Veterans home request sparks debate

Veterans home request sparks debate

February 20th, 2013 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Bradley County Commissioner Mark Hall

GRANT AWARDS

Below are Bradley County Healthy Communities initiative grant awards approved Monday:

• Bradley County Emergency Medical Service, $25,500 for advanced breathing equipment

• Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society, $23,700 for heritage center renovations

• Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway, $35,500 for expansions

• Farmers Market North, $4,750 for permanent restroom facilities

• Prospect Elementary School, $3,000 for ADA-accessible to community park area

Source: Bradley County

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A $30,000 Healthy Communities Initiative grant request to offset site preparation expenses for the proposed Cleveland/Bradley County State Veterans Home recently provoked considerable debate among county commissioners.

The Bradley County Commission voted 10-3 Monday to approve $92,450 in grant requests related to health, well-being and quality of life, but the planned 108-bed veterans facility was not one of the recipients.

Several commissioners defined the issue as a matter of timing and limited Healthy Communities funds, while those opposing them said it was a matter of upholding the facility as a top priority.

Before the decision, two attempts were made by Commissioners Mark Hall and Charlotte Peak-Jones to substitute the veterans facility request for other recipients recommended by the Healthy Communities Initiative committee. The targeted recipients and funding included a $23,700 request by the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society for heritage center renovations and a $35,500 request for expansions on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway.

Both substitution attempts failed, but split commissioners 7-6 in favor of the historical society request and 8-5 in favor for the greenway request.

"I think there is a misunderstanding that you have to be against something to be for something," Hall said. "That's not the way that it is."

While professing respect for the historical society, Hall also said, "I've got my eye on the prize, I've got my eye on Bradley County, I've got my eye on jobs and I've got my eye on veterans."

"If it was agreed by this commission that [the veterans home would be] a priority, it should be on the top of our list, no matter what committee we sit on," Peak-Jones said of past declarations of support for the veterans facility.

According to sometimes-fluctuating project funding priorities issued by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Office, coupled with the state's ability to contribute funding, facility construction seems probable for 2015, Larry McDaris said.

However, McDaris said this did not necessarily mean costs associated with moving the project forward would be postponed until that time. He cited an upcoming expense of $10,000 associated with conducting a Feb. 28 public hearing on the site's environmental impact testing that would require the presence of the authoring experts.

Considering the long timetable and the number of state and federal entities involved in approving the veterans facility, Commissioner Adam Lowe said he believed the Healthy Communities committee thought it appropriate for the veterans home to wait until the next grant cycle, which begins in six months.

Some requests, he said, were approved partly because they had not been funded before, such as the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society. The veterans home received $60,000 in the previous HCI grant cycle, with that money going toward environmental testing and other site preparation work.

County commissioners discussed the possibility of funding needs for the veterans home project through other means at their next meeting on Monday.