HENRY HORTON STATE PARK -- A new container system for cleanup of meth labs is saving money, county commissioners were told Thursday night during a Tennesseee County Commissioners Association regional meeting held in Marshall County.
David Connor, executive director of TCCA, reported on various state issues affecting local government. Seven Bedford County commissioners and County Mayor Eugene Ray were among those in attendance at the meeting.
Because of the toxic chemicals present at a meth lab, the site must be cleaned up once it is discovered -- not in the sense of restoring its value for the property owner, but to remove the public health hazard.
In the past, local governments had to contact Environmental Protection Agency-approved vendors, who were usually located out of state and were very expensive, to do such cleanup. There was federal grant money for this at one time, but it ran out.
Now that the state has taken on the burden of meth cleanup, it has developed a secured "container system" which allows contaminated materials to be disposed of more cheaply, reducing the cost of a meth lab cleanup from $3,000 to $500.
In other discussion:
*Connor reported a slight improvement, from $35 to $37 per day, in the amount the state pays local goverments to house felons in local jails.
*Connor reported that the state may require all local governments to adopt a central financial management system of the type already used by Bedford County.
*Gov. Bill Haslam is still deciding whether or not his administration wants to back a school voucher system. Vouchers allow parents to take all or part of the money that would be spent on educating their children in public schools and apply it instead towards tuition for a private or religious school.
Supporters of a voucher system say it promotes educational choices and forces the public school system to be accountable. Opponents say that, by pulling students and funding out of the public school system, it reduces economies of scale and makes things worse for the children who remain in the public system.
*The controversy over Metro Nashville Public Schools' decision not to allow Great Hearts Academy to open a charter school has led to extensive discussion of the approval process for charter schools, and whether such decisions should be made at the local or state level. The state penalized Nashville for its actions, saying the charter school should have been allowed.
State Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, who also attended Thursday's meeting, said the General Assembly will take a close look at the charter school issue and at problems surrounding "virtual school" programs run by private businesses under contract to local school systems.
*Some counties have been facing petitions asking for adoption of "charter government" -- a radical restructuring of county government allowed by state law.
Peggy Bevels of Lincoln County reported during a question-and-answer period that a petition was circulated in Lincoln County in misleading ways, so that some who signed it didn't understand what they were signing.
Under state law, once 10 percent of registered voters sign the petition, the county is forced to appoint a study committee and set aside $50,000 to fund its work.
Bevels said only Knox and Shelby counties in Tennessee have charter governments, and in both cases there have been numerous lawsuits challenging its structure.
*Bedford County commissioner Linda Yockey complained about the fact that halfway houses for sex offenders can be located in residential areas without the knowledge of or approval of neighbors.
Such homes are protected by federal non-discrimination laws, Connor said, and so any remedy would have to be made at the federal level.
Attending the TCCA meeting from Bedford County were commissioners Janice Brothers, P.T. "Biff" Farrar, Bobby Fox, Don Gallagher, Denise Graham, Jimmy Woodson and Yockey. Thursday's meeting was the last in a series of eight regional meetings held across the state by TCCA.
Connor praised Tracy for his support of local government issuse in the state legislature.