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Jeff Sessions Endorses Theft

By Ron Paul

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ordered the Justice Department to increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, thus once again endorsing an unconstitutional, authoritarian, and increasingly unpopular policy.

Civil asset forfeiture, which should be called civil asset theft, is the practice of seizing property believed to be involved in a crime. The government keeps the property even if it never convicts, or even charges, the owner of the property.

Police can even use civil asset theft to steal from people whose property was used in criminal activity without the owners’ knowledge. Some have even lost their homes because a renter or houseguest was dealing drugs on the premises behind the owners’ backs.

Civil asset theft is a multi-billion dollar a year moneymaker for all levels of government. Police and prosecutors receive more than their “fair share” of the loot. According to a 2016 study by the Institute for Justice, 43 states allow police and prosecutors to keep at least half of the loot they got from civil asset theft.

Obviously, this gives police an incentive to aggressively use civil asset theft, even against those who are not even tangentially involved in a crime. For example, police in Tenaha, Texas literally engaged in highway robbery — seizing cash and other items from innocent motorists — while police in Detroit once seized every car in an art institute’s parking lot. The official justification for that seizure was that the cars belonged to attendees at an event for which the institute had failed to get a liquor license.

The Tenaha police are not the only ones targeting those carrying large sums of cash. Anyone traveling with “too much” cash runs the risk of having it stolen by a police officer, since carrying large amounts of cash is treated as evidence of involvement in criminal activity.

Civil asset theft also provides an easy way for the IRS to squeeze more money from the American taxpayer. As the growing federal debt increases the pressure to increase tax collections without raising tax rates, the IRS will likely ramp up its use of civil asset forfeiture.

Growing opposition to the legalized theft called civil asset forfeiture has led 24 states to pass laws limiting its use. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out of step with this growing consensus. After all, Sessions is a cheerleader for the drug war, and civil asset theft came into common usage as a tool in the drug war.

President Trump could do the American people a favor by naming a new attorney general who opposes police state policies like the drug war and police state tactics like civil asset theft.

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2017/august/07/jeff-sessions-endorses-theft/

June 2017 Commission Report

“Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t, they got worse.”  Will Rogers

Annual Budget
Traditionally, each June, the Blount County Commission adopts an annual budget and sets the property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year (FY).  A fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30th, which is why the commission usually adopts the budget in June.  A fiscal year is denoted by the calendar year in which the fiscal year ends.  For example FY 2017 ran July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017.  Accordingly FY 2018 runs July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

The Blount County Commission approved an annual budget in June of 2016 for FY17 that was $181,267,406 (see pages 105-107).  In June of this year, the commission adopted a budget for FY18 that is $195,958,364 (see pages 534-536).

Not all of this was an actual increase.  According to the county’s Finance Director (FD), Randy Vineyard, governmental accounting standards require some expenditures to be recorded twice.  Troy Logan, the fiscal administrator for Blount County School District told me that he couldn’t think of any expenditures that were recorded twice in the school’s budget.  Upon my request, FD Vineyard provided this spread sheet outlining the use of fund balance and the monies that are being accounted for twice.

According to the numbers provided by FD Vineyard, $5,381,930 is accounted for twice.  Based on these figures, that means that the commission adopted a budget that is $9,309,028 more than what it initially approved for the previous year, when the double accounting amounts are removed.  This is a huge increase for local government that will not be sustainable in the future without either growth in tax revenues or more tax increases.

The spreadsheet shows the county using $7,087,000 of fund balances from the various funds.  Some of the increase is for nonrecurring capital expenditures.  You can read my questions and FD Vineyard’s responses related to the use of fund balances here.  Please take the time to read this as it shows that $1.1M of fund balance may be used for corporate welfare for one company.

At the Agenda Committee meeting, I asked Mayor Ed Mitchell how much this secret company would receive from local governments (City of Maryville and Blount County) and the state of Tennessee.  He only knew what the county’s contribution will be.  Thus, local elected officials walk into these types of “deals” without knowing how much public money will actually be spent.

According to FD Vineyard the county’s General Fund grew to about $15M at the end of FY16 and an estimate for the end of FY17 had not been calculated in early June.  Property tax and federal inmate revenues may have been sandbagged in FY16.  Both came in higher than projected, and you were slammed with a higher property tax rate than necessary.  Some local elected officials may feel good about having accumulated such a large General Fund, but it came about as a result of two large tax increases (sales tax and property tax) not from being good stewards with your tax dollars.

$1.85M of fund balance will be used for Information Technology (IT) updates.  This is addition to the $4.1M that has already been spent for IT improvements and huge software purchases since 2014.  This new budget brings the total to nearly $6M that has or will be spent from 2014 through the end of June in 2018.

One would think that with such large expenditures that the IT Committee would be keeping a close watch on the various IT projects but it is not.  From June 2016 through June 2017 the IT Committee only met twice and during one of those meetings it lacked a quorum.  The Mayor canceled the other two meetings that were scheduled.

Blount County taxpayers will be forced to pay $96,717 in additional salaries and benefits to four office holders beyond the state mandated minimums.  These office holders are already some of the highest paid employees in county government and have been paid nearly double or triple the average salary of a Blount County citizen.

Chromebooks lease
The commission approved a 3 year lease agreement for Chromebooks for the schools.  I voted against this because the county will be paying interest when it does not have to.  The funds are available to purchase the computers without wasting any money on interest.

Medical plan changes
The commission voted to reduce the out of pocket maximum from $4,000 to $3,000 for health care and to charge $5 for the employee only dental plan.  The dental plan for the employee only is currently free.  The cost of the dental family plan is currently the difference between the price of the premium of the employee only plan and the family plan.  The dental family plan was also increases $5 and will become the difference between the employee only premium and the family premium, plus $5.  The county will be paying $22.14 a month for employees that are enrolled in either the employee only or family dental plans. These changes will take effect January 1, 2018.  The health care plans run the calendar year, rather than the fiscal year.

Interruptions continue
Commissioner Mike Caylor continued interrupting commissioners by twice declaring a point of order.  He appears to be abusing the power to raise a point of order to stifle discussion that challenges the status quo.

Up next:
The commission will look at hiring an architectural firm to renovate and/or expand the jail.

FY18 proposed budget includes $1.1M for one secret company

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which is July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018, includes spending $1.1 million from Blount County’s General Fund balance to use to recruit one company to Blount County.  I sent a list of questions to the Director of Accounts and Budgets, commonly referred to as the Finance Director, Randy Vineyard.  His answers directly follow each question.

At the Agenda Committee meeting, I asked Mayor Ed Mitchell what the total costs in incentives will be for this one company.  He didn’t know.  It is likely that the City of Maryville and the State of Tennessee will also provide incentives.  With the county offering to spend $1.1M, this is obviously an expensive proposition.

Your elected local legislative officials are being asked to approve this without knowing the full costs to the taxpayers and with little knowledge about the company.  This is somewhat like putting the money into a blind trust and hoping that unelected bureaucrats and a few politicians in the know will make sound decisions with you money.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The commission doesn’t receive reports from the Industrial Development Board (IDB), detailing the use and results of your tax money that it receives from the county.
  • The IDB doesn’t even provide the commission with a copy of its annual budget.
  • Commissioner Jamie Daly and I were blocked for asking questions about the IDB/Blount Partnership/Chamber of Commerce/Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority.
  • The commission has been provided nothing in writing about this deal/proposal, other than to identify the use of funds as an “Economic Development Project.”
  • This $1.1M is in addition to the $1,062,200 that the IDB received this year and will receive again next year, if the FY18 budget is approved.
  • The IDB/Blount Partnership has failed to provide a copy of IDB’s open records policy, which I asked for in May.

The Pellissippi Place, AMI, and the IDB’s handling of the racetrack should give us pause before handing over any more money for corporate welfare, particularly when nearly everything about this is a secret.  It is past time for the state legislature to pass a local government uniform tax incentives act, which would eliminate the secret, special corporate handouts.

Budget Questions sent to the Director of Accounts and Budgets:

Commissioner,

See the responses below. I have copied Troy Logan on the School questions.

Randy

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Angelie Shankle <ashankle@blounttn.org>
Date: Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 3:24 PM
Subject: Fwd: Budget Questions
To: Randolph Vineyard <rvineyard@blounttn.org>

Dear Director of Accounts and Budgets,

Questions related to Fund 189

1.  How much, if any, of the $1,850,000 for IT is money that will be left over from the current budget year?  None
2.  With the budget request for the upcoming year, what will the total budgeted costs (eliminating duplication of unspent appropriations from prior years) for the IT project be? $1.85m for 17-18; $1.3m prior
3. What is the $1.1M economic development project for?  A project that hasn’t been disclosed publicly yet; payback in 2 years; creation of 1000 jobs
4.  Is this $1.1M in addition to the $1,062,200 that is current budgeted? Yes
5.  Will the economic development costs for FY be over $2M? For FY17-18?  If project comes to fruition, yes.
6.  If so, is this expected to reoccur in future years? No, not the $1.1m for the econ. dev. proj.
7.  What is the $415,000 labeled BCSO officer safety capital needs for? body cams, rifles, ballistic helmets/vests, active shooter kits, jail camera replacements-2nd phase

Questions related to use of Fund Balance and Maintenance of Effort

1.  How much of the General Fund balance will be appropriated in the proposed budget?  $3.4m
2.  What do you anticipate the General Fund balance being at the end of the current fiscal year? haven’t estimated yet, but was $15m FY15-16 year end
3.  How much of the School’s General Purpose Fund balance will be appropriated in the proposed budget? $3.1m was proposed
4.  What do you anticipate the School’s General Purpose Fund balance being at the end of the current fiscal year? Troy Logan question
5.  Does use of the School’s General Purpose Fund balance contribute to the MOE in future years, meaning will the county have to provide the same amount next year even if it does not have the fund balance to supply the same amount? Troy Logan question
6.  What is the current school MOE? Troy Logan question
7.  What will the school MOE be if the proposed FY 18 budget is adopted? Troy Logan question

Sincerely,
Tona


Angelie Shankle

Budget Manager
Blount County Courthouse
341 Court St.
Maryville, TN 37804
 

Randy

Randy Vineyard, IOM
Blount County Finance Director
341 Court Street
Maryville, TN 37804
865-273-5719 (office)
rvineyard@blounttn.org

Beacon Center Report on Blount County School District shows big administrative growth while students declined from 2004-2014

The Beacon Center created a tool to examine school spending and growth rates from 2004-2014.

According to the reported generated by the tool, the Blount County School District saw a 71% increase in administrative costs, an 11% increase in teachers and a 21% increase in administrators from 2004-2014 but the number of students dropped 0.2% during this time.

Are your tax dollars being used wisely?

For comparison during the same time period, Alcoa and Maryville School Districts both had a decrease in administrators while the rest of the data provided, including students, increased.

The debt amount in this report does not accurately reflect the full debt costs of the schools because most of the debt for the schools is paid for out of the Debt Service Fund and not the General Purpose Schools Fund.

Gas tax and vehicle registration fee increases for 400 jobs?

Gas tax and vehicle registration fee increase for 400 jobs?
http://www.brianhornback.com/?p=17226

Another secret crony deal.  http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/business/aroundregion/story/2017/may/04/finnish-tire-maker-build-360-milliplant-dayto/426231/

When will the rule of law be applied equally to all businesses rather than tax breaks and incentives for the special few?

 

Rep. Art Swann received $1,000 donation from James Haslam & voted for gas tax increase

Republican state Representative Art Swann, one of two reps. from Blount County, received a $1,000 donation from James Haslam of Pilot Oil during the 2016 election, even though Swann had no opponent.  Rep. Art Swann voted to raise the gas tax and increase vehicle registration fees.

James Haslam is a relative of oil baron, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.

Read more on state lawmakers regarding their votes on the gas tax & registration fee increases and donations from the Haslam family and JOBS4TN PAC, which is mostly funded by Bill Haslam, here: http://tennesseestar.com/2017/05/04/follow-the-money-campaign-receipts-may-shed-light-on-why-some-republicans-voted-for-the-gas-tax/

HASLAM II , JAMES
P.O. BOX 10146
KNOXVILLE , TN 37939
PETROLEUM DISTRIBUTION
PILOT OIL
Primary 08/03/2016 $1,000.00 $1,000.00

Reps. Bob Ramsey, Art Swann & Senator Doug Overbey vote to raise gas tax

Blount County’s state legislators aren’t exactly know for fiscal conservatism or advocating liberty.  They’re supporters of big government.  It’s not surprising to see Tennessee Representative Bob Ramsey, Representative Art Swann and Senator Doug Overbey vote to raise the gas tax and tag renewal fees.

The increase on a tag renewal for non-commercial vehicles is $5.  The sales tax on food will reduce by 1%.  That means that a two car family will have to spend $1,000 on groceries to break even on the new legislation.  A three car family will have to spend more than $1,500 to see any savings and that doesn’t include the gas tax increase.  The state tax on gasoline will increase 6 cents per gallon over 3 years and diesel will increase 10 cents over three years.

Pay close attention to your local officials.  All three of these men were Blount County Commissioners prior to being elected to state office.

Info on TCSA funding and support for IMPROVE act

Last week I wrote about the Tennessee County Services Association (TCSA) sending a newsletter telling local elected officials to call their legislators in support of the IMPROVE act.  This legislation increases the gas tax and raises the non-commercial vehicle registration fee $5 annually.

This organization is funded by you, the taxpayers.  Here is a copy of the meeting minutes for the meeting that the TCSA voted to support the IMPROVE act.  The TCSA website says the board endorsed the legislation.  Since the meeting minutes don’t give a roll call vote of the TCSA Board, I asked if any voted against supporting the legislation that will soon be law.  Executive Director David Connor wrote, “The board vote was a voice vote. No members voted against supporting the measure and no one asked to be recorded as a no.”  The minutes contain a listing of the members that were present and absent from the meeting.

Blount County paid $3,875 in dues to the TCSA.  The TCSA annual budget is available here.

Do you think your tax money should be spent to fund an association that supports/endorses raises taxes and fees on you?

Weekly Report from TN Co. Commissioners Association April 20, 2017

4/20/17

Members,

I am attaching1 of 3 reports and they are described below. I will be sending the other two reports in another email. The governor’s approve (should be IMPROVE) act passed Wednesday and it will insure additional transportation funding for the state and local governments.

Report “A” Shows

·       1 bill we are watching on the house floor Monday, 4/24/17 and 2 on the Senate floor the same day.

·       20 active bills next week and of those bills 3 are strongly supported and 0 are strongly opposed by TCCA

·        13 bills that have been placed behind the budget and are depending on funding by the governor’s final proposal. Of the 13 bills behind the budged 4 are strongly supported and 0 are strongly opposed by TCCA.

·       11 bills assigned to Calendar and Rules that have not been put on notice and 3 of those bills are strongly supported and 0 are strongly opposed by TCCA.

·       6 bills in the House budget sub-committee waiting on a special calendar and of those bills 1 is strongly supported and 0 are strongly opposed by TCCA.

·       57 bills that have been placed in the Senate general sub-committee and of those bills 2 are strongly supported and 4 are strongly opposed by TCCA.

·        35 bills are off notice and of those 4 are strongly supported and 1 is strongly opposed by TCCA.

Report “B” Shows

·       11 bills that have been deferred until 2018 and of those none are strongly supported or strongly opposed by TCCA

·       5 bills recommended for summer study and of those 1 is strongly supported and 0 are strongly opposed by TCCA

·       77 bills have passed and of those 9 were strongly supported and 2 were strongly opposed by TCCA. Of the 77 bills 26 have already been signed by the governor and assigned public chapter numbers.

·       12 bill have failed and of those 2 were strongly opposed by TCCA

·       8 bills have been withdrawn and none of them were strongly supported or strongly opposed by TCCA

Report “C” Shows

·       144 bills have not been put on notice by their sponsor and of those 10 are strongly supported and 5 are strongly opposed by TCCA

Thanks,

Charlie

4-20-17 Report A
4-20-17 Report B
4-20-17 Report C

Tennessee County Services Association tells local elected officials to support gas tax increase

The Tennessee County Services Association (TCSA) sends local elected officials a newsletter, called Capitol Update, while the Tennessee General Assembly is in session.  The TCSA failed to mention the purchasing secrecy legislation in the six issues that it sent to me in 2016.  When I asked TCSA Executive Director David Connor why he didn’t include bills that made an open process a secret government process he wrote, “Since it was mirroring the process used at the state, I didn’t see a problem with it.”  Two wrongs apparently make a right.

This year the TCSA has sent newsletter with a headline telling local officials to call their state lawmakers and tell them to support the gas tax increase included in the slyly named IMPROVE act.  TCSA seem more interested in telling local officials what to do rather than keeping them informed of legislation that creates local government secrecy.  Is the tail wagging the dog?