Sitting behind his desk, in the commission office of the Jackson County Courthouse, Tim Guffey feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. The stress is there, but so is the fight. As county commission chairman, Guffey feels the people of Jackson County deserve better, even if they don’t realize it, and he’s willing to go down swinging.
He got here, almost by accident. Eight years ago, Guffey worked as a project manager for a mechanical contractor and came to a commission meeting to speak about a boiler at the county jail.
“It was a fiasco,” remembers Guffey. “Commissioners fighting against one another. I just knew there had to be better representation than this.”
So, in 2012, he ran and was elected county commissioner. Guffey came from Sand Mountain, growing up in Bryant and Higdon where he graduated from North Sand Mountain High School. Later, he attended Chattanooga State Community College, learning the heating and air business.
When he joined the county commission in 2012, Guffey said he came in with a great group.
“We worked together,” he said. “There was no fussing or distrust.”
The commission also came in to money issues. Guffey said the problem came from the previous commission giving employees three pay raises in one year.
“The pay scale was out whack,” he said. “Really, I don’t think the books were looked at closely.”
Guffey said the commission came in facing a $1.4 million deficit. They went to work fixing that problem, he said.
“We offered retirement incentives for people that could retire, and then we didn’t fill the position,” said Guffey. “We cut out wasteful spending. We’ve given one pay raise in the last seven years.”
In 2015, the commission proposed a one-cent sales tax. Voters shot it down. Looking back, Guffey said there were problems, such as holding a special election. Voters also questioned where the money was going.
A year later, commission chairman Matthew Hodges resigned to take a job in Huntsville. Mike Ashburn was appointed, but chose not to run in 2018. Guffey decided he would run.
“I just couldn’t let it go,” said Guffey. “I didn’t want us to go backward. We’ve got to keep going. If someone doesn’t fix the problem, it’s never going to get fixed.”
Guffey was elected last November, selling his heat and air business and moving to the courthouse full time. Today, he says he’s usually the first one in the courthouse and the last one to leave.
The revenue problem is still there.
“It’s a headache,” Guffey says.
But it’s a fight he’s willing to take, he says, to make Jackson County better. A couple of months ago, the south entrance of the courthouse was closed, leaving only one door open. Guffey put up a sign on that side of the courthouse. The sign read the south door was closed due to budget cuts. It also said all questions and concerns should go to the local legislative delegation office, leaving the office phone number.
In recent weeks, Guffey and State Sen. Steve Livingston have spoken, and disagreed, on the situation through the media. Guffey said he doesn’t dislike Livingston or other delegation members.
“I don’t think they understand,” said Guffey. “I believe they just don’t get it.”
Guffey said it’s time for the delegation to do the right thing.
“Don’t worry about reelection,” he said. “We’ve asked for home rule, and they say no. We could pave 100 miles a year. I just believe people are smart enough to figure it out.”
Guffey said people don’t understand the county receives no sales tax. He said one-cent sales tax increase would bring in $6.1 million annually.
“I’ve even earmarked the money,” he said. “The first $400,000 goes to our senior programs, 12.5% goes to the jail, 12.5% goes to county maintenance and 75% goes to roads and bridges.”
Guffey said it’s becoming a life and death situation. If a deputy is in Paint Rock Valley and gets a call in Bryant, Guffey said that’s more than a one-hour turnaround.
“There’s going to be a situation where we fail the people, and it sickens me,” said Guffey.
Guffey said the county has got to get in the sales tax game.
“We’ve got to get people educated on this,” he said.
Guffey said it starts with the legislative delegation. He said he hasn’t spoken to Livingston, or State Rep. Tommy Hanes in three months.
“I’ve emailed and texted them, and got no response,” said Guffey. “They’re not talking. It’s time they step it up for Jackson County and quit worrying about the next election.”
Word has gotten back to Guffey that he needs to tone it down some.
“I’ve not gotten started yet,” he says. “I’m going to keep it going. The people deserve better. Kicking it down the road is not an option.”
Guffey says it’s time for a truth meeting, between the county commission, legislative delegation and whoever else wants to attend. He’s not holding his breath.
Guffey took down the sign regarding the south door being closed a few weeks after putting it up. He said it’s going back up Monday.
“I’ve got to keep fighting,” he said.