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

  • Blount County Commission - Thursday June 20th, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse
  • Citizens for Blount County's Future - Tuesday June 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





May 2013 Report


Religious Freedom
A resolution regarding the invocation at Commission meetings was withdrawn. Many of you called my attention to some very troublesome wording in the resolution, written by the Mayor’s Attorney, Craig Garrett, that seemed flatly anti-religious. Thanks for calling my attention to this problem. I will never vote for a resolution containing this kind of wording.

Early Voting on the Wheel Tax has started – but Commission doesn’t have a budget
The County is spending more than $85,000 to hold an election to determine whether a major tax increase will be imposed on our citizens. Yet, the full Commission has not even discussed the County budget.

Asking the citizens to approve a major tax increase before the budget has been discussed and approved does not pass the common sense test. Several citizens groups are pointing out that more than $7 million of County spending should be cut, or eliminated. This could easily eliminate the need for the Wheel Tax, if the Commission would only get down to the hard work coming up with a sensible budget that fits the County revenues. I outlined the key questions about wasteful County spending in my March report. Since the Commission has not discussed the budget, we still don’t have answers to these important questions. I really don’t think it is reasonable to ask the citizens to vote for a major tax increase without these answers.

Many of you have called about a letter you received from Blount County Director of Schools, Rob Britt. You asked whether it is legal to use County money to try to influence the outcome of an election. I don’t know the answer, but I am very uneasy about the idea. I am also concerned about what seem to be factual errors, and confusing statements, in the Britt letter. For example, Mr. Britt says that the schools receive “only 28.6% of the county property tax revenue”. The most recent audit report for FY-2012 shows this number as 34.7%. Mr. Britt goes on to say: “we are facing a $7.6 million shortfall”, then says the “wheel tax would provide our schools system with a projected $2.5 million in new revenue”. He does not say how the gap between these two figures will be filled.

It is very important that you VOTE on the Wheel Tax. Early voting continues, at the Courthouse, through June 6th. Election day is Tuesday, June 11th. Election day voting will take place at your regular precinct.

Major Commission matters being handled without written resolutions
The Blount County Commission has been getting quite sloppy in their handling of important matters. The latest example is the disposal of the former Boys and Girls Club building.

The Commission was asked to declare the property surplus with very little factual information. A “bar-napkin” appraisal of the property was provided by the Property Assessor’s office. Very few comps were included, and the assumptions in the appraisal were questionable. No written resolution was available for Commissioners to review. The whole transaction was handled with a verbal motion made, on-the fly, at the meeting. I objected on the basis that the Commission’s own rules seem to require a written resolution for such important matters. The written resolution, and all supporting materials, are supposed to be available for review by all Commissioners five days before the meeting.

I made a motion to table action on this matter until all relevant information could be reduced to writing according to Commission rules. Only Commissioners French, Gamble, Murrell and myself voted to follow the rules. I raised a point of order saying the lack of a resolution was a violation of Commission rules. Commission Chairman Jerome Moon overruled me.

Property worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars is being declared “surplus” in a way that could leave many citizens wondering about the propriety of the transaction. This certainly seems to be an area where the Commission should be following the letter, and intent, of its own rules and the law.


New $17 million Health Plan Adopted without a written resolution
The new $17 million Health Insurance Plan for the County employees was also passed without a written resolution. A health plan of this complexity will undoubtedly take thirty or more pages to describe in detail. Yet, the Commission passed this plan, with major changes to the prior plan, on a verbal, on-the-fly, motion. Under the new plan, county employees will pay $25 per month (up from zero) for their health insurance. The cost to the taxpayers exceeds $8700 per year.

Reappraisal cycle changed to five years
The Commission voted to change the property reappraisal cycle from four to five years. The Property Assessor indicated the change will be necessary to allow enough time to do the reappraisal work. This means the next property reappraisal will take place in 2015.

Judicial Commissioners
A Judicial Commissioner can issue search warrants, arrest warrants, and set bonds. You would think that they would be people with significant legal background. Unfortunately, most candidates proposed by Circuit Court Clerk Hatcher, have little or no legal background.

A resolution allowing Hatcher to hire another Judicial Commissioner was introduced. But, no resume or background information was available at the Agenda meeting. Commissioner Murrell requested that a resume be included in the information for the Commission meeting. Hatcher failed to provide this information. (See Attempted Smear below.)

In addition, the Commission seems to be kept in the dark on how many Judicial Commissioners the County employs, what these people are being paid, and even who they are.

Last month, the Commission approved a budget increase to change a part time Judicial Commissioner to full time. At the time, Circuit Court Clerk Hatcher seemed to indicate that would take care of his needs. Yet, this month Hatcher came to the Commission seeking another Judicial Commissioner. Last month, Hatcher told the Commission he had seven Judicial Commissioners. A review of the payroll showed there might be as many as fifteen. On top of that, the Commission resolutions specify that the compensation of Judicial Commissioners is to be $1 per year (volunteer?). Yet, the payroll shows they are being paid much more. The law says that: “The judicial commissioner or commissioners shall be compensated from the general fund of the county in an amount to be determined by the chief legislative body (the Commission)”. This raised the possibility that the law is being violated.

At the Agenda meeting, I requested a list of all current Judicial Commissioners and the total compensation received by each from the County. Hatcher did not provide this information.

I made a motion to table action on adding another Judicial Commissioner until Mr. Hatcher made the requested information available to the Commission, and answered the legal questions about compensation. Only Commissioners Burchfield, Murrell and myself voted to insist on having a resume and the other information.


Attempted Smear
Circuit Court Clerk Hatcher and Mayor’s Attorney Craig Garrett made what, in my opinion, was a rather clumsy attempt to smear my good name and reputation, by reading a surprise letter into the Commission record. Garrett's letter seemed to be filled with factual errors, false accusations and false statements. You can read my reply here.

Finally – The Commission decides to discuss the budget
The Commission will finally discuss the budget at a special called meeting to be held at 5:30 pm on Monday, June 3rd, in room 430 of the Courthouse. The Public Hearing on the budget will be held Monday, June 10th at 5:30 pm at the same location.

Yes, I agree that the 5:30 pm time seems designed to minimize public participation. Show the Commission you mean business by attending anyway.

Better late than never, but I still don’t see how it is possible to do a good job of budgeting more than $150 million in one or two meetings. When I have objected to this process. I always receive the same inane answer: "This is the way we have always done it".

Only YOU can change YOUR government

Please Vote on the Wheel Tax Referendum June 11th.

Please attend the Special Called Commission meeting on the budget, Monday, June 3rd at 5:30 pm in Room 430 of the Courthouse
.

Please attended the public hearing on the budget, Monday, June 10th, at 5:30 pm in Room 430 of the Courthouse.

Finally, please attend the Commission meeting on June 20th at 7:00pm in Room430 of the Courthouse, where the budget and tax rate will be voted on.