Commissioners Shawn Carter, Tom Cole, Mike Lewis and Karen Miller were absent.
$5 million of debt service fund used to pay debt
After the commission voted to authorize an additional $5 million in debt, the Mayor and Finance Director went ahead and used $5 million from the debt service fund rather than borrowing it. I (Tona Monroe) am glad that they did and don’t understand why the additional $5 million was authorized by a majority of the commissioners.
Stop Loss Policy
The county self insures its health care plan, excluding additional insurance products like dental and vision insurance. However, it has maintained a stop loss policy through a private vendor for large medical claims.
The commission was provided with the cost of the policy for the current year and for the new year but wasn’t given any information about the amount of claims paid out under this policy. I asked to be given the cost of the policy and the claims paid with the stop loss policy.
The numbers showed that the county has spent about $900,000* more in premiums than the stop policy has paid out in claims since July 1, 2013. I was the only commission present who voted no.
*These amount could change before the end of the year. These figures were provided on December 12, 2016.
Industrial Development Board
There has been some much needed discussion about crony capitalism or corporate welfare surrounding the Carrier deal that President Elect Donald Trump negotiated. At the state level, the Beacon Center has been calling for an end to corporate welfare. I and others, here locally, have been calling for an end to these special deals.
The Industrial Development Board (IDB), often with the help of the state of Tennessee, fosters crony deals for a few connected and chosen businesses. The public is usually in the dark during the negotiations. When the deals are made public, cheerleaders consisting of the local press try to convince us that the gods of government and the Blount Partnership have done something great by giving the farm away.
Neither tax deals nor land incentives for a few select businesses is equal protection under the law. All businesses should operate under tax laws that apply equally to all businesses. There should be no corporate handouts. Businesses should succeed or fail on their own merits or lack thereof.
The best thing the government can do to promote a business friendly environment is ensure that taxes are uniform and that regulations have a legitimate, useful purpose. Unfortunately the situation isn’t likely to change with the Blount County state legislators. The poster child for corporate welfare is State Senator Doug Overbey, who sponsored the TN Investco program which has been a big flop.
The commission was given 3 nominees from the IDB to serve on the IDB. Yes, the IDB sends us the list of who it wants to serve on the IDB and in the order of preference (see page 40). The state of Tennessee has set many of these boards up so that they can do their own nominating.
Greg Wilson, President of First Tennessee Bank was the first choice of the IDB Chairman Fred Lawson and Blount Partnership President Bryan Daniels and the nominee that the commission chose. I called Mr. Wilson and spoke to him. He was largely ignorant of special deals being dolled out through the IDB. He told me that he only know what he had read in the papers about the Advanced Munitions Inc. deal. I asked how he would determine which businesses should be given special development deals. He said it depended on the return on the investment. That sounds like code for, only the big boys will get the special deals. Of course many of the local establishment will benefit as well.
Bankers and construction people are often the members of this Board. It’s good for business to know who is coming into you county and where the special deals are handed out. These business people may have conflicts of interest. The whole set up of the IDB makes little sense, unless you are benefiting from it.
It would make much more sense for local elected officials to have an advisory committee to offer suggestions in creating a business friendly environment. Tax policies should be set by the state and by the county commission and applied equally to all businesses. It would be far better to reduce the tax burden on all businesses than for the government to keep picking winners and losers. It is high time to reform this process.
Commissioner Jamie Daly and I, who were blocked by Bryan Daniels Blount Partnership/Chamber of Commerce/IDB/Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority, were the only two to vote no on confirmation of Mr. Wilson. My mother received much better treatment from her local chamber, which recently awarded her citizen of the year.
Ho Ho Ho and No No No: Learning to use the NO button
At the end of the meeting, I gave the commissioners a Christmas gift that they can use to practice protecting you the taxpayers.
Up next: Two big issues may be discussed in January. You absolutely need to pay close attention to your local government and become involved as these could both be very costly issues.
The Blount County School Board passed a budget amendment request that will be presented to the Budget Committee to provide more funding for an architect to look at expanding the high schools.
Important decisions surrounding the jail are or will soon be discussed in secret through the Purchasing Department. The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law earlier this year allowing local governments to operate in secret during the evaluation process for professional services. This new law is an affront to the citizens who deserve to know how the evaluators are vetted and how and why the make their decisions. All of this will remain a secret until the Purchasing Agent starts the negotiation process with the chosen company. Good luck at learning how the now secret evaluators reached their decisions after the fact.
The process was already flawed by allowing the appointments to be political rather than being based on the knowledge and expertise of the subject matter. Now you aren’t even allowed to know who they are until after the fact, thanks to the state legislature. If these secret evaluators are really knowledgeable on what Blount County needs, then they should have been discussing their ideas and suggestions with the Blount County Corrections Partnership. Blount County government put the cart before the horse.
Happy New Year!