He's been in office less than two weeks, but Henderson County Judge Wade McKinney is already reveling in his new position.
“It's been fast and furious,” he said on Friday. “I've been walking around saying, 'Wow. This is interesting.' I have absolutely enjoyed the first week.”
McKinney, 48, was Precinct 2 commissioner for 20 years. He is the first commissioner in recent Henderson County history to become county judge, succeeding Richard Sanders who, after two terms in office, retired.
“I have worked for the county for 24 years,” McKinney said. “I was an employee before becoming commissioner. When I came here, I thought maybe I'd stay a year and a half. It's amazing.”
In his first year as county judge, McKinney wants to focus on upgrading the county's aging public-safety communications system, replacing voting machines and oppose legislation this session that would force more unfunded mandates on Henderson County.
“We have several issues prioritized in this budget,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is our communications system. We have formed a committee — Sheriff Botie Hillhouse and Commissioners Chuck McHam and Ken Geeslin to discuss vendors. We have set aside $1.5 million for a new system, but the total project could cost $6 million.”
Hillhouse said that first-responders are often limited in how they can communicate based on weather conditions.
“It's hard to transmit and communicate with dispatch and other agencies and fire departments. We need a stronger system. I've been talking about it with other people for two years and trying to get things set up.”
For several years, officials have debated how — and when — to replace the 21-year-old analog system.
In February, McKinney told the Athens Daily Review that the county's 23 fire departments often experience more dark spots than the sheriff's office. The topography here limits coverage to about 96 percent.
“We've been talking to some people and will have more meetings this month,” Hillhouse said. “We just get a lot of interference in the communications system. Sometimes, we can't get through at all. Just trying to address those situations.”
Whatever the cost, the new system will be paid for with cash, McKinney said.
“We have no debt and are a pay-as-you-go county. We definitely want to have the (vendor) nailed down by May or June. I don't know yet how long it will take to complete the project. We try not to do things piecemeal.”
As for new voting machines, that project could cost $700,000, McKinney said. Officials have used the same equipment since 2006, and they must be replaced to retain state certification.
The county's budget for the 2018-19 budget year is $38 million.
McKinney said he also wants to continue working with the sheriff's office on advancing technology at that department and to prepare for redistricting following the 2020 U.S. Census.