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 April 18th, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse
  • Citizens for Blount County's Future - Tuesday April 16th, 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





March 2013 Report


The March meetings of the Blount County Commission were remarkable only for what they failed to discuss – the budget and taxes.

The Agenda for the work session was so short that Chairman Burhalter rushed through the items and proudly ended the meeting in less than 20 minutes.

Delinquent Taxes Rising Rapidly
The actual Commission meeting was only slightly longer. The additional time was needed to deal with an emergency appropriation of $55,000 made necessary by the failed auction of some delinquent tax properties. However, this served to highlight a very serious problem. Many County residents are not paying their property taxes. As of March, more than $3,600,000 of County property taxes were unpaid. This is up from the $2,500,000 that were unpaid just 18 months ago. Many of these people were hard-pressed taxpayers having trouble making ends meet. But a surprising number of banks (owing taxes on foreclosed properties), real estate developers and members of our county “elite” did not pay their taxes (Click here to see complete list). When these people do not pay, it results in a higher tax rate for the rest of us.

A 15% to 20% Tax Increase in the Works
A special joint meeting of the Commission and the School Board to discuss the Schools budget resulted in too much posturing and too little substantive discussion. This was the result of the Schools releasing a list of draconian cuts they would make to balance their budget. The list was sent home with the kids, and published in the local paper, before the meeting. The Schools seemed uninterested in a discussion of any alternatives to their plan. The result was a lack of dialog aimed at solving the Schools budget problem.

The extra time available from the short regular Commission meetings, should have been used to discuss the serious budget problems the County is facing. A 15% increase in property taxes will be needed just to satisfy the Schools. Continued wasteful spending in the Sheriff’s department and a few other areas of the General Fund could result in an overall 20% property tax increase.

Since there has been no serious work done to identify ways to cut the budget, the only ideas coming from some Commissioners involve “creative” ways to raise taxes. The latest idea being promoted by Commissioners Burkhalter and Lail is to impose a wheel tax of $35 per vehicle, to be added to your annual registration fee. This idea was resoundingly voted down by the citizens a few years ago. But some Commissioners persist in promoting it, because they hope it will make a major tax increase less apparent to the citizens by splitting it between a wheel tax and a property tax.

A major tax increase, regardless of how it is collected, is still a problem. Our local economy is very fragile. Our underemployment
rate (includes people working part time who want full time work) still exceeds 13%. A 15 to 20% increase in taxes would be devastating to many of our hard-pressed citizens. For many, who are working at low end, or part time jobs, a major tax increase would make it impossible to buy gas, or make a car payment, in order to get to work.

Questions the Citizens Want Answered Before A Tax Increase is Considered
Before tax increases of any kind are considered, the citizens are asking the Commission to answer the following questions.

1.    The County Schools currently have an enrollment of approximately 11,300 students. The first time the Schools had that many students was 2005. That year, the Schools employed 1145 people and were using approximately 1,900,000 square feet of space. In 2012, the Schools also had an enrollment of approximately 11,300 students. However, in 2012 the Schools employed 1518 people versus the 1145 people they had in 2005 – a 32% increase. Also, in 2012, the Schools were using 2,300,000 square feet of space versus the 1,900,000 square feet used in 2005 – a 23% increase, or the equivalent of 2-3 mid-sized schools. Do we need all of the 32% increase in employees, to educate the same number of students we had in 2005? Do we need all of the 23% increase in school space over 2005?

2.    Why have the expenditures in the General Government portion of the County General Fund increased at more than 6 times the rate of inflation, or 70%, since 2007? Can we free up some of the $3 million added to this budget for the Schools?

3.    Can the County continue to spend $3 million more on our Sheriff’s department, than the two counties closest to us in size? Can we afford to do this any longer, when this money is failing to produce any visible difference in crime rates?

4.    Should the County really be spending $2 million per year, more, on our jail, than similar TN counties?

5.    Why is the County spending more than double what similar counties spend on Juvenile Detention? Perhaps, if we redirected some of this money to our Schools, we would need less Juvenile Detention.

6.    Can we afford to spend more than twice as much on Sheriff’s vehicles, as the two counties closest to us in size? Can we free up a few hundred thousand dollars of this money to buy books for our kids?

7.    With our Schools facing such tough circumstances, should we really be appropriating more than $600,000 for Parks and Rec, when they already have more than $1 million of unused money?

8.    Should the County really be spending $45,000 of taxpayer money to support the private Heritage Center?

9.    Schools are a key to attracting good businesses to the County. Do we really need to be spending double what other counties, our size, spend on Industrial Development? Or can we free up a few hundred thousand from this item to make our Schools more attractive to new business?

All these questions involve potential cuts to political sacred cows. Addressing and acting on these questions will take political courage. I hope my fellow Commissioners have the courage to answer these questions and take the actions that will enable us to improve our Schools without imposing major new taxes on our hard-pressed citizens. I believe our citizens, our kids and our schools are worth it.


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