Jim Folts Blount County Commissioner
“To stand in silence, when they should be
protesting, makes cowards out of men” - Abraham
Report on our County Schools
June 2014 - Blount County Commission Monthly Report
Mayor and his Budget Committee Violate the law - twice
Mayor Mitchell and his hand-picked Budget Committee seemed to commit two violations of the law governing county budget procedures. As a result they had to completely redo the Budget Public Notice, Budget Public Hearing, and final Budget Committee meeting. First, they published the Budget legal notice in the paper. This notice describes the budget being offered for public comment at the Budget Committee public hearing. The notice seemed to violate the law, because it contained false and misleading information. Next, despite the misleading legal notice, the Mayor held the Budget Committee meeting and public hearing. He and the rest of the Budget Committee seemed to violate the law, yet again, by holding their meeting to make their final decisions on the budget, before they held the public hearing. In doing so, the Mayor was clearly sending a signal to the citizens, that their input at the public hearing did not matter to him, or the rest of his Budget Committee.
I was in the audience observing the Mayor's arrogant disregard for the citizens, and shared their anger. I went home and read the laws. Besides requiring accurate budget information to be published in a legal notice, the law was also very specific in specifying that the final Budget Committee meeting should be held after listening to citizen input at the public hearing.
The following day at the Commission Agenda Committee meeting, I raised two points of order questioning the legality of the Mayor's budget actions: the misleading numbers in the budget legal notice; and, ignoring citizen input by holding the public hearing after the final Budget Committee meeting. While the law was clear, the Agenda Committee voted to recess for several days, while the Mayor's attorney looked into the matter. When the Commission meeting was reconvened, the Mayor had Finance Director Vineyard announce that a complete redo of the budget process would be required. This involved a new legal notice with accurate budget information, a new public hearing, a new final Budget Committee meeting (in that order), and an additional special called Commission meeting to consider and enact the Budget.
Commission Meeting - Throwing another $442,000 into a pot for unknown projects
Since the budget process had to be redone, there was very little on the agenda of the official Commission meeting. The major item was another sign of the sloppy way in which the County is being operated. As a result of some accounting changes in accounting for self insurance funds, an additional $442,000 became available in the current budget. Instead of just using this money to make an extra payment of the huge county debt ($240 million per the last audit report), the Mayor recommended adding this money to a mysterious "capital projects" fund he created several months ago. This would bring the total amount in the fund to nearly $1 million. In the real world, if capital projects are anticipated, a capital expenditures plan is prepared, and money is put aside in a capital fund to meet those needs. When several Commissioners asked the Mayor where the plan was for the use of the money, the reply was that his office had not had time to come up with a plan. The Mayor has been in office nearly four years. That would seem to be adequate time to come up with a list of capital projects.
In government, throwing $1 million of your money into a pot without a clear plan for the use of the money, almost guarantees waste and abuse. But, this seemed OK with the Mayor and many Commissioners. Only Commissioners Murrell, Samples, Wright and myself voted against this nonsense.
Special Called Commission Meeting on the Budget
This demonstrated the County's dysfunctional budget process, where the full Commission spends just one meeting, lasting about one hour, discussing a $165 million budget. It is simply absurd to think the Commission can do a reasonable job of reviewing a 230 page budget, in one hour.
The agenda for this meeting did not even make sense. It called for setting the tax rate, before even discussing the budget. I thought it would make more sense to decide what our spending levels will be, then discuss the tax rates. I proposed that we change the agenda to this logical approach. Unfortunately, Commissioner Lambert objected to this change.
There are three major problems with this budget. First, the budget spends $3 million more than we will take in. Second, the spending increases outstrip the increase in income of most of our citizens. Third, we are spending far more than the two Tennessee counties closest to us in size. Let me explain.
To see how County spending is growing faster than our citizens incomes refer to this chart. The chart shows a comparison of actual spending in FY-12 with the proposed spending in the new budget.
I am sure that a few of these increases were truly needed. However, our citizens who work hard to keep increases in their expenses to less than inflation, do not understand why 35 county departments are not doing the same. The citizens think the Commission should demand that these departments do their part.
The second problem with this budget is that our County is spending far more than the two Counties closest to us in size, Sullivan and Sumner. I call your attention to this chart.
A functioning budget process would have asked and answered these questions long ago. But, the Mayor and his Budget Committee have failed to fix the budget process.
I moved that Commission restrict the amounts in the new budget to the average of what Sullivan and Sumner spend on the items listed. I could not even get a second to begin discussion of this alternative. I then moved that the budget line items be limited to FY-12 actual spending plus the 5.3% inflation that has occurred since then. Again, no other Commissioner would second so that we could have a serious discussion of budget alternatives. In the end, only Commissioners Murrell, Burkhalter, Melton and myself voted against this budget.
Big raises for the Big Dogs of County Government
In just the last two years, the Mayor Mitchell's salary has increased by 18.6% to $123,727; Sheriff Berrong's salary is up 19% to 117,836; Circuit Court Clerk Hatcher's salary is up an impressive 20.6% to 89,269; and, Highway Superintendent Dunlap is up 19% to $98,197.
Only YOU can change YOUR government
Please attend the
Commission meeting on July 17th at 7:00pm in
Room 430 of the Courthouse.