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 March 21st, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse
  • Citizens for Blount County's Future - Tuesday March 19the, 6:30pm, Blount County Library

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. 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

January / February 2013 Report

This report covers the January and February meetings of the Blount County Commission. Only the Commission work session was held in January. The January Commission meeting was cancelled due to weather.

Budget Inaction
The County is facing more than a $9 million deficit in next year’s budget. This could result in more than a 20% increase in the county real estate tax rate. Unfortunately, the Commission has not yet spent a single minute talking about how to cut the budget.

The Blount County budget process simply is not serving the citizens. The Budget Committee needs to fix this process, but they have done nothing. Yet, I was the only Commissioner to vote against the Mayor’s appointments to the Budget Committee at the February Commission meeting.

Economic Development
Economic Development Board President, Bryan Daniels, announced two new companies that will be locating in Blount County.

Microtherm, a manufacturer of high performance insulation, expects to be hiring 40 people between now and the end of 2014. Daniels said the availability of a spec building was a key in attracting this company. The building was constructed by the Board in 2006 at a cost to the taxpayers of more than $1.5 million plus interest on the loan, and has been sitting empty since then. The Board is selling the building to Microtherm for $1 million.

ProNova, a start-up company, that is focused on producing proton accelerators for use in medical procedures, will be the first business to locate in the Pellissippi Place technology park. The Park was financed with $5 million of Blount County taxpayer money and opened in 2008. To attract ProNova, the Economic Development Board gave them 26 acres of land, at no charge. In addition, ProNova will not have to pay any County taxes for eight years, and will not pay the full County tax rate for twelve years. ProNova will initially employ 35 people. If they are able to successfully develop their proton device, and secure Federal FDA approval for the device, the venture could ultimately provide up to 500 jobs.

At the Commission meeting, Daniels made the statement that through the efforts of his organization, which is funded with more than $800,000 of taxpayer money, the County unemployment rate has been reduced to pre financial crisis levels. Several citizens and local business owners told me they were very surprised by this comment, since they are still finding it very tough to get a good job and their business levels are still far below pre-crisis levels. Daniels comments also did not jibe with the County sales tax collections with have been down for the last six months. As usual, the citizens and business owners were correct. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Blount County unemployment level was 3.6% in June of 2007. It was 6.2% in December. By comparison, Sumner County, which is close to Blount in size, and contributes less than $20,000 of taxpayer money to Economic Development, had an unemployment rate of 6.0%.

Employee Handbook
State law requires that all changes to the County Employee Handbook be approved by the Commission. This requirement has often been ignored in the past. To their credit, the Mayor and Human Resources Director, Don Stallions are trying to remedy this situation. They presented the Commission with revised handbook that included an ethics and a severance policy, along with a number of smaller changes. At the January Commission work session, I offered a few changes for consideration of the Commission.

First, I suggested that the ethics policy explicitly state that all documents relating to ethics complaints are public information, and should be promptly made available to citizens and members of the press.

Second, I expressed concern that the new Severance policy opened the door to “golden parachutes” and other abuses. The proposed clause said only: “An employee may receive a severance package due to an involuntary termination upon approval of the Elected official / Department.” This means that even someone fired for cause could receive a generous severance package. Since no limits were specified on the severance benefits, there would be no limits on the generosity of our public officials.

Generous, taxpayer funded, severance packages have been used by the County to make problems, caused by the actions of poor county managers, “go away”. The County desperately needs guidelines to stop this abuse of the taxpayers.

The Mayor and Mr. Stallions decided to reconsider the handbook changes. Hopefully, the next version will contain improvements to these areas.

Maryville has stopped County citizens from using its recycling facilities. This has led to a need for the County to set up a recycling program. The County, Maryville and Alcoa already have a jointly supported Solid Waste Authority that operates the landfill. The simple way to solve this problem would have been to ask the Authority to set up a recycling program to serve the County and the cities. Instead, the Commission voted to set up a new Committee to study the problem and recommend a County solution. In my opinion, this is a bureaucratic waste of time. I was the only Commissioner to vote against this complicated solution to a relatively simple problem.

National Park Camping Fees
Commissioner Burkhalter introduced a resolution protesting the Park Service’s imposition of a $4 user fee for campsite reservations. A large amount of Commission time was spent hearing public testimony and discussing this issue. Yet, the Commission has absolutely no power over this fee. I am generally against new taxes, disguised a user fees, imposed by the Feds. I voted for the resolution. However, at a time when a $9 million budget shortfall and a 20% tax increase are looming, this was not a good use of the Commission’s time.