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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Next Meetings

  • Budget Committee Public Hearing - Monday June 11th, 5:30pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse
  • Blount County Commission - Thursday June 21st, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse
  • Citizens for Blount County's Future - Tuesday June 19th, 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

May 2012 Report

At last month’s Commission meetings, only three issues of significance were discussed. After these meetings, the Budget Committee finally released the proposed budget for next year. The first discussion of this budget will take place in June.

Budget Proposal for Next Year
At a meeting at the end of the month, the Budget Committee announced, with great fanfare, that they were proposing a budget that would not require a tax increase. The proposed budget will provide raises for all county employees. This sounded good.

Unfortunately, under the proposed budget, the County will spend nearly $5 million more than it takes in. It will paper over this problem by taking money from rainy day funds to cover the deficit.

The proposed budget just kicks the needed spending cuts down the road for another year. When all the rainy day funds are empty, there will have to be major spending cuts or a huge tax increase.

The proposed budget does nothing about paying down the County’s crushing $230 million debt. In fact, it takes money from the rainy day fund that was set up to make sure the county can make its debt payments if things get worse.

The proposed budget does nothing about the runaway employee entitlements. County employees will continue to pay nothing for their medical insurance. They continue to enjoy the best medical insurance deal in the state. Few, if any, taxpayers get free medical insurance.

County employees can retire as young as age 50. When they retire, the County is obligated to continue to give them free medical insurance until they are eligible for Medicare at age 65. Again, few, if any, taxpayers enjoy this kind of benefit. The County is not accumulating any money to pay for this benefit. Currently, this unfunded liability is adding $23 million to the County’s crushing debt load. It grew by an alarming $4 million from 2010 to 2011.
County employees also enjoy pension benefits that few taxpayers can even dream of. The employees contribute 5% of their salary to the pension fund. The County taxpayers contribute 12.39%. This unfunded liability added another $19 million to the County’s debt in 2009. No recent estimate of this liability is available, but you can be sure it has increased substantially.

These two unfunded liabilities add more than $40 million to the County’s $230 million debt load. The bond ratings agencies are beginning to ask questions. They will not be impressed by the Commission’s failure to address these problems.

Most important, because there has been no discussion of the proposed budget by the full Commission, it probably does not represent the priorities of the community. For example, the new budget allows the Sheriff to spend $700,000 on more cars, when he already has nearly 100 more cars than he needs. At the same time, the budget forces the schools to cut programs they say are key to raising educational results. These are the kind of issues that should be discussed, in detail at the Commission. Unfortunately, because of the crazy way we prepare budgets in this County, these important discussions will not take place.

So don’t get too excited when you read about the proposed “no tax increase” budget. Serious problems are being papered over, and community priorities have had no serious discussion.

Agenda 21
This is a UN sponsored effort to get countries, counties and municipalities to yield their sovereignty on planning and zoning issues to various national and international bodies. Many believe that the recent federally-funded regional planning effort, called Plan ET, is part of this agenda.

A resolution was introduced at the Commission meeting, officially opposing Agenda 21, and the yielding of the county’s sovereignty on planning and zoning issues. The resolution was passed, with only Commissioner Kirby voting against it.

Adopting this resolution may be just political eye-wash, because the Mayor continues to support the Plan ET regional planning process. In fact, the Mayor, without the approval of the Commission, contributed an additional $70,000 of services to the $4.5 million federally-funded Plan ET process. Unless the Commission acts to require the Mayor to withdraw from the Plan ET bureaucracy, this resolution will be essentially meaningless.

School Computer Network
As part of the on-going effort to improve educational standards and effectiveness, the state is requiring increased internet-based testing of our students. In addition, Superintendent Britt is using internet testing to measure the effectiveness of new educational initiatives.

Unfortunately, the school computer network often slows to a crawl during these activities. It is pretty hard for a teacher to keep a fourth grader focused on a test, when it takes minutes for a new test screen to appear.

High-speed fiber optic lines were installed to some schools. Unfortunately this did not solve the speed problem. The Commission was presented with a $250,000 proposal to upgrade the switches in the school computer network. While this probably should be done for the long-term effectiveness of the network, there was little evidence that this was causing the slow response time of the student computers.

After a detailed discussion with the school system technical experts, two bottlenecks were identified as causes of the immediate problems. The speed of the main connection between the school system and the internet needed to be increased. Immediate action is being taken to double the speed of this connection, at a cost of less than $18,000 per year. The second bottleneck was the fact that two anti-virus programs were running on many student computers. This is a known performance killer. The school system will remove the second anti-virus program from these computers over the summer.

With these issues being addressed, the school system chose to continue with their $250,000 proposal to upgrade their network switches. While I question the short-term need for this massive upgrade, I have little doubt that this upgrade will be required over the next few years. I voted to support the budget increase with the proviso that the school system take immediate action to fix the problems described above, put the upgrade out for competitive bids, and NOT name a specific vendor. This should assure the taxpayers get the best deal.

Creation of a Tourism Authority
The resolution creating a Smoky Mountain Tourism Authority came up for a final vote. No one has explained why this major new government bureaucracy is needed. The resolution does not specify any goals and objectives for this new Authority.

Only one member of the ten-member Authority Board must be an elected official. The others will be from the Blount Chamber, or business people from Alcoa, Maryville or Townsend. Other areas of the county have no representation.

The Authority has the power to issue tax free bonds for periods up to 40 years. The Authority also appears to be able to use eminent domain to force owners to sell their property to the Authority.

Commissioner Burkhalter argued that the Commission still has the power to approve the tax rate that supports the Authority, and could control the Authority by simply reducing the tax rate to zero. However, it seems to me that if the Authority issues bonds secured by these tax collections, and then the Commission reduces or eliminates the tax rate, the County might be committing fraud in the eyes of the bond holders.

Creating an un-elected bureaucracy, with a ten member Board, and all these powers, to manage a staff of seven people does not make any common sense. Commission French and I were the only ones to vote against this nonsense.

Only YOU can change YOUR government
PLEASE come to the Budget Public Hearing at 5:30pm on Monday, June 11th.
Please also attend the Commission meeting Thursday, June 21st at 7:00pm in Room 430 of the Courthouse