Jim Folts   Blount County Commissioner

 

“To stand in silence, when they should be protesting, makes cowards out of men” - Abraham Lincoln

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  • Thursday December 16, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse

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Feel free to let me know your views on county issues. Just send me an email at jimfolts@gmail.com, or give me a call at 995-9476.


The Blount County Commissioners


Citizens for Better Government

 

Delinquent Taxpayer List

The work has begun

On September 1, 2010 I took the oath of office as Blount County Commissioner. I was elected to listen to you and make your opinions known to our County government. Feel free to measure me against the issues we talked about in the campaign. A link to my campaign brochure is included in the left column of this page. Let me know how I am doing by emailing me or phoning me at the address and numbers shown in the left column.

To keep you posted, I will include a summary of each Commission meeting on this page. I will list the important issues covered in the meeting, as well as the results of each vote on those issues. You can also view the video of each meeting by using the link in the left column.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to earn your confidence.

November 2010 Report

Finance Director Presentation to Budget Committee 11/8/2010 - Major problems ahead
Finance Director Jennings made his first public presentation on the severe financial problems that face our County. The presentation was an improved version of the one given privately to each Commissioner, which I described in last month’s report to you.

Mr. Jennings told the Committee that the County will spend approximately $7 million more than it takes in, this year. If the current trend continues, the County will spend $10 million more than it takes in, next year.

The county has been making up these huge deficits by emptying its savings accounts (fund balances). Unfortunately, by the end of this year, there will be so little money left in the savings accounts that the County’s credit rating will be in danger. Since the County is carrying a very heavy load of debt ($230 million) and must refinance a $46 million balloon payment, a reduction in our credit rating could be a disaster.

The bottom line is that the budget games the County has been playing are over. The Commission must stop letting County expenses grow at 2.5 times the inflation rate. The County must either cut expenses and employees, or impose a major tax increase on the citizens in these tough economic times. But old, bad habits are hard to kill, and just one day after Mr. Jennings presentation, the Commission was hard at work talking about ADDING expenses to the budget. See below.

Agenda Meeting 11/09/2010 – $60,000 budget increase returns
At last month’s Commission meeting a request for a $60,000 budget increase to provide 60 more parking spaces at the “Justice Center” was withdrawn, when it became clear that the money would be taken from the County’s dangerously low savings account. Unfortunately some Commissioners still don’t seem to grasp the idea that the County has serious budget problems. Commissioners Burchfield, Folts, Lail and Caylor voted against this spending madness. Commissioners French, Kirby, Burkhalter, Gamble, Samples, Carver, Greene, Lambert, Wright, Harrison, Lewis, Farmer, Hasty, Melton, Helton and Moon voted to put this budget increase back on the Commission agenda, despite Finance Director Jennings’ warnings at the Budget Committee meetings just 24 hours earlier.

The resolution to allow the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to opt out of State mandated training requirements came up again, with changes that limited the opt out period to this year only. This resolution stirred up my curiosity. I requested the training records of the Planning Commission and the BZA. The State requires that detailed records of this training to be kept for three years. John Lamb was able to produce most of the required records for the Planning Commission. Unfortunately, Roger Fields, the County Building Commissioner, could not produce a single record of any of the State required training, for himself or any member of the BZA. This lack of attention to training, and the law, may go a long way toward explaining some of the very poor decisions that have come out of the BZA, while Mr. Fields has been in charge.

I requested a new agenda item, providing for a regular report from the Mayor at each Commission meeting, highlighting good and bad budget performances by the various County departments. In view of the severe budget problems we face, I thought this would be a no-brainer. Instead, it was shuffled off to the Ad Hoc Committee on Commission rules.

Commission Meeting 11/18/2010 – It is easier to spend another $60,000 of taxpayer money, than to adjust a schedule
The major item to come up at this meeting was the request for the $60,000 budget increase to build a 60 space parking lot at the Justice Center. I produced an aerial photo that showed a substantial number of additional parking spaces had already been added to the “Justice Center” parking in recent months. None of these additions were mentioned in previous discussions. The bank next to the Justice Center built a 28 space parking expansion for the “Justice Center” in return for access to certain County-owned driveways. The bank also built a driveway connecting the “Justice Center” parking area to the old County Health Department building parking lot that contains nearly 90 parking spaces. Since this building has been vacated by all County agencies, these parking spots are available to the “Justice Center”. Why do we need to spend another $60,000 on this problem, I asked?

I was answered by a torrent of commentary from the inhabitants of the “Justice Center” (JC) (Sheriff’s Department, Circuit Court Clerk and the Judges) pointing to a huge traffic jam that had occurred, Tuesday, two days before the meeting. The jam was supposedly due to lack of parking. However, the discussion uncovered the fact that 300 potential jurors had been summoned to show up at the “Justice Center”, all at the same time, on Tuesday morning. This not only caused the traffic jam, the jury room was not big enough to handle the crowd. The JC inhabitants also admitted that even the 60 space addition would still not be sufficient to handle this crowd. I said I had visited the JC at 9:15 am on Tuesday morning, and enough people had already left, so that I could easily find a space. It seems to me that smarter scheduling would solve the parking problem, without any more taxpayer funds. For instance, if we asked 100 jurors to arrive at 9:00, 100 more at 10:00 and the rest at 11:00, the problem would be solved.

An indication of the real importance the JC inhabitants attach to this problem is that they did not include the new parking lot in this year’s budget. The inhabitants have a combined budget of more than $22 million. By taking just 0.3% out of their existing budgets, they could solve this problem without any additional taxpayer money. With all these facts, and the tough economic climate our taxpayers face, you would think the Commission would have summarily rejected this budget increase. Instead the Commission decided to send the request back to the Budget Committee for more discussion. Only Commissioner Helton and myself voted against this madness. If the Commission continues this casual attitude toward budget increases, how in the world are we going to cut $10 million from next year’s budget? Maybe some Commissioners think that voting for a double-digit tax increase will be easier than facing off with the Sheriff on budget cuts. I hope not. Call the Commissioners and tell them to get started on the hard work of cutting the budget.