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
February 2014 - Blount County Commission Monthly Report
$220 million in debt, no problem, County pays bonuses
The County is $220 million in debt. The debt amounts to more than $1700 for every man, woman and child in the county. By comparison, Sumner and Sullivan county, the two counties closest to us in population, have debts of $850 per person and $360 per person.
The County spent $6 million more than it took in last year. This year, the County will, again, spend approximately $6 million more than it will take in.
The County has agreed to provide its retirees with free medical insurance at a projected cost of $20 million, but has not put a penny aside to pay those benefits.
The County has just spent $850,000 to shore up its failing General Liability and Workman’s Comp self insurance funds. The County actuary says another $1.5 million will be needed soon.
County employees pay 5% of their wages for an excellent retirement plan. The taxpayers pick up another 14% of the tab, an amazing nearly 3 to 1 match, not available in most private industry jobs.
County employees pay just $25 per month for an excellent medical insurance plan, because the taxpayers pick up the other $875 per month of the cost.
Against this background, the Mayor and Commission decided to pay County employees a $1000 bonus. This is in addition to the 4.5% increase in salaries that was budgeted over actual spending last year. On top of all this, the bonus program was not a bonus at all. Outstanding employees were given the same amount as marginal performers.
Top officials were not included in the bonus program. However, Sheriff Berrong, Circuit Court Clerk Hatcher, Registrar Crisp, and most others were given 4.5% increases in this year’s budget.
None of this made any common sense. But, every Commissioner except Monika Murrell and myself voted for this nonsense. (I am sure it had nothing to do with buying votes in the Commission election on May 6th.)
General Liability and Workman’s Comp Self Insurance Funds need $815,000 band-aid
An actuary, hired by the County, told the Mayor these funds need nearly $2.5 million just to cover claims that are already in process. Unfortunately these self insurance funds had less than $100,000.
The problems in these funds can be traced, in part, to the Sheriff’s department, which with 300 employees, has been averaging nearly the same amount of Workman’s Comp and General Liability claims as the School department, which has 1700 employees and 11,000 students
Rather than admit the full scope of the mismangement of these funds, Mayor Mitchell and Finance Director Vineyard chose to call for a temporary band-aid, in the form of an emergency injection of $815,000. Why address a problem today, when you can put it off until after the election. All Commissioners, except Commissioner Murrell and myself, voted for this short term patch.
Mayor and Commission take Nancy Pelosi approach to government
The Mayor proposed, and the Commission approved, spending $545,000 on “capital projects”. The only problem is that Mayor Mitchell did not bother to tell anyone what would be purchased with this money. He seems to be taking the Nancy Pelosi approach to government. Pass the resolution and we’ll tell you where we’ll spend it – later. Only Commissioner Murrell and myself voted against this blank check.
County buying 4 acres of land valued at $150,000, for $300,000
A resolution was introduced to enable the Sheriff’s Drug Task Force to buy land for a new facility. There were several problems with this resolution sponsored by Commissioners Moon and Samples. First, it proposed buying a parcel of land which did not exist. When I pointed this out, I made a motion to table the resolution, which passed. But, that was not the end of it.
Commissioner Burkhalter brought it up again at the end of the meeting, claiming that I was wrong about the non-existent parcel. Commissioner French questioned the $300,000 price for just 4 acres, and asked for the full value assessment on the parcel. The answer was that the full value assessment of the parcel in 2010 was $154,000. He and I both were amazed that the Sheriff was proposing to pay nearly double the 2010 value of the property and said so. I observed that the County might be the only buyer dumb enough to pay such a ridiculous price. I then rechecked the description of the property in resolution and called on the County Purchasing agent to verify the identification of the parcel. She admitted that the parcel in the resolution did not exist. I again made a motion to table the resolution. Commissioner Burkhalter apologized for his attempt to ram the defective resolution through, and seconded my motion to table it.
Even with the evidence of a suspiciously high price to be paid for a non-existent parcel, Commissioners Caylor, Farmer, Helton, Kirby and Lambert still voted to consider the resolution. One can only wonder why they were so anxious to quickly ram this resolution through the Commission.
Sales Tax Increase – Again
Even though the voters rejected a sales tax increase a little over a year ago, Commissioners Farmer and Kirby introduced a resolution to put the question on the ballot, again, in the May 6 election. I think when the voters say NO, their decision should be respected. I was the only Commissioner to vote against this sales tax increase.
Only YOU can change YOUR government
Please attend the Commission meeting on March 20th at 7:00pm in Room430 of the Courthouse.