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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  • Blount County Commission - Thursday December 20th, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse
  • Citizens for Blount County's Future - Tuesday December 18th, 6:30pm, Blount County Library

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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
 


Current Information





November 2012 Report


This is a time when the Commission should be reviewing and cutting the proposed 2013-2014 budgets of wasteful departments like those of Sheriff Berrong and  Circuit Court Clerk Hatcher. It is also a time when the Commission should be addressing serious long-term Blount County financial problems like the run-away costs of pensions and medical benefits. You have probably read about these kinds of efforts in Knox and other counties. This is doubly important, now that the citizens have rejected the sales tax increase. Unfortunately, nothing is being done in Blount County.


What follows are the issues the Blount County political machine decided to consider in November.

Ridge Top Development
A zoning resolution, purporting to assure quality, ridge top development, was presented to the Commission. This was the result of a multi-year effort by the Planning Department and Planning Commission to come up with some rules to prevent our beautiful Blount County mountains from being defaced by bad development decisions like those made in Sevier County.

In the end, all the development and preservation interests were able to agree on was a resolution that banned clear cutting of trees on mountaintop lots in return for reducing the minimum lot size requirement in those areas and the rest of the R2 (rural) zone. Everyone was about to accept this as the best that could be done, until John Lamb, head of the Planning Department, admitted that he could not, and would not, enforce the ban on clear cutting. Bottom line, the development interests were getting smaller lot sizes in return for some political eyewash about eliminating clear cutting. The resolution was defeated. Commissioners Burkhalter, Carver, Hasty, Lambert, Melton and I voted against it. (That was sufficient to defeat the resolution, because five Commissioners were absent, including Caylor, Gamble, Harrison, Moon and Lewis.)

Water Quality
A great deal of time was spent discussing a resolution, supposedly mandated by the State and Federal governments, regarding storm water run-off from construction sites. The resolution contained more than 20 pages of vague and sometimes conflicting rules. For example, the rules are only supposed to apply in “urbanized” areas of the county. The resolution defines “urbanized” as an area with more than 1000 people per square mile. Yet, the little town of Friendsville, with less than 300 people per square mile, is included in the enforcement map associated with the resolution. Commissioner Burkhalter and I tried to clarify the language in the large number of confusing paragraphs in the resolution. Unfortunately, the other Commissioners did not think this effort was important. The poorly worded resolution passed with only Commissioners Burchfield, Carver, Gamble, Harrison, Wright and myself voting against it.

Education
Director of Schools Rob Britt gave a presentation on the schools. He is justifiably proud that a number of our County schools are among the schools showing the greatest academic improvement in the State. He showed that our County schools are now producing better results than the Alcoa school system, which spends nearly twenty percent more per student. This is a credit to his leadership and the efforts of the hard working teachers in our schools. He also pointed out that we still have a long way to go. While Blount County schools are improving fast, nearly half of our third to eighth graders cannot read to acceptable levels of proficiency. (As a comparison, Alcoa is about the same).

By pointing out that Alcoa, Maryville and other counties spend a lot more per student, Mr. Britt is trying to make the case for more funding. However, his spending comparisons do not include payments on the huge debt incurred to build the schools. The County has spent more than $120 million on school construction over the last ten years. Yet, our school enrollment grew by just 500 students. Many believe that there was far too much money spent on buildings, and too little invested in academic programs and support. Recovering from this poor allocation of funds will continue to be a very painful process.

This process is not being helped by current budget decisions by the Schools department. For example, last month the Schools told us they had overlooked a $46,700 item in their budgeting. They asked us to approve a transfer from their electricity account to pay for the item. Of course, this simply meant that we would see another request at the end of the fiscal year for an additional appropriation to cover the shortfall in the electricity account. This month, the Schools told us they had a windfall of $39,000 in the same budget area from the state. But instead of using the windfall to replenish the electricity account, they put the money in another account! The kind of budget gimmickry does not build confidence. Only Commissioner Burchfield and myself voted against this blatant budget manipulation.

The Schools are also rapidly depleting their “rainy day” accounts. This month alone, they sought approval to take $175,000 for unbudgeted items, from the Construction Projects reserve fund. In less than five months they have reduced this fund from $605,000 to $212,000. When I asked why, when they say they are facing a very tough budget situation, they were spending $175,000 for air conditioning improvements and new bleachers for a gym, no one was able to give me a good answer. This was not reassuring. Only Commissioner Harrison and I voted against this nonsense.

Campgrounds Zoning
For the fifth time in recent months, a zoning resolution permitting campgrounds in R1 residential zones is being brought before the Commission.

The resolution is little changed from the one that could not muster a single vote in favor just a few months ago. It still permits campgrounds to be established in R1 zones (think of a campground jammed with more than 250 RVs and camping cabins, on 10 acres, just over back fence of your subdivision). It still permits “campers” to remain for up to 210 days (this leads some to wonder whether the real intent is to create migrant labor camps). It still lacks any provisions limiting noise and light pollution. It still permits dumpsters containing the weekend garbage of more than 500 people to be located just over your back fence. It still permits campgrounds to be located off narrow feeder roads, 3000 feet from main roads (an RV and a school bus passing in opposite directions on these roads is an invitation to disaster).

The political machine’s strategy seems to be to hold the public hearing on December 11 at 6:30pm, when many citizens are busy with the holidays, then pass it while few are watching. I twice tried to introduce an amendment to move the date to January when more citizens could attend the hearing. Both times it was defeated by the machine stalwarts. Only Commissioners Burkhalter, Caylor, Lail, Lewis, Murrell, Samples and I voted against this attempt to sneak this resolution through.

Merry Christmas
Amidst all the turmoil in our country, it is easy to forget the most important things. This Christmas let us all thank God for his blessings, especially this wonderful place where we live. Let us also remember our neighbors in need. We wish all of you a merry and blessed Christmas.




Only YOU can change YOUR government

Please also attend the Commission meeting Thursday, December 20th at 7:00pm in Room 430 of the Courthouse
.