail problem. He said TCSA is continuing to lobby the state for a higher per diem for county jails for housing state felons. He also said that the Tennessee Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations is looking at the bigger picture of Tennessee’s corrections, and whether some inmates would be better diverted to treatment programs or other alternatives.
State Rep. Tim Rudd of Rutherford County said that not just drugs but mental illness factors into the state’s prison population. He discussed a measure passed by the State of Washington called “Joel’s Law” which makes it easier in some situations for families to petition the courts to get unwilling loved ones into mental health treatment – although he noted the importance of safeguards to prevent the law from being used maliciously. The law is named for a mentally ill Washington man killed in a standoff with police officers, whom he thought were zombies.
Charles Curtiss, executive director of Tennessee County Commissioners Association, told the commissioners that TCCA carefully reviews the bills introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly to determine their impact on county government. The 300 bills introduced last year which were determined to impact counties in some way were broken down into categories ranging from “strongly support” to “strongly oppose.”
Curtiss also discussed services provided by TCSA, such as its municipal loan pool. Curtiss used Bedford County as an example to explain the benefits of the loan program. Bedford County is borrowing through the program for a new jail, justice center, and high school. The program allows counties to wait and draw money as it’s needed, which could postpone interest costs as compared to being forced to draw the entire amount at once.
State Sen. Jim Tracy encouraged all of those in attendance at the meeting to make their opinions and concerns known to their state legislators.
“Your influence over your state senator or state representative is tremendous,” said Tracy.
Tracy said the IMPROVE Act approved by the legislature, which raised fuel taxes to pay for road, highway and bridge projects, may not have been universally popular but was necessary and will benefit county governments. He said that if the act had not been passed, many local governments would have been forced to raise property taxes to pay for local road, street and bridge projects. Instead, those projects are being paid for by a fuel tax which is paid, in part, by out-of-state drivers passing through Tennessee.
“We’re in excellent shape financially,” said Tracy, “probably as good as we’ve ever been in the State of Tennessee.”