Tax and spend Budget Committee members reappointed

Discussion January 21, 2016 Blount County Commission meeting

Item D1a Budget Committee

Thank you Mr. Chairman. It’s a new year but we are starting with the same old tax and spend ways. All of the same people have been recommended for reappointment to the Budget Committee. Let’s look at the results of those Budget Committee members.

Last year the Budget Committee conducted a series of budget workshops. There were many requested increases yet there were few if any questions answered on those increases. I attended several of those meetings. There were times that you could hear a pin drop, despite massive increases. The Budget Committee waited until the last minute to make any changes to the budget and removed few of the increases.

The Budget Committee recommended one the largest property tax increases in history, possibly the largest. This came after the county received a 22% increase in the local option sales tax. To add insult to injury the Budget Committee sent to us a resolution to implement a wheel tax, a measure rejected twice by our citizenry. Only one member of the Budget Committee voted against those increases but when you vote for increased spending throughout the year it is hard to reconcile your no vote on tax increases. One member couldn’t even bring himself to vote for the wheel tax, after voting to send the recommendation to the Commission the day before. The member abstained. Do we need such uncertainty and weakness on the Budget Committee?

Did any member of the Budget Committee ever ask why the 15 Sheriff’s vehicles that were listed as being scrapped in the September 1, 2015 Budget Committee packet were taken to a recycling company that had been given a cease and desist court order two months before the check was written? Did any members ever ask why the pay to line of the check written by the company given the cease and desist order was left blank?

Grants are often presented to the Budget Committee after the deadline is passed. Did any member of the Budget Committee ever ask why a grant with a deadline of January was not presented to the Budget Committee until June? Do the members of the Budget Committee even read the dates on the paperwork before they vote?

Has any member of the Budget Committee asked why there have been so many errors made by the Finance Director and his staff? The Budget Committee should be questioning the volume of mistakes and the quality of our Finance Director who has been routinely presenting us with budget amendments to fix these errors.

The FY 16 budget was built around the recommendations of the then unfinished Evergreen Employee Classification and Compensation Study. Did any member of the Budget Committee ask to see a copy of the unfinished study during the budget hearings?

Why did no member of the Budget Committee ask any questions about an October budget increase request listing a false department name and that left the explanation for the expenditure blank? Did any member of the Budget Committee actually read the paperwork for the increase request before lumping it together with the rest of the Agenda items to rush the items through in one vote rather than taking the time to examine each request separately? Why did one of those members become agitated with me for trying to find out what those funds would be spent on? Why did no member of the Budget Committee ask this Department head why the Department was going to be over budget?

This month in our packets we finally have a letter from Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher explaining the use of computer funds paid for with court costs. The letter came at my repeated requests for more information, not because of the Budget Committee asking for more information.

Did any member ask why the federal inmates revenue projections were cut in the current budget? Did any member know about the million dollars that had been earmarked? Does any member know if there was a plan to earmark another million dollars? Has any Budget Committee member wondered whether revenues were intentionally cut so that funds could be set aside to build? When I asked the Budget Committee about the million dollar jail earmark one member leaned over and said to the Mayor, this isn’t on the agenda. One member, the Mayor, told me to book and appointment with the Finance Director. Why didn’t the Budget Committee members ask for more information, for the benefit of the public, when the Finance Director said that there was about $1.5 million in that fund?

Blount County will address some serious financial issues this year. We don’t need to start the new year by reappointing the same people who are the rubber stamps that contributed to financial issues that we will face.

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Note: The Budget Committee consists of Mayor Ed Mitchell, Commissioners Tom Cole, Mike Lewis and Jerome Moon and Sharon Hannum.  The Mayor automatically serves per state law.  He nominates the other 4 members and the commission votes to confirm the appointments.  The commission voted 12-5 to confirm the same people as last year.  Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted no.  Commissioners Tom Cole, Mike Lewis and Jerome Moon are required to abstain on their own nominations.  Commissioners Ron French was absent.  The rest voted for the same old tax and spend guard.

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