Commission questioned on sewer district

·4 min read

Sep. 4—Push on to improve rural Internet access

A topic of contention came up at the most recent Lawrence County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, the possible sale of the Union-Rome Sewer district and bringing broadband internet to underserved parts of the county.

There will be a public meeting about Union-Rome Sewer district on Sept. 13.

JB Finley spoke about his concerns on the sale.

He said he had a list of questions about it and gave a copy to the commissioners so they could answer them.

He wanted to know, as a county resident and a customer of the Union-Rome Sewer district, why he should be in favor of the sale since he knew the rates would increase immediately upon the sale.

He also wanted to know what factors the commissioners were considering regarding the possible sale and whether a decision has already been made and if that decision hasn't been made, would it be voted on at a future meeting.

He also asked if the commissioners' meeting room was a big enough space to hold "say, 50 people" for the public meeting.

He also pointed out that it was a 30-45 minute drive for the customers to get to the courthouse and asked if they would consider to hold additional meetings in both Rome and Union townships to make it easier for customers to attend.

"You've asked a lot here today," said Commissioner DeAnna Holliday to the laughter of Finley and the other people in the room.

"Yes I have," he replied. "And I am not expecting a comprehensive response at this point, I know it is a lot."

Holliday said that they would give him a written statement back to him.

"We are willing to address all of them," she said.

Next up was Mike Allen, who rode to the meeting with Finley.

He asked if it was possible to get a copy of the grant application for the Applewood apartments sewer extension, who prepared the application, how much the total cost is, how much the county has committed to the sewer project and whether there are more costs associated with the Applewood or Rome-Union projects.

He said he understood the commissioners would probably want to write out something and that he appreciated their time.

Holliday said they would respond in writing, but would respond to the overall demeanor of the questions.

"We have not committed money from the county. We were not involved in the grant application," she said. "It was brought before the commission and the grant was approved. It was a large amount of money and we did accept the money."

She said the extent of the commission's involvement was accepting the grant for the Applewood project. We will get all the members and the information together for you."

Allen said he was just curious because the prices of construction material has gone up so much recently.

"They didn't have a genie in a bottle to tell them this was going to happen when they wrote the grant," he said. "So that was a concern for me."

In the business section of the meeting, the commission was happy to announce that $1.2 million was being transferred to bring broadband internet to parts of Lawrence County that don't have good access.

"That is a transfer I am very proud to make," she said. "That is Lawrence County's investment in the build out of broadband for our county. It is our intention to make our county a fully lit county."

She said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of internet showed the limitations of access for many people in the county.

"So, we do have two companies who are working feverishly to build out some of the more rural areas. This transfer allows us to match some of the grants they have already received," Holliday said. "So we are very excited about that."

In other items on the agenda, the commissioners took the following actions:

—Approved making the week of Sept. 7 as Lawrence County Literacy Week in conjunction with National Literacy Day, which is Sept. 8.

Holliday said that it was being done amidst a push to expand The Imagination Library program. Holliday said that it is another area the commissioners are very proud of.

The Imagination Library was created by county artist Dolly Parton in 1995, in honor of her father, who never learned to read, to make sure that every child in Sevier County, Tennessee, got an age-appropriate book, to children ages infant — five when they enter school. The books are free and available to all children, regardless of family income.

In 2000, Parton said she would expand the program to any place that would support it locally. Over 132 million books have been sent out.

Lawrence County began its program in 2020.