A special commission meeting was called for the purpose of discussing debt refinancing options. The county has $79,435,000 in outstanding par for the Series 2013B general obligation refunding bonds. The 3 year note for this series will expire in December. Thus, the commission will soon need to make a decision on how to refinance this debt.
There are 4 interest rate swaps with Deutsche Bank associated with this variable rate debt. The cost to terminate the swaps is high. It changes frequently. You can view the monthly swap reports in the monthly budget packets online. The most recent swap report, found in the July 11, 2016 Budget Committee packet, shows a mark to market value of $14,912,989.89 on June 29, 2016. See page 287. The value given at the workshop, as of July 11, 2016 was $15.2M.
The cost to terminate the swaps is negotiable. According the county’s advisor, Public Financial Management (PFM), Deutsche Bank (DB) has not been willing to negotiate significant savings in the past. However, due to a recent drops in the credit ratings, DB is more willing to negotiate. Now may be a good time to terminate these swaps.
This meeting was much more useful in terms of options than the meeting called last October. The presentation given in October gave 3 variations of keeping 20% variable rate debt in place. This 3 options given this month include two which would refund every callable maturity (2004A, 2004B, 2005, 2011, 2013B, B-16-A, B-17-A & B-10-A) and one option to refund $39M of variable rate debt. The county has other series of debt that can be refinanced at lower interest rates. These series would be included in refinancing scenarios A and C that were presented to us.
Option C appears to be the best option because it eliminates all variable rate debt, terminates all swaps and has the county paying debt at a more consistent level than option A which also eliminates the variable rate and terminates the swaps. This reduces the risk to the county and we would know exactly what we owe in terms of debt. The county currently has about $11M in fund balance. Option C would use $5M of this fund balance, leaving the county with about $6M in debt service fund balance.
It is my hope that the commission votes to approve option C or something similar when it is presented to us in the near future.
There were several spending increases and all were approved. This commission has shown that it will approve nearly every spending request put before it.
The biggest spending request came from the schools and was more than all the other requests combined. The schools requested a $1,639,000 million increase for the General Purpose Schools Fund. $397,000 of this request will be funded with a projected increase in sales tax revenue. After a big property tax increase last year, closer attention should be paid to the other sources of revenue such as the sales tax before levying such a huge property tax rate increase. The property tax payers may have been hit harder than necessary.
Last month the budget request failed to even get a motion to send it to the commission but this month it passed. The request was the same as last month.
Animal shelter budget now over double the actual budget of 6 years ago
The animal shelter requested a budget increase of $33,054 to pay 2 part time people to clean the animal shelter after losing inmate labor when the state pulled the TDOC felons from the local jail. I purposed using donation money given to the animal shelter to fund these two positions temporarily until the changes in jail population had been worked out. That amendment failed. The requested increase could have been funded without any use of tax dollars.
From Deena Finley the Accounting Manager:
To follow up on the questions from August 19, 2016 Commission meeting:
Item F.3 – Resolution No. 16-08-008
In regard to donations for the Animal Center, the amount I reported at the meeting was the Total Non-SMACF donations collected for Fiscal years 2011 through 2016. Please see below.
Fiscal Year Donations Collected
The amount of Committed Donations as of 6/30/2015 (account 101-346300 – Committed for Public Health & Welfare) was $16,069.40 and from above collections Year-to-Date of $76,192.09 which means the value of Committed Donations at 6/30/2016 should equal the sum total of $92,261.49, subject to Audit.”
Labor of the animal shelter isn’t limited to those serving sentences in the jail. There are about 1800 on county probation and 700 people on state probation. This is a large number of people to look to for help in the animal shelter.
Animal shelter spending was originally budgeted to be up 86%, compared to 6 years ago when the mayor took office. With the budget amendment, the amended budget is now more than double what the actual budget was when Mayor Ed Mitchell took office.
|FY||Actual Budget||SMACF Donations||Original Budget||Amended Budget|
2007-2014 data is from state CAFRs
2015-2017 is data from the county’s website
2016 data is subject to change as budget is finalized
2017 data is budgeted amounts not actual amounts
There was a request to spend $195,000 of the Drug Control fund balance. The only explanation given was to buy needed equipment and there was no date on the budget request. That is a lot of money that will be spent without any details given for the use of the funds.
Half way point
The end of this month marks the half way point of this commission term. As I look back over the past two years, I think the best thing this commission did was refinance $20,165,000 in variable rate debt and the swap attached to it to fixed rate debt. Creating the school capital fund, providing funds that don’t have to be split with the cities to fix leaking roofs is another good thing.
The large property tax increase after an increase in the local option sales tax may have been the worst thing this commission has done. The unwillingness to hear from the jail consultant while approving an RFQ to seek design services for the jail doesn’t make good sense or good public policy.
What I’d like to see over the next two years is for the county to go to completely fixed rate debt with more debt service money going to principal. I’d like for the commission to take a look at the county’s land use regulations, particularly zoning which is too easily manipulated for the benefit of the few. The Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) should meet to actually discuss the needs of the criminal justice system rather than just meeting a few times a year to appease the state for certification that means very little. Critical decisions that should have been fully discussed through the BCCP are going to be made through the Purchasing Department. Additionally, the commission should look at the over $1 million that is given to the Industrial Development Board and the approximately $1.5 million in hotel/motel tax money given to the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority. Both of these entities serve special interests with crony deals. These monies could be put to better use by paying down the enormous county debt.
What would you like to see your county government do during the next two years?
by Horatio Bunce
In my neck of the woods, a “food desert” somewhere in FEMA Region IV, a local business thumbs their nose at the “cell-phone-and-a-pen” unconstitutional platitudes emanating from Washington DC. Folks like us not receiving the corporate welfare benefits that result in forced acceptance of Bill Gates’ Common Core, Pearson Sharia Social Studies, PARCC/SBAC/AIR/UTAH SAGE test question rentals and now apparently co-ed public school locker rooms, are finding it hard to understand why the super-majority Republicans in Tennessee shake in their boots every time Hedy Weinberg utters a threat to federal funding. We “might” get sued. Uncle Sugar “might” withhold your money that was automatically “withheld” from you when you earned it to begin with. So keep turning those tricks Welfare Queen. You don’t want to get slapped by Uncle Sugar, do you?
All those liberties sold out chasing Uncle Sugar’s dollar (which was yours to begin with). They sure came cheap. You can call it “state-led” all you want, but it is plain to see who is in control.
The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7
by Horatio Bunce
From a friend in the public school system (yeah, I have a few) with the names and places removed to protect the innocent:
“My wife is a teacher in xxxxxx County, and as such is at the point of the spear on this. I think the most succinct statement came from one of her 3rd graders; he asked, “Mrs. Xxxxxx, don’t they know that we are 8 years old?” Xxxxx has been spending scads of time teaching how to take the computerized test, rather than the curriculum. This, combined with the fact that her class has to share computers with the rest of the school, has essentially made the last two weeks a bust as far as classroom instruction is concerned.”
I guess Mrs. Xxxxx should have “expected more/achieved more” and said “Buck up son! How do you expect to compete in the global marketplace without these internationally benchmarked standards that haven’t actually been used anywhere else in the world ever?”
Just remember that back in late 2009 Achieve Inc. national co-chair Phil Bredesen, Tim Webb and B. Fielding Rolston were twisting the arms of your local directors of schools to sign a memorandum of understanding that they were familiar with all the trappings that came with taking the Race To The Top federal bribe (adherence with Common Core “State” Standards they couldn’t yet read because they didn’t yet exist, mandatory online testing and mandatory student longitudinal database expansion). The application was only about 1100 pages long. I’m sure they read it….aren’t you?
Here, you can still watch Bredesen and Jamie “we were going to do it anyway” Woodson lie about all the unanimous agreement right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByuIlsf9ftY
Just wanted to comment on the repeated failures of the many media outlets that keep calling these the TNReady tests that we contracted with Measurement Inc. to produce for $108M. Measurement Inc. sub-contracted to the behavioral research company American Institutes for Research (AIR ) who also made the tests called the SAGE Assessments for Utah. Like Tennessee, Utah also took the federal bribe called Race To The Top which required mandatory online assessments (all the better to mine your human capital data with). Bribe-takers were additionally required to work through one of two federally-created, stimulus-funded, multi-state testing consortia for these online tests: PARCC or SBAC. After initially awarding an illegal, no-bid testing contract to PARCC (Kevin Huffman, governing board member) and their project manager Achieve Inc. (Bill Haslam board member, Phil Bredesen national co-chair), the testing contract was “rebid” (sic) with only one possible winner that meets our federally-mandated testing consortia requirement: SBAC. However the multiple middle-men of AIR and Measurement Inc. help to conceal this fact. But here is AIR’s press release from 2012 claiming their partnership with SBAC to deliver online testing to states, so make no mistake, Tennessee maintains her status as federal welfare queen pleasing Uncle Sugar. Federally mandated online testing right along with Common Core for taking that $500M+ bribe. The Common Core Whores can rename it all they want – it is still the same.
I hate to say I told you so on these tests, but from October 2013:
“Note that some believe the sudden pullback from PARCC by these states is orchestrated, that other opportunists are now positioning themselves to create a “state-led” assessment model to test the same Common Core “state” Standards without the obvious, blatant, federal appearance that PARCC and SBAC have. Time will tell. Of course, this is merely treating a symptom and not the disease. They would likely rely on the same test makers – or copy “big” states like Florida, the same way they do with textbook selection.”
I ask you to remember back to Bredesen/Woodson/Haslam/Frist et al rationalizing the Common Core “State” Standards and the wonderful multi-state testing consortia and how it was so hard to compare student achievement from state to state because we all had our different tests and how great this “common” thing was going to be (after they all cash in).
Doesn’t it seem, well, contradictory that now we are paying the same two Washington DC testing corporations to make different tests for each state that allegedly are all aligned to the same academic standards?
Remember, there is a $5,000 fine for leaking out any of Utah’s rented test questions – per question “regardless of whether the release is accidental, intentional or required by law.” It sure would be a shame if that happened, especially since it is now on paper.
The people in government who orchestrated giving away over $800 million to a company should never be allowed to touch another penny of tax money.
Government subsidies aren’t improving the economy.
It’s nice to see a $100,000 donation from a Foundation consisting of an all-volunteer board.
The Comptroller has issued a report on Maintenance of Effort Laws governing education in Tennessee.
by Eric Holcombe
As mentioned in earlier posts, Tennessee is leasing Utah’s Common Core, federal government-forced online testing “items” from their SAGE assessments provided by Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) via the behavioral research company American Institutes for Research (AIR). AIR is known for behavioral research, a.k.a. data mining, on public school students such as Project Talent in 1960 (also driven by the federal government). At the time of their implementation, the SAGE assessments were untested, that is, they were unpiloted on any students prior to them being foisted upon Utah students in spring of 2014. Utah students were the guinea pigs – and Utahns paid handsomely for the privilege to be the guinea pigs. In December of 2014, Achieve Inc. board member Bill Haslam announced that Tennessee would be renting test “items” from Utah for $2.3 million for the next couple of years until Measurement Inc. (via AIR, via SBAC) can develop the “TNReady” tests. Now keep in mind that like Tennessee, all states that took the Race To The Top federal bribe must choose between one of two federal-government created masters for their mandatory, online testing: PARCC or SBAC. Tennessee’s initial illegal, no-bid testing contract was awarded to PARCC (Kevin Huffman, governing board). Utah initially chose SBAC and after much public displeasure was expressed then did the same thing Achieve Inc. board member Haslam has since done: pretend to put the mandatory, federal-driven testing “out for bid”, say you are making “state-led” tests except they rigged the specifications so that ultimately only an SBAC subcontracted entity could “win”. So Utah ended up with the SAGE assessments by SBAC via AIR, the behavioral research company. In Tennessee’s case, we added yet another middle-man by hiring Measurement Inc. from North Carolina, who subcontracted to AIR, a Washington DC corporation (like Haslam’s Achieve Inc.) who works with SBAC from Washington State. And in the meanwhile, we are renting the tests that Utah has already paid them to create, thus TN students are really UtahReady.
Following is an editorial by Debbie Nichols, a recently retired Utah teacher of 34 years, who gives her view of the SAGE test (emphasis mine). This was published in the Deseret News on November 1 of 2014, about six months after the first application of the SAGE tests in Utah but still PRIOR to Tennessee’s contract to lease the test “items” for $2.3 million per year from Utah for the next two years and PRIOR to Tennessee’s $108 million contract to Measurement Inc. to produce the new tests from AIR/SBAC for the following five years.
You may find yourself asking who did the shopping for this and why did we decide this was a good idea for Tennessee (if in fact Commie Core and its mandatory online testing really is “state-led” and not forced by the federal government).
My view: A teacher’s opinion of the SAGE test
Many Utahns heard about the SAGE test for the first time this week as the test results were published. There is more to be concerned about than the scores. There are some things that taxpayers and parents need to know about the SAGE test.
I taught school for 34 years and just retired in June. I taught nine years at West Kearns Elementary and 25 years at Eastwood Elementary. I have watched the metamorphosis in education over these many years. Some changes have been good and some have not. The SAGE test is not a good change.
SAGE testing does not line up with the curriculum. It may tell you some things a child knows, but not necessarily what he or she learned in class. This style of test never measures what has been taught.
The math section of the SAGE test is really a reading test, which means one cannot distinguish computation from application from vocabulary knowledge. Can the child do the computation but not apply it? Could the child do the computation and apply it if he or she knew a different vocabulary term used in the word problem? The SAGE test won’t tell you, and educators are not given vocabulary lists or knowledge of content.
The SAGE test is simply not a good test. Last spring I saw a little boy stare at his screen for 30 minutes. He knew the correct answer was 1½, but he could not find a way to enter a mixed number to answer the question. It couldn’t be done on his computer.
The SAGE test is written so that as a student answers questions correctly, the test immediately takes the student to questions that aren’t just harder, but out of grade level. It overwhelms and frustrates elementary children. The students are not allowed to go on unless they answer each question. Last year I watched as 28 students stared at a screen until they gave up and guessed. The teacher is not allowed to give prompts during this test at all. Exasperated students soon give up. Low students stop reading altogether.
The SAGE test does not help teachers or students know student progress. This testing format is not age appropriate for grade school. For secondary schools, it is still not measuring if a student mastered the curriculum that they were taught.
Learning has to be measured in some way. So educators look at what the end goal is and set out during the year to try to achieve this goal. We make a curriculum that matches up with the final test to be given. This is not teaching to the test, this is teaching to the goal of mastery of a subject.
A runner knows that his race time does not improve by buying a new stopwatch. The runner knows that he needs to work harder and practice more. Students’ scores will not improve with a new test. It is not the testing we need to practice but the actual skill. More testing does not equal more learning. We need more teaching time in the classroom and less testing time. There is so much more that these students need to know for the future. Too much testing just desensitizes them. We should be striving for love of learning, not hate of testing.
Educators and society need to prepare our students for college and the real workforce. The SAGE doesn’t help, it just dampens the love of learning. We deserve more for our education dollar. More importantly, our students deserve better.
By Eric Holcombe
In my last post I explained how we are paying the state of Utah to “lease” test “items” that Utah has paid to have produced by the behavioral research company American Institutes of Research (AIR). Utah’s tests are called the SAGE Assessments and they began using them in 2014, because Utah, like Tennessee, also took the federal bribe in Race To The Top to implement the federally-provided Common Core “state” Standards and all electronic assessment testing provided via the federally created, multi-state testing consortia (PARCC and SBAC). So since Tennessee students will now be UtahReady, I thought you might be interested in the viewpoint of a Utah school board member regarding the SAGE assessments we are now paying Utah to lease “items” from. After all, we have been told by the Common Core Whores what a great idea this is because all the cool kids are doing it (emphasis mine):
The Reality Behind Your Child’s Test
By Brian Halladay, Board Member, Alpine School District, Utah
Sage test results were recently released that showed less than half of Utah’s students were proficient in math, English, and language arts. Taken at face value, this means that more than half our students are “not proficient.” So, what does this mean? Absolutely nothing.
The SAGE test is an unreliable, unverified test that our children from 3rd-11th grade are taking not just once, but up to three times a year. These tests aren’t scored by their teachers, but rather by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). This company is the one of the world’s largest social and behavioral research organizations. Your child’s proficiency is being scored by a bunch of behavioral researchers.
No teacher is scoring, or has the ability to score, an individual child’s SAGE test.
Your child is taking a test for 8 hours (4 hours for math and 4 hours for English) that their teacher can’t see the questions to. This test is designed to have your child fail. Gone are the days when a student could feel a sense of achievement for getting 100% on a test. This test is touted to be “rigorous”. If your child gets a correct answer the test will continue to ask harder and harder questions until he or she gets it wrong (who knows if what is tested was actually taught in the classroom?) Put simply, this means that your child likely will come home grumpy, anxious, or depressed after taking this test. With over 50% non-proficiency, this will affect more than half of the students that take it.
The teacher is almost as much of a test victim as the child. Having no idea of the test questions, teachers are still starting to be evaluated —on a test they can’t see. I believe we’re starting to see this leading to more experienced teachers leaving, and an increase in teachers with little to no experience not knowing the pre-SAGE environment.
Points to consider:
1. When did we allow testing to become more important than education?
2. Your child’s data is subject to being shared with people and organizations without your consent. There is nothing that prohibits AIR or any its multiple organizations from accessing your child’s data. As long as AIR doesn’t make a profit from the data without the USOE’s consent, they can use it for anything they want.
3. This test has no contractual provisions that prevent it from collecting BEHAVIORAL data. AIR has a long history of collecting behavioral data, and seeing they’re a behavioral research organization, don’t you think they will? (Just look up Project Talent).
Last year, two fellow board members and I wrote a letter to our State Superintendent asking him to address our concerns, for which we’ve had no response. If your parental instinct is kicking in, I would ask that you at least consider opting your child out of taking this test. State law allows any parent to opt their child out. Even if you don’t decide to opt out, talk with your teacher, know when your child is taking this test, and make sure your decision is in the child’s best interest.
by Eric Holcombe
If you have been following Achieve Inc. board member Haslam and the state department of eduction’s more recent announcements regarding “TNReady” or “TNCore”, the alleged, “new”, “state-led” standards for K-12 education to “replace” Common Core (because those Common Core “state” Standards we were told were “state-led” by these same people were nothing of the sort), then you may have been hearing that everything is bright-shiny new and there are new “Tennessee” tests and new “Tennessee” standards. Well, that’s not exactly true.
While Achieve Inc. board member Haslam did let Kevin Huffman (governing board member of PARCC) go as education commissioner and PARCC did lose their illegal, no-bid, multi-million dollar testing contract to provide the Common Core “state” Standard aligned tests in Tennessee, there were absolutely no consequences for the apparent taxpayer-funded collusion between PARCC, their board members and the folks in TN State Board of Education letting the no-bid contract. Neither was there any repercussion for PARCC’s project manager, Achieve Inc. (Bill Haslam, board member). Instead, the same standards are rebranded “TNCore” and the second testing entity (like PARCC) created with $365 million in federal stimulus money will ultimately provide the Common Core “state” Standards aligned tests. This second company is Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Joining a multi-state testing consortia was part and parcel of taking the federal tax dollar bribe in the Race To The Top federal grant application, and so was the adoption of the Common Core “state” Standards. Many states initially contracted with PARCC and many did with SBAC. We are simply changing federally-created test makers. We took and have already spent the $500+ million in the federal Race To The Top bribe, so you can be sure we will remain slaves to our federal masters, no matter what Nashville wants to rename it.
What you probably did hear about was a $108-million contract between the state of Tennessee and a company called Measurement Inc. to provide the “new” tests to replace the TCAP tests, now nicknamed/rebranded TNReady. You may have even read that Measurement Inc. isn’t really producing these tests, but is actually subcontracting the work to a company called American Institutes of Research (AIR) who is a partner to SBAC to provide the tests. That’s right. You are now paying for at least two middlemen. In the typical “but Mom, all the other kids are jumping off the roof, so why can’t I?” rationale, we were told how Utah, Arizona and Florida were already contracted with AIR so it must be good for Tennessee too, right? Don’t try too hard to remember all that selling that Achieve Inc. board member Haslam and Candice McQueen have been doing to convince you this time it really is “state-led” (by another state I guess). That is how we ended up in the PARCC boat with Florida to begin with.
AIR is primarily a behavioral research company, not a standardized academic assessment maker, i.e., they are well experienced in data mining. There is much speculation about what their motivation may be in the new business of data-mining public school students when combined with the bizarre data collection goals revealed in “Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance” published by the federal Dept. of Education. Like many of the players in the Common Core game, they too received millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This is beginning to look like a prerequisite to get into the education “business” in Tennessee at this point. Nevertheless, AIR did produce Common Core “state” Standard aligned assessments for the state of Utah called SAGE assessments. So, did Florida, Arizona and Tennessee get their own “state-led” assessments made just for themselves for their alleged “state-led” standards? Nope. We are paying $2.3 million to lease two years’ worth of test “items” from the Utah tests. The defenders of this scheme claim that we are not paying for Utah’s “tests”, only “items” from the tests.
So to summarize, Tennessee students will now be Utah-Ready. But it’s all “state-led”….
There are some in the community who think that everything on this website is written by me (Tona Monroe). That is not the case. This site was never intended to be a website solely with material written by me. I own domains with my name and could just as easily write the material there.
There are some in the community who think that I agree with everything written on this website. That is not the case either. My intention in creating this website was never to have complete and total agreement with every word posted here.
The litmus test for content on this website was never complete and total agreement with my views and is not the case now. My goals are to promote freedom and transparency in government. Those are the reasons why I started this website and why I continue publishing on this website. Those are also the reasons that I ran for office and what I hope to achieve while in office.
The content here is intended to be thought provoking while promoting freedom and openness in government. Everything that is posted here should no more be viewed as my opinions than letters to the editors are viewed as being the opinions of the editors at newspapers.
As I’ve said many times before and will continue saying, let freedom ring!
Last month, Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell and Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership and Industrial Development Board (IDB) assured us that great things are in store for Blount County. Today one of the lead stories is about the increase in the number of free and reduced lunches that children are receiving in the local government schools.
This while the taxpayers saw a 22% increase in the local option sales tax in 2014 and a 16% increase in the property tax in 2015 (FY16).
Mitchell and the Finance Directors statement’s about the financial health of Blount County haven’t exactly been on target. Here is a January 2, 2014 email where the Finance Director assures the commissioners that “Blount County is on sound financial footing.”
A year and half later, the citizens of Blount County got a huge property tax increase a year after a 22% increase in the local option sales tax.
From: Randy Vineyard
Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2014 6:08 PM
To: Pat James
Subject: Fiscal year ended June 30, 2013 highlights
The Mayor asked that I provide some commentary on the recent correspondence you received from the State Comptroller’s Office.
The State Comptroller’s Office completed the annual audit of last fiscal year’s financial activities. The audit report has been posted on the Blount County website for public review.
First, the County has received an unqualified opinion which is always our goal. There were no audit findings and that too is our annual goal. There is a suggestion that the County consider creating an Audit Committee and this is a recurring suggestion over the past few years. There was no exit conference this year since there were no audit findings.
The following comments pertain only to the General County Fund 101 and the numbers are rounded for simplification purposes only.
The operating results for the year ending June 30, 2013, General County net assets increased $2.97 million. The ending Fund Balance was $13.05million with $11.4million of that being Undesignated and Unobligated.
Total General County Revenues were $44.55 million and total General County Expenditures/Transfers were $41.58 million on a final amended budget of $43.88 million. If you recall we missed the value of a penny on the tax rate and that resulted in $1.1million less in property tax revenue in Fund 101. However, that was offset by higher fee revenue collected by the various office holders and higher inmate reimbursements from the State and Federal governments.
On the appropriation side of the budget, the officeholders and department heads did an outstanding job of managing their budgets and significantly underspent their appropriations.
There will be a proposed budget amendment submitted to the Budget Committee at their meeting on January 6 to outline a plan to position the County for some matters likely to come up over the next several months.
First resolution, a recommendation to give non-recurring compensation supplement to County employees in Fund 101. This would be $1000 per full time employee and $500 per part time employee.
The total cost including benefits is approximately $539,100. Our employees contributed to the financial success the County attained last year and it is reasonable for us to show that recognition with a non-recurring increase in pay.
Second resolution, a recommendation that the Commission Designate/Obligate approximately $1.36million for Capital needs and Self Insurance funding needs. These two items are not appropriating or spending any money, but set aside and obligate for future needs. The Self Insurance needs are in the Workers Comp Fund and the General Liability Fund. Over the past few years we have not assessed premiums sufficient to cover claims experience. That has to be addressed soon to avoid an audit finding by the Comptroller’s Office. Therefore, should Commission decide to appropriate an amount less than is proposed to be designated for self-insurance purposes, it will be my recommendation that the designation be shifted to the Capital needs.
We will be providing a synopsis of the highlights of the budgeted funds to you in a few days.
I am very pleased with the results of the past fiscal year. This does not mean the upcoming FY ‘14/’15 budget will be without challenges because we are planning to use up to $3.3million in fund balance in the current budget year. This was a result of shifting 9 pennies from General County to Schools to meet the state mandated maintenance of effort (MOE).
However, this certainly gives us a better starting point and it validates the initiatives currently underway. Those being upgrading technology in our various fee offices for improved reliability and efficiency; reducing our annual variable rate debt costs on our existing long term debt; retiring two long term notes; and using common sense in spending the public’s tax dollars.
The take away is Blount County is on sound financial footing. We are making incremental improvements to make further operational progress in the future barring unforeseen circumstances. This could not have happened without the good leadership of our elected office holders.
I welcome your comments and encourage you to contact me with any questions.
Randy Vineyard, IOM
Blount County Finance Director
“And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” 2 Peter 2:3
This month I did a lot of writing on issues prior to the monthly commission meeting. If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to read those articles prior to reading this report. Alternatively, you can read those articles that are linked throughout this report.
The Commission rejected my request to move the Commission meeting to a bigger venue. A move to one of the school auditoriums would have given all people the opportunity to sit and watch the commission meeting. Instead people who arrived early were locked out of the commission room.
As a result, people in the commission room were cold and those left standing outside the meeting room were burning up. The request came after the Chairman, Jerome Moon, ordered standing citizens out of the room last month while allowing uniformed officers to line the wall.
The fix is in – Commission raises property tax rate before voting on budget
State law requires the commission to pass an appropriations resolution (annual budget) and a property tax rate resolution. In the interest of protecting the taxpayers, I tried to have the budget placed ahead of the tax rate for purposes of discussion. Putting the tax rate ahead of the budget means that the fix is in as there is no incentive to cut the budget after the property tax rate has been set.
In a poor economic environment, where the commission wants to hold the line on taxes but is handed a bloated budget from the Budget Committee recommending a tax increase, the commission could set the rate ahead of the budget and then work on the budget until it is balanced without a tax increase. That isn’t what happened though and there are still problems with setting the tax rate first.
The tax rate isn’t just one number. In past years the tax rate has fixed the levy for three funds, General County, General Purpose Schools and Debt Service. This year, after a court opinion in McMinn County, a new fund for Capital Education Projects was added. Thus, the Commission isn’t voting on just one number in the tax rate but four. How would the commission know how much to fix for each fund without discussing the budget? Debt service is straight forward but the rest require discussion. It doesn’t make sense to set the rate before knowing how much you are going to spend in each fund. Do you know any business that sets the price of the products or services before they have any idea what their expenses are?
Voting for the tax rate first and then discussing the budget allows commissioners to play political games with their constituents because some commissioners will vote no on the tax rate or abstain knowing that the increase will pass but then will vote yes on the budget which caused the increase. Voting for the budget which caused the increase has the same effect as the vote on the tax rate increase. It spends the same amount of your money and these commissioners are just as responsible as those who didn’t play games with their yes vote on the tax increase.
My motion to discuss the budget before the tax rate failed 3-18 with only Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself (Monroe) voting to discuss the budget before fixing the tax rate. The fix was in with a tax increase approved before the commission discussed the budget.
A citizen contacted me several days before the vote and told me what the tax rate would be. Another contacted me telling me that the tax rate had already been determined but I would not be included.
It came as no surprise when commissioners Rick Carver and Gary Farmer offered amendments that set the tax rate at what I had been told without explaining why that was the rate needed. Somehow those of us who weren’t included were just suppose to magically know where the reductions in increases (some call these cuts) would be made when the tax rate was voted on before the appropriations resolution, without any discussion as to why the tax rate of $2.47 was the one to go with.
Consensus and stifling of debate
There seemed to be a consensus amongst the majority of commissioners. How they would know where Rick Carver was going to amend the budget and why he felt no need to explain it to the commission or to the public why those were the changes to make is beyond me. Debate was stifled through parliamentary procedure and the only explanation given to the citizens as to why Carver’s cuts were the only ones that should be made was the comment from the Finance Director.
Commissioner Andy Allen moved to cut off debate on all amendments and the main motion moving adoption of the budget. Only four commissioners voted not to cut off debate on over $175 million of your money. Commissioners Grady Caskey, Tom Cole, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted to continue debate. The rest voted to stifle debate.
Six commissioners voted no on the tax rate and the budget
A game that some commissioners play with their constituents is voting no or abstaining on the tax rate but voting yes on the budget that requires a tax increase to pay for it. Only six commissioners voted no on both. The contradictory votes of the one who abstained and other who voted no on the tax rate but yes on the budget should be viewed for the game and hypocrisy that it is.
The six commissioner who voted no are Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe.
Conflicts of interest
Several commissioners read conflict of interest statements prior to voting on the budget. Sadly there are more who should have read statements but didn’t. Since debate on the budget was stifled through parliamentary procedure, the commission spent more time reading conflict of interest statements than it did voting on the main motion adopting the annual budget.
The public should know how difficult it can be at times to obtain information to make informed decisions. Some are quick to provide information while others are not.
During the budget process I met with the Finance Director Randy Vineyard. While I have been critical of his withholding information and not giving me a straight answer in the past, he actually was quite accommodating during the budget process. He hired a new lady, Angelie Shankle, who took my questions and got answers to me promptly. There is another lady in Accounting named Susan Gennoe who quickly works to get answers. Both of these ladies have pleasant demeanors and based on my experiences with them appear to be doing their jobs well.
Troy Logan, Finance Director for the Schools, has always given me straight answers. I met with him and he provided me with everything that I asked for.
Last year when I asked for information about the jail John Adams and Jeff French were quick to provide me with information. The budget process with the Sheriff’s Office was not a pleasant experience. Marian O’Briant, the PR person for the Sheriff’s Office attacked me multiple times, was slow to respond and told me that she was getting paid overtime to write me a short email that didn’t answer my questions. The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t need a PR person. Upper management is paid well and could answer media questions.
I never received the complete breakdown of the compensation from the Evergreen study that I asked for. The study was incomplete, inadequate and it was a hasty decision for the commission to act on the study. It was my intention to propose an alternative pay option for deputies in the Sheriff’s Office instead of using an unfinished study to base pay raises on. 15 minutes prior to the start of the Commission meeting, I was given a tiny portion of the information that I had asked for. It was not broken down into the categories necessary to propose the alternative pay option making it impossible for me to propose an alternate solution.
Employees to be paid above average wages based on unfinished study
The pay recommendations of the Evergreen study are not based on merit. Furthermore, county employees will be paid above average wages.
The story told me about the need for the study is that county officials got together and decided that they wanted to pay “competitive” wages. An economist friend of mine pointed out that many positions in government aren’t competitive because they don’t compete in a free market, with the only competition being between surrounding governments. He said that the more accurate description is that that the study would look at paying similar or better wages.
The officials looked at paying better wages that are above average. Officials didn’t look to bring wages to average based on the 50th percentile. The study was based on a pay scale of the 60th percentile of pay. That would be reasonable if Blount County had a robust economy but it doesn’t.
The ET Index shows that Blount County is the only county in the eight county region where pay has actually dropped .5% after inflation. Blount County is tied for the biggest drop in median household income at 15%, and is about $7,000 less than it was in 2000. This type of economic environment is not conducive to a big tax increase. The people of Blount County are living on substantially less and will now be forced to live on even less thanks to the big property tax increase. Office holders should have looked harder to control spending and make pay more equitable. Pay raises based on the 50th percentile or my alternative proposal that I wasn’t able to make because of the lack of information provided would have been more reasonable. Government often lacks reason in the way it approaches problems.
The Evergreen study still has the word draft stamped on it but the FY 16 budget was built around the draft which only contained 3 of the 5 chapters that will be available in the final report. No one would run a business this way if they wanted to stay in business and it is embarrassing to see the county run this way.
Fear mongering and Sheriff’s political playbook
Several people wrote me about their displeasure with the head of the library using their email addresses to solicit support for the tax increase. The fear mongering worked on some because I got a few emails telling me to support raising taxes because of the library. Overall, people saw through it and weren’t happy about the situation.
Every couple of years the Sheriff drags out his playbook and we go through the same predictable procedure of hearing about the lowest paid deputies. This tugs on heart strings causing some to be willing to support a tax increase without knowing how much of a pay gap exists within government departments and offices. The state sets minimum salaries for office holders, which are much higher than they should be but the county is compelled by law to pay those salaries.
This commission can raise the salaries above the state minimum for some office holders and it did that in FY15. The Sheriff makes about the cost of an entire deputy salary above the state minimum. He has no credibility talking about how much he cares about the deputies. Actions speak louder than words. He could have given this money to his employees but chose not to. The same is true for Tom Hatcher, Bill Dunlap and Ed Mitchell.
My motion to the cut the salaries of these elected officials failed 4-16-1. Commissioners Akard, Daly, Miller and I voted to cut their salaries. Shawn Carter abstained. The rest voted no.
Probation Services is projected to lose money in the new budget year
The political machine has bragged for several years that Probation Services makes money for the county. It’s not a lot of money but Probation has usually been revenue positive, leaving more in the general fund than was spent administer the service. However, that seems to coming to an end. The approved budget for FY 16 projects that Probation Services will actually lose about $2,200.
Notice the budgeted increase in pay for the Administrator position. More on that later.
|Fund/Cost Center||Title||FY 14||FY 15||FY 16|
Schools get a big increase in local revenue
Blount County Schools will see a huge increase in local revenue. The sales tax increase last year will result in $2 million in increased revenue. The creation of a Capital Educations Projects fund will result in about a $1.27 million increase funded by a 4 cent property tax increase. State funding for the schools will be about the same as it was last year because the school population is up only slightly.
The sales tax increase was promoted to the public to be used to fund the purchase of textbooks, technology and infrastructure improvements. The schools will getting about $1.27 million earmarked for infrastructure improvements. A recent article in the paper shows that the majority of the $2 million from the sales tax increase will go to increased compensation rather than textbooks and technology. Thus, we may hear the same old stories next year about there being no money for textbooks and computers.
I recently learned about a book keeper who has been with the schools for over 40 years. She makes less than the part time PR person employed by the schools. It was upsetting to read in the paper that the increase will be used to make a part time PR position full time. This is definitely not a priority item over textbooks and computers. I’ve asked for a breakdown of the school budget to see exactly how much is going to be spent on technology and textbooks and waiting for that response.
Several teachers voted no on giving the schools a million dollars. A motion was made to cut $1 million from the economic development budget leaving it with about $62,000 since there is little accountability to the taxpayers. Commissioners Akard, Archer, Carter, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted yes. Commissioners Cole and Farmer abstained. The rest voted yes. Commissioners Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe and Tom Stinnett, all teachers, voted no on giving the schools the money and allowing the unaccountability of this taxpayer money to continue.
The Blount Partnership is a private entity and Bryan Daniels denied my request for their budget. However, it consists of many of the same people involved with the Industrial Development Board (IDB) and the Chamber of Commerce. Apparently the IDB can go out and make promises to private business and hand the taxpayers the bill. The commission doesn’t vote on these deals/promises made to private business and we are often not even informed what type of deals/promises are made. It is absolutely wrong to allow a board to go out and promise taxpayer money to private businesses and then levy a tax on your home to pay for it. Furthermore, some of these same people are involved with the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority which is another unaccountable use of taxpayer money.
There is much more to say about the budget but I will stop here because this report is approaching a treatise.
Grant policy routinely violated
Office holders and department heads have repeatedly shown that the authority of the commission means nothing to them. The commission is expected to rubber stamp grants and not ask questions. The Chairman, Jerome Moon, tried to stop me from asking questions at the Commission meeting because I had asked questions at the Agenda meeting. After the Agenda meeting, I did some homework and came prepared with questions to ask at the Commission meeting. Apparently the Chairman doesn’t think you should actually do your job as a County Commissioner by researching matters and coming prepared with questions. What’s the point of having a meeting if you aren’t going to do your homework and come prepared to discuss the items on the agenda?
The deadline to apply for nearly every grant that the commission is asked to vote on has already passed before being brought to the commission. Explanations are never given unless I ask why. The Budget Committee never asks why the grants aren’t presented in a timely manner. When I asked Jeff French why the deadline for the grant request from the Sheriff’s Office had already passed, he told me he didn’t know. His name is listed as the reporting person. See page 48.
The grant from the Facilities Coordinator, under the Mayor, didn’t even have a grant worksheet with the request in the Budget Committee and Agenda Committee meetings. It only appeared in the Commission meeting packet after I pointed this out at the Agenda meeting.
While I was begrudgingly allowed to ask some questions about the energy efficiency grant for court house building improvements, I wasn’t able to ask everything. When my questioning revealed that the county had already received the grant, without any commission oversight, knowledge or inclusion on the matter, the Chairman asked Commissioner Farmer to amend his motion to ratify the grant rather than to approve the worksheet to apply for the grant. I had my light on to be recognized to speak to ask further questions but the Chairman turned it off. I then asked if we were only voting on the amendment. Chairman Moon shook his head yes in answer to my question. After voting on the amendment, the Chairman proceeded on to the next Agenda item when we hadn’t even voted on the main motion, just the amendment.
I still had questions about how the county would benefit from energy efficiency in replacing the windows when the grant application said it would take over 179 years for the energy cost savings to be more than the cost of the windows. See page 62 for the payback period.
RAC2 district created
The Commission voted to create what will eventually be a special new zone. The wording is tricky saying that it isn’t creating a zone but it allows for it in the future and the effect is to allow special development privileges for a handful of properties.
“This section does not amend the Zoning Map, nor zone nor rezone any land to RAC2, but only identifies limits to location for any land that may in the future be zoned RAC2.”
This request morphed into nothing more than a crony deal for an office holder to develop his land when the rest of us can’t. The matter has been the subject of discussion since 2013 in the Planning Commission. It would have been quicker and simpler to have just sent the commission the crony deal to start with since the good ole’ boys get what they wanted.
Why do we have zoning regulations when anyone who is politically connected can get them amended to do what they want? Zoning has become a tool of the politically connected to develop their land while squashing competition. Unfortunately, some “conservationists” go along with this as those it’s a good thing for our community to create laws and regulations with special favors for the politically connected few while discriminating against everyone else.
Only Commissioners Akard, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted against this crony deal. The rest took care of a political office holder while discriminating against you.
Blount County Corrections Partnership
The Corrections Partnership heard from Bob Bass of the Tennessee Corrections Institute. He previously asked to speak to the Partnership about what he does in other counties, leading me to believe that he was going to offer solutions to reduce jail overcrowding. He offered none. His presentation was on the role of the jail and did not address how to reduce the overcrowding problem.
The only person to ask any questions was me. I asked him what the TCI’s position was on keeping federal inmates when the jail is overcrowded. He said the TCI doesn’t have a position.
After the meeting, it became apparent to me after further discussion with the people from the TCI that they want the county to build a new jail pod. The inspector told me that work programs don’t work and the ILPP report didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know. Actually the jail the report told me several disturbing things about our criminal justice system that I didn’t know. It was the TCI presentation that didn’t tell me anything that I don’t already know.
A member of the community shared with me that the Sheriff didn’t get what he wanted in the jail study so he is trying to get what he wants out of the state, which is a position that the jail should be expanded. Unfortunately I am afraid that this person is right.
There are people who need to be in jail. However, I have heard from people in a variety of situations who should not be in jail. There are numerous factors to the jail overcrowding. The jail study addresses several of those factors.
One factor that would quickly reduce the number of inmates is to stop taking federal prisoners. The ILPP study that the Mayor and Sheriff don’t want to talk about in public says that we lose money on federal prisoners. The Mayor went so far as to threaten filing a frivolous lawsuit. Where is that lawsuit Mayor?
There is genuine fear in the community about speaking out about the Sheriff, the judges and the condition of the jail. People share their stories with me but won’t go public for fear of retaliation against them or their loved ones. It makes my job of advocating for meaningful reform more difficult because people won’t share their stories with the public. Couple the fear with a Sheriff who wants to expand political power with a bigger jail, and Mayor who has bowed to the Sheriff and some judges who can’t handle criticism and you have a mess.
The jail overcrowding is a multilayered problem. One big layer of the problem that can be peeled off is the optional practice of keeping federal inmates. For those of you who aren’t afraid of the Sheriff, tell him that you don’t want the county to keep federal inmates any longer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his phone number is 273-5000.
Role of government
One thing that emerged during budget discussions with the people of my district is what the role of government should be. I had several people telling me that they are tired of paying taxes for services that they don’t use. People are tired of paying for the schools, library and parks when they don’t use them. Others told me that they are tired of having to pay fees to use these three, when they are already paying taxes on them. Theselegitament points are frequently buried and not fully vetted in debate about taxes.
People complained to me about the schools always saying that they never get enough money. Others expressed to me that they aren’t happy with upper management making big salaries. Others homeschooling or sending their kids to private school feel that they shouldn’t pay taxes for public education when they pay for their kids education.
People complained to me about having to pay for the library when they don’t use it. Others told me that they love the library and would pay more taxes for it. Others said that they find the fees that the library charges to use meeting rooms ridiculous when they pay taxes for the library.
People complained to me that they are tried of paying taxes for Parks and Rec when they charges big fees for summer time activities.
These are all legitimate points worthy of discussion, not suppression and emotional, libelous branding of the people who make them. Should people pay taxes for services that they don’t use? Some County Offices are fee offices like the County Clerk’s Office and the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. They are funded by fees rather than taxes. Should services like the library and Parks and Rec be funded by fees from the people who use them, rather than taxing the homes of people who don’t use them? Some people certainly think so.
People regularly send me emails asking why the media doesn’t cover more local government issues. They also complain to me about media bias favoring the good ole’ boys.
One person commented about the paper in Knox County offering a more balanced approach to the coverage of deputy pay while the local paper ran several puff pieces in support of the Sheriff’s Office. Others have complained to me about the editorials always supporting Senators Doug Overbey, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.
The best place to address these concerns are with local media sources although I did publish some of what was sent to me here.
County Revenue Commissioners. This is an old statute still on the books that I found that could bring some transparency and accountability to a local government that lacks an Audit Committee. Newly elected Commissioners in multiple counties are trying to revive the positions since Audit Committees are optional unless the Comptroller requires one and even then an Audit Committee may do nothing. The Comptroller is talking about having it repealed since they enjoy being in charge. Tell your state elected officials that a fully functioning Audit Committee should be required or the County Revenue Commissioners law should stay.
Question for the people of Blount County
Each month I spend a great deal of time writing lengthy detailed commission reports. One of my campaign promises included writing commission reports and I will continue to keep that promise. Do you want the reports to continue to be as detailed as they are now? Or would shorter reports suffice?
Sharing Education Capital Project Funds:
A Lesson from McMinn County
In 2011, the cities of Athens and Etowah sued McMinn County because the county had put money into an education capital projects fund and used those funds for renovations and additions to county schools, and the cities believed that those funds should have been shared with their school systems. McMinn County responded that they were not obligated to share these capital project funds with the city. The trial court agreed and entered judgment for the county.
The trial court stated, “When a county makes a tax assessment for future capital outlay projects, such an assessment is not subject to proration among all LEAs in the county.” The trial court found that the relevant statute is clear and unambiguous — it requires sharing only of funds for current operation and maintenance purposes, and funds collected for future capital projects are not for current operation and maintenance.
Predictably, the cities appealed. In December 2014, the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision for the county. The cities attempted a further appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, but that Court declined to hear the case in May 2015. There can be no other appeals. The trial court’s decision is now final.
Under this case, counties in which there are multiple school systems may make appropriations to an education capital projects fund and expend that money for school capital projects without being required to share those funds with any city or special school districts in the county. These funds can only be used for capital projects.
This case only affects money appropriated and set aside for capital expenditures for education. Any money used for current operation or maintenance purposes, as well as funds borrowed for education capital expenditures, must be shared with the other school systems in the county.
To read the case, please click HERE to view a PDF.
Source: CTAS Newsletter
Dad Gone Wild has a new post about the Achievement School District (ASD) in TN directed by Teach For America (TFA) alum Chris Barbic. Remember that Chris was tagged for the position by Kevin Huffman, the former executive v.p. of public relations for TFA (and board member of PARCC of no-bid, testing contract fame) who was appointed by Achieve Inc. board member Bill Haslam. Somebody had to spend the $90 million Bill Gates grant given to Memphis to start up charter schools. The ASD was created by Jamie SCORE Woodson’s special session First To The Top bill in January 2010 at the same time the Common Core “state” Standards were being committed to (before they existed) in the fraudulent Race To The Top federal grant application that claimed unanimous support and signatures from every director of schools, school board chair and teacher union representative in the state. Shortly after passage, she quit her Senate seat to start collecting Bill Gates’ checks at TNSCORE along with Bill Frist (nearly $6M now and counting).
So, what was the ASD supposed to do? Well, frankly an impossible task – take the bottom 5% of schools academically and move them to the top 25% academically, in just five years. Okay, anyone paying attention to achievement scores knows this is not realistic and would expect some shall we say, creative accounting, was involved if this proved to be true. Well, Chris and Co. have already done some of that, creating a new “school” out of thin air when reporting scores to report year-over-year “improvement” that was at best an apples-to-oranges comparison. Now that the 5-year goal deadline is approaching, the Gates money is running thin, well something has to give to keep the dream alive:
From the post,
“We could say tomorrow we are changing the goal. The only blowback we would probably get is from you guys (media). But there is nothing stopping us. I could wake up tomorrow and decide I want to do something different.”
Wow. If we were making porn movies, that would be what they call the money shot. The hubris is appalling. I guess he forgot that part about kid’s lives being at stake. Hey, when you’re building a franchise, it’s hard to keep track of the players. It’s interesting that this line appeared in the original story in the Commercial Appeal but by mid-afternoon the next day it and two other paragraphs had oddly disappeared only to be replaced by more flattering paragraphs like below,”
Then remind yourself of how many years the Tennessee Virtual Academy was allowed to exist before being shut down by the state amidst enrollment caps instituted by Achieve Inc. board member Haslam, while parents with a choice still wanted to escape there with their children.