Citizens for Better Government
Blount County Tennessee
Mayor Cunningham told the newspapers: “Blount County is fiscally sound and the management of the county's affairs is second to none". He based his conclusion on the content of a Standard and Poors report on the County’s debt. This is the same S&P who rated gave their highest AAA rating to trillions of dollars of debt, that is now commonly referred to as “toxic junk”. Is this is a solid base for the Mayor’s sweeping conclusion? It is as if you were to decide that your household finances are in great shape because you can still borrow money on your credit cards.
Perhaps the Mayor has not read the latest County Audit Report. The report says the County’s debt has nearly doubled since 2004, from $123,505,000 to $244,570,000. Adding the interest brings the total to a whopping $479,767,000. That is approximately $16,000 for every family of four in Blount County. This is a serious matter for every taxpayer, because the county bond agreements give the bond holders the power to set the tax rates at any level necessary to make sure they are paid.
To make matters worse, the County paid off just $2,335,000 of our debt last year. At that rate, our debt will be paid off in about 100 years. Mayor Cunningham and Finance Director Bennett have, in effect, taken out one of those “interest only” mortgages on the backs of the county taxpayers. They seem to have decided that our children will pay off the principle.
We are nearly a year into the most serious financial crises of our lifetimes. The county unemployment rate was 9.2% in January. Yet in the last few months, the county has spent millions on new land, buildings and cars, all financed with more debt. We hear lots of empty words from our officials about fiscal conservatisim. What we need, in the words of a good country song, is “a little less talk and a lot more action”.