The Wayne County Board of Commissioners Budget Committee met in special session on Tuesday, February 21, 2023 to discuss insurance for county employees. Budget Committee members present were Commissioners Herbert Brewer, Tom Mathis, Stan Hanback, Sherrie Powers, David Martin, Colby McDonald, Rickey Kelley, and County Executive/Board Chairman Jim Mangubat.
Insurance for county employees has been a hot-button topic for a long while. Sheriff Shane Fisher sat with the Budget Committee during the meeting, and made his case once again for his employees and other county employees’ desperate need for health insurance. Upon the apparent agreement among the commissioners that it is way past time to take action on this matter, Commissioner Powers made a motion for it to become mandatory for the county to offer health insurance for county employees, and to include this in the next budget cycle. Commissioner Brewer seconded, and the motion carried unanimously.
The Budget Committee went on to discuss various other items, with the first being a discussion of funds allocated for the kitchen at the new Ag Center. Commissioner Powers stated that $50,000 had originally been allocated for the Ag Center kitchen project, and the final cost came in at $19,800. Commissioner Powers made a motion to transfer the remaining $30,200 back into the ARPA funds. Commissioner Mathis seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously.
The committee inquired about the status of Boyd Cottages, and Mangubat stated that he recently spoke with two brokers who are going to advertise nationally for the lease or purchase of the facility.
Next was a lengthy discussion about the county water lines that have been taken over by the cities. There has been some confusion and conflict about what category some meters fall into. County Executive Mangubat said that a second map received from the engineering firm was different from the first map, and blamed the confusion on that. Waynesboro City Manager John Hickman was invited to address the committee, and he stated that according to the City of Waynesboro’s contract with the county, the matter of where all meters fall is clear, and said that he had not received nor seen a second map. Mangubat said that he would be in communication with the state and the engineering firm as soon as possible.
The final item on the agenda for the Budget Committee was something that has been on everyone’s mind in recent weeks, the fate of Wayne Medical Center. Maury Regional Health approached the county several months ago about either continuing or ending their contract to run the facility, which expires in June 2024. Maury originally led the county to believe that if they were willing to build a new hospital facility (at the cost of approximately $60 million or more), they would extend their contract. With changes to Medicare guidelines that took place in January, they said that the current location of Wayne Medical Center would never be able to qualify as a Critical Access facility.
Last month, the County Commission, employees of the hospital, and most citizens of the county were surprised and distressed when Maury Regional suddenly announced that they would no longer be willing to extend their contract due to the massive amount of money they are losing at Wayne Medical Center. Maury Regional CEO Dr. Martin Cheney addressed the commission last month, stating that further financial studies had essentially changed the minds of Maury Regional Health board members, and they would be pulling out of the contract EVEN IF a new hospital facility was built.
At this Budget Committee meeting, Maury Regional CFO Charlie Brinkley addressed the committee with somewhat of a change of heart. He said that Maury Regional would still be willing to negotiate with the county on the management of the hospital.
In order to keep our hospital from shutting down, commissioners and County Executive Mangubat began searching for companies that would be willing to manage the facility as soon as Maury Regional expressed their intent last month. Representatives from Braden Health were at the Budget Committee and County Committee meetings last week, and briefed the Budget Committee with a presentation regarding their interest in managing the hospital. They said that their research shows that the current facility should be able to obtain an exemption and qualify as a Critical Access facility. They said that they are confident they can make a profit if they manage the facility, and said that their preliminary research shows that no jobs will be lost at the facility.
They went on to inform the committee that Tennessee has the most rural hospital closures per capita in the United States, which is a very discouraging statistic.
The Budget Committee meeting adjourned shortly after 7:00 p.m., and the regular meeting of the County Commission began. All members of the County Commission were present, including County Executive Jim Mangubat and Commissioners Herbert Brewer, Logan Shull, Tom Mathis, Stephen Pevahouse, Colby McDonald, Tyler McDonald, Jeremy Heard, Stan Hanback, Vickie Petty, Kathryn Staggs, David Martin, Alvin Creecy, Sherrie Powers, and Rickey Kelley. Also in attendance were County Attorney Andy Yarbrough and County Clerk Stan Horton. Mr. Horton offered the invocation.
Commissioner Kelley first made a motion to approve the minutes of the previous commission meeting. Commissioner Brewer seconded, and the minutes were approved. Commissioner Kelley then made a motion seconded by Commissioner Brewer to approve the minutes from the various committee meetings, and those minutes were approved as well.
County Clerk Horton presented a list of notaries to be approved. Commissioner Mathis made a motion to approve, and the motion was seconded by Commissioner Heard. The motion carried unanimously.
Next, Commissioner Mathis next made a motion to approve the line-item budget amendments as presented from the Sheriff’s Office and the Highway Department. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Pevahouse and carried unanimously.
Maury Regional CFO Charlie Brinkley, who previously addressed the Budget Committee, came before the full commission to discuss where Maury Regional Health currently stands on the management of Wayne Medical Center. He told the commission, as he told the Budget Committee, that Maury Regional is more than willing to negotiate with the county regarding the extension of their contract. Commissioner Powers repeated what the Braden Health representatives had previously stated regarding Wayne Medical being able to obtain an exemption and qualify as a Critical Access facility. Brinkley said that he was unsure if Maury had looked into or applied for this exemption, but he would find out for sure.
Further discussion with Brinkley followed, with Commissioner Powers asking questions about the Collinwood Medical Clinic and how Maury Regional plans to move forward in Wayne County. Brinkley said that Maury plans to continue their current primary care facilities in Wayne County. Commissioner Mathis asked County Executive Mangubat how he felt about continuing negotiations with Maury Regional Health, and Mangubat said that everything is on the table at this point. Along with Braden Health, other companies have shown interest, and he is continuing talks with North Alabama Medical Center. Mangubat went on to state that he is in communication with the Tennessee Hospital Association and the Tennessee Department of Health regarding the current hospital situation.
Jeff Minatra from Collier Engineering addressed the commission next with an update on the Ag Center. He said that finishing touches such as sowing grass on the bare spots around the Ag Center will be done in mid- to late March. He said that Collier had signed off on the final invoice from G&G Construction, and Commissioner Mathis made a motion to pay the invoice. Commissioner Staggs seconded, and the motion passed unanimously on roll call vote.
The Industrial Development Board by-laws were next on the agenda. Rena Purdy stated that the IDB will be meeting in April to review the by-laws, and will present a list of corrections following the meeting.
County Executive Mangubat next gave an update on the HVAC and paving projects at the administrative building (the old courthouse). He said that the HVAC installation is currently underway, and Perfection Group is getting everything prepared to begin the paving project.
Next was a discussion regarding June 19th, known as “Juneteenth.” Mangubat asked the commission if they wanted to pass a motion making Juneteenth an official county holiday. Discussion followed regarding what Juneteenth represents. The topic was tabled until the next meeting to allow for further research.
Department reports were next on the agenda. Highway Superintendent Chuck Moser addressed the commission first, and thanked them for making a commitment to provide health insurance for county employees. He went on to give an update on current projects. He said that the Double Branches bridge is now open, and said that Factory Access Road will soon be closed for the construction of a new bridge. The old wooden bridge that has been there for many years is the only wooden bridge left in the county, and Moser said that it has been a problem for the Highway Department for many years. The bridge has been on the replacement list for four years. Moser said that he reached out to TDOT and State Aid Directors, and was finally told that due to Wayne County being a distressed county, the state will pay the full cost of this bridge replacement, which is approximately $900,000. Moser reiterated that there will be no cost to the county for the new bridge.
Highway Superintendent Moser asked for approval to add a section of roadway from Shull Road to French Landing Road to the county road list. He said that the section of roadway is approximately three-tenths of a mile. Commissioner Brewer made a motion to approve, and Commissioner Creecy seconded. The motion carried unanimously.
Sheriff Shane Fisher next addressed the commission. He said that Deputy Chief Donnie Carroll, who recently suffered a major heart attack, is back at home recovering and doing much better. This is welcome news to all of Donnie’s friends and co-workers.
Sheriff Fisher gave a brief update on his department, stating that the jail has had an average number of 135 inmates over the past few months. Over the past six months, deputies have served $21,800 in warrants.
The sheriff then said that the Budget Committee had agreed to a long-term lease for the South Precinct, and asked for the full commission’s approval. Commissioner Kelley made a motion to approve, and Commissioner Shull seconded. The motion carried unanimously.
Surplus items were next on the agenda. A Ford Taurus previously used by the water department that is now not running was submitted to be declared as surplus. If the Taurus were approved as surplus, it would be sold as scrap. Commissioner Mathis made a motion to declare the Ford Taurus as surplus, and Commissioner Powers seconded. The motion carried unanimously.
EMA Director Brian Smith addressed the commission next. He first asked that seven vehicles be declared as surplus and put up for sale on govdeals.com. Commissioner Kelly made a motion to approve. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Creecy and passed unanimously.
Director Smith went on to tell the commission that the first EMR class of the year was held that day, and ten people participated. He said that he hopes to continue these classes in conjunction with the ambulance service, and there is no cost to the county for the classes.
Director Smith said that he had applied for a grant from the Fire Marshall in December of 2022, and the grant was awarded in the amount of $57,000. The grant funds will be used to purchase new turnout gear and air packs for the fire departments. He concluded by telling the commission that the Lutts VFD had been awarded a grant for the purchase of a new tanker, and he is continuing to work on the Emergency Operating Manual.
Commissioner Shull then posed a question to the representatives from Braden Health – why are they interested in managing the hospital if it is losing so much money? The Braden representative said that they specialize in rural hospitals, and they believe that they can be profitable even though the profit margin would be small. He invited the commissioners to visit other facilities they are now operating in West Tennessee, including one in Henderson. He said that they have brought many rural facilities back into operation under similar circumstances as Wayne Medical Center. Commissioner Mathis asked if they had been forced to cut any employees at the Henderson facility, and the Braden representative stated that they had actually hired 100 new employees in addition to the ones already there.
With no further business to come before the commission, the meeting was adjourned. Watch The Wayne County News for upcoming special sessions and commission meetings.