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 Dec. 15th, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse

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. Just send me an email at jimfolts@gmail.com, or give me a call at 995-9476.


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November 2011 Report


The Good

Several good things happened this month at the Blount County Commission.


The resolution to force the Mayor to spend $100,000 to hire a Human Resources Director was finally defeated. You will recall that the Mayor combined this position with another to save money. This did not please Commissioner Gary Farmer, Sheriff Berrong and the other employee members of the Human Resources Committee. Over the last six months, they have repeatedly introduced resolutions to force the Mayor to hire an HR Director. These resolutions all shared a common problem. They were illegal. Farmer and Berrong did not seemed to care about the legal details and tried one more time. Finally, the Commission had enough. They amended the resolution to make it a simple restatement of the original 1996 document that created the HR position. This preserved all the Mayor’s powers, allowed him to continue saving the $100,000 per year, and took the issue off the table, hopefully forever.


An excellent turn-out of citizens, who spoke eloquently about the issue, led to the defeat of the campground zoning resolution. The zoning ordinance that would permit campgrounds to be established, on as little as 5 acres, in residential areas, was bought before the Commission for a public hearing last April. A number of citizens raised serious questions about the proposal. No minimum buffer distances to adjoining residential properties were specified. The proposed ordinance permits residents to stay for as long as 270 days. The ordinance did not spell out any objective limits on noise or light pollution. The resolution permitted camp sites to be tightly jammed together with no open space requirements. Unfortunately, a virtually identical campground resolution was again sent to the Commission in November. After listening to many citizens speak about the problems contained in the resolution, all Commissioners voted against it. This is the first time I have ever seen the sponsors of a resolution (Wright and Kirby) vote against their own proposal. Citizens were not against camp grounds. They objected to a poorly written resolution. The County spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on a Planning Department. The department professionals are supposed to draft resolutions that assure high quality development, as well as protection of surrounding property owners. This is not what the citizens and the Commission received in this case. I called the resolution that was presented, “junk”, and it was. Hopefully, we will see better efforts from our Planning Department in the future.


A resolution giving South Blount Utilities exclusive rights to provide sewer services in the county was withdrawn. The recent exposure of substantial waste of ratepayer money, misuse of funds, as well as Board and management deficiencies at South Blount, made it clear that this is no time for the County to enter into such an agreement.


The Political Nonsense

Unfortunately, the political nonsense continued in another area. A resolution to put the Commission in charge of allocating office and parking spaces in County properties was passed. Only Commissioners Lewis, Samples and myself voted against this nonsense. Mayors, including our current Mayor, have successfully handled this function for more than ten years. In a political cheap shot at the Mayor, the Commission will now take over those responsibilities. This means that time the Commission should be spending on the very serious debt and budget problems, will instead be spent on deciding who gets what parking spaces.


The Real Challenge Facing the County - The Debt

A good example of these twisted priorities is that the Commission did not even discuss the draft Debt Policy that was presented to the Budget Committee. This policy finally acknowledges what we, and others, have been saying since 2007 about the County’s huge $225 million debt. It says: “ the County has too much debt and aspires to reduce this debt significantly in the coming years.” The policy reviews the risks of $100.7 million portion of the debt financed by variable rate bonds and says the: “risks associated with the TN loan program (variable rate bonds and swaps) …. Is undesirable to the County Legislative Body”. The policy goes on to say the County’s $94 million worth of interest rate swaps “have been deemed to be ineffective” and admits that the County must “lower risk significantly in the coming years by terminating swaps and converting VRDO (variable rate bonds) to GO fixed rate debt". The policy points out the Blount County debt per person is nearly 48% more than the average debt per person for all Tennessee counties. The policy says that: “the County will not enter into any long-term obligations until the debt level is within the target range (the average for all TN counties)”. The policy also sets a goal of no more than 20% variable rate debt and NO interest rate swaps.


As a statement of goals, the proposed Debt Policy is excellent. However, reaching these goals will require a level of financial and budget discipline that has not been demonstrated by this Commission. It will take a great deal of time, discussion and effort to change this record. The draft Debt Policy did not help matters. It's sole proposed remedy for our debt crisis is to raise taxes. It did not even suggest considering budget cuts. It was also not reassuring, when the members of the Budget Committee immediately sought to water down key provisions of this Debt Policy. If the citizens want responsible government from their Commission, they are going to have to demand that their Commissioners cut budgets, reduce debt, and protect their hard-earned tax money.

 

Only YOU can change YOUR government
PLEASE come to the Commission meeting Thursday, December 15th at 7:00pm in Room 430 of the Courthouse