Citizens for Better Government
Blount County Tennessee
The Daily Times article shows $9.3 million of Blount County overspending!
The Sunday Daily Times said that Jim Folts (really Citizens for Better Government):“claimed that the County overspends by $9.8 million, a figure that would not seem to be borne out by the Daily Times analysis”.
Guess what! It turns out that using the same comparison counties – Sullivan and Sumner, the Daily Times analysis shows $9.3 million of overspending by Blount County. You read it right. We used the Daily Times numbers and method. They showed more than $9 million of Blount overspending, just as the Citizens for Better Government (CFBG) study did. (We dropped Washington County, because they do not report in the categories used by the Daily Times).
Does this sound different from what you read in the Sunday article? Actually, the information was shown in the charts that accompanied the article. Was this a “bait and switch” piece, showing good data, along with an article serving the interests of the political machine? Why did the author use quotes, critical of the CFBG study, from an individual associated with one of the overspending organizations highlighted by CFBG? Why didn’t the author identify this fact? Why didn’t the author complete the calculations to show Blount was overspending by $9.3 million, nearly the same amount shown by the Citizens for Better Government study? Why did the author write the opposite conclusion, even when it was unsupported by his own data? Was the Daily Times playing lap dog for the courthouse crowd, the way, in the view of many critics, it did too often under its prior owner? We don’t know.
We do know, nearly every Daily Times chart showed Blount spending to be far higher than Washington, Sullivan or Sumner counties. The message of these charts was buried by the addition of five more counties to the comparison. The added counties were either so much larger, or smaller than Blount, they served only to mask the fact that Blount is the biggest spender of any county of its size. One of the counties added, Williamson County, is the richest county in Tennessee, not exactly an ideal benchmark.
The two studies took different approaches. The CFBG analysis focused entirely on expenses at the department level. The Daily Times study focused on broad categories used in the state audit reports, and added consideration of the revenues generated in each category. Both studies show $9 million of overspending in the Blount County General Fund, compared with the Tennessee counties closest to us in population.
The chart below shows the detail. The DT used data from the audit reports that shows revenue and expense for several categories: General Government, Finance, Administration of Justice and Public Safety. The audit chart subtracts expense from revenue to arrive a net cost to the taxpayer for each category. The author of the DT article overlooked the Finance, and Administration of Justice categories. We have included them. The DT inaccurately described the Public Safety category as the Sheriff’s department and the Jail. Actually, Public Safety, as used in the audit reports, includes Civil defense, Fire Prevention and Control, Rescue Squads, and Other Emergency Management departments. We took those out to accurately conform to the DT description. Blount County does not include Sheriff’s vehicles and law enforcement equipment in the Public Safety category like other counties. To assure an apples and apples comparison we made the adjustments shown in the table below to reflect these differences. The Daily Times did not make these adjustments.
The DT published charts showing the cost per capita of categories like General Government, but they did not complete the computation by averaging the comparison counties costs and multiplying by Blount county’s population to arrive at what our spending would be if we reached those average per capita spending levels. The chart below shows that using the DT method of analysis, Blount County is overspending by $4.4 million in the General Government category, $525,000 in the Finance category, $227,000 in the Administration of Justice category, and $4.2 million in the Sheriff’s department and Jail, for a grand total of $9.3 million. Why didn’t the DT do these simple calculations? Apparently, their reporter decided not to print any facts that would interfere with his goal of showing that the Citizens for Better Government analysis: “would not seem to be borne out by the Daily Times analysis”.
The DT study shows overspending of $9.3 million and the Citizens for Better Government analysis shows $9.8 million. Both studies confirm the county is spending more than 20% too much in the General Fund.
Both studies raise two very serious questions for all of us. Why is our County spending $9 million more than the average of the counties closest to us in population? Should we be imposing a tax increase on our hard-pressed citizens to pay for this added spending, or should we be cutting spending?