People are asking where we can cut the budget. The story in todays paper about the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority (SMTDA) is a great example of waste.
The SMTDA is spending taxpayer money, that it received from the hotel/motel tax, for a slogan. The Lets be Blount slogan is waste just like the recent Tennessee logo. In less than 10 seconds, I came up with a headline for this post. Let’s be Blount: your taxpayer money is being wasted.
Taxpayer money shouldn’t be wasted on these types of projects.
Citizens tried to stop the commission from creating a bureaucracy where there would be no accountability to the commission other than to abolish the authority. Our pleas fell on deaf ears.
The commission was sold on the idea by being told that creating the authority would take a million dollars of debt off the county books by transferring it to the SMTDA. I remember Commissioner Gordon Wright telling me that. According to the paper the debt was actually $1.3 million. Think about the insanity of that reason for a moment. The projected budget, funded by the hotel/motel tax, is around $1.5 million. With that budget, the $1.3 million could have been paid off in one year and still have money left over.
The Heritage Center gets to double dip by getting money directly from the county and indirectly from the hotel/motel tax given to the SMTDA. It wasn’t that long ago that the SMTDA talked about training gas station attendants with tourism related matters. More waste.
As a kid I can remember watching government funded ads on tv promoting tourism. I have never visited any place because of some cheesy ad or slogan promoted by the government.
Let the free market work. Business people are smart enough to promote their businesses without the government doing it for them.
The June Agenda Committee meeting showed that there is very much a good ole’ boy network in Blount County and that the authority of the commission means little to them.
The commission is being asked to approve funding for energy efficient renovations partially paid for by a TDEC grant and the rest being paid for with local tax dollars. There was no grant worksheet included with the request in the Budget Committee packet (see pages 25-40) or the Agenda Committee packet (Item G3b pages 102-117). After pointing this out at the Agenda Committee meeting, lo and behold the grant worksheet appeared the Commission meeting packet (see page 49).
Notice that the grant worksheet says that the application deadline is January 30, 2015. Page 51 shows an invoice of $3,000 for a contract fee and page 52 says it’s for a Program Grant Application. There is no date on the grant worksheet showing when the form was completed. How convenient.
This grant isn’t the only grant request that the commission is being asked to approve after the deadline has passed. Item F3a (page 48), a SWAT team/unit grant, shows a deadline of May 13, 2015.
After the Grant Worksheet has been reviewed, it will be forwarded to the Budget Committee. If the grant will require any type of county funding after it is awarded or in the future, it will go to the Budget Committee for approval. If it does not require any county funding, it will go to the Budget Committee as information only.
Once the grant worksheet has been approved, the department can apply for the grant. In some situations, there may be a need for approval of the grant application before the Budget Committee meets. In these cases, the Finance Director and/or Mayor may approve the application and the Budget Committee will be notified at the next meeting.
The commission was not asked to approve the grant worksheet in January or February. If the Finance Director and/or Mayor approved the application, they failed to notify the Budget Committee at its next meeting. The lack of respect for the commission is glaring.
The situation gets even worse. Denny Garner, the Facilities Coordinator for the Blount County Maintenance Department, told the commission that the grant originated out of his department. Look on pages 52, 54 and 55 and you will see that Denny Garner wears two hats in Blount County government. Denny Garner is also the fleet manager in the Sheriff’s Office. Garner started in his role of Facilities Coordinator last year when the previous coordinator retired.
A look at the payroll shows Garner’s salary as Fleet Manger to be $38,035. He received a $1,000 bonus last year and $6,253.58 in overtime last year. His annual salary as Facilities Coordinator is also $38,035. If Garner gets the same amount of overtime as last year, he will make over $80,000 wearing two hats in Blount County government.
Being a crony who can double dip the taxpayers obviously pays well. Throw in a race track and he could triple dip.
At the end of the meeting, Director of General Services Don Stallions defended Garner’s double dipping by saying that he was doing a good job and that he is making less than the previous Facilities Coordinator. The county employees clapped for Stallions.
Here’s what the employees should consider before clapping for a man who hasn’t exactly been the taxpayers best friend.
1) Do you think it’s fair that someone managing the Sheriff’s fleet should make a base salary that is over $9,000 more than the base salary for starting patrol officers and over $10,000 more than the base salary for correctional officers?
2) Did you get $6,253.58 in overtime last year?
3) If the county can pay the current Facilities Coordinator less than the previous one, were we over paying the last one?
4) Gary Farmer makes $66,783 to perform similar duties for the Blount County Schools. Is he being overpaid? Do you think it’s fair for him to make 2.3 times more than a starting patrol officer and 2.4 times what a correctional officer is making?
5) Denny Garner is on track, if he gets the same amount of overtime pay, to make nearly 3 times the current base salary of a correctional officer.
6) Don Stallions was the HR Director when the county health care fund began losing vast sums of money yet he says he didn’t know about it. His salary last year to lead the health care fund into quick sand was $67,000. Like Farmer, he made 2.3 times patrol officers and 2.4 times correctional officers.
Instead of clapping for someone who may make nearly triple what you currently make and being upset at the person who questions why this is happening, you may want to ask your boss why their cronies make so much than you do. It certainly isn’t merit based.
Debt Per Capita
I apologize for the delay. I requested this information directly from Evergreen. Responses are listed below in red. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government
What does page 19 of the pdf that you sent mean when it says parity option? Is that the tenure plan of 25 years, that will have 25 steps/incremental pay increases? No, this is simply a method of placing these (sworn deputies) current employees’ salaries into the structure based on years with the County. The number of years (25) was utilized as an approximate, average career length of employees. Are you aware of any other agency that had this many steps to it’s pay structure? This is a method of implementation, and is not associated with/based on a step plan.
For move to market employees, that doesn’t seem to give much flexibility. The orange block indicates that the each employee will be brought to a specific percentage rather than having the flexibility to give more to good employees and less to underperforming employees. Am I reading that correctly? Yes, Evergreen Solutions does not recommend any method of implementation that is based on performance. An equitable method cannot be calculated using this factor as the County does not have performance evaluation ratings for all employees for a period of years. We do not recommend making (any) study related pay adjustments based on performance. Going forward, as a method of pay progression, if the County adopts the developed compensation philosophy which associates performance with pay adjustments, it will have the flexibility to adjust individual salaries based on this factor.
Is there flexibility in the move to market that isn’t fixed to those percentages? The percentages are calculated based on salary position relative to the midpoint. The amount of adjustment based on the position of the salary could be altered, though we do not recommend this as it would not change the cost significantly. Also, can you send me the stats of what it would cost to just give pay raises to people making less than $35,000? I’d like to see those numbers in move to minimum and the move to market numbers. For those employees currently making less than $35,000, the approximate, annualized salary cost to bring those employee salaries to the new minimums would be $915,881, and the approximate, annualized salary cost for these employees in the move to market option would be $1,343,101.
Myth Buster 2
Assertion by the political machine: The State sets office holders salaries
Fact: This is partially true. The state does set minimum salaries for office holders. You can view those salaries here. However, state law allows the commission to increase the salaries of some elected officials.
The Circuit Court Clerk can be given a 10% pay increase above the state minimum. Tom Hatcher made a pay increase request for the current budget year and was given the increase. Under state law, the Highway Superintendent, Sheriff and Mayor automatically get a pay increase when the Circuit Court Clerk is given the increase. Read the notes for more details.
The Sheriff may be given additional compensation for serving as workhouse superintendent, which the Sheriff has been receiving for several years. This means that Mayor will also get more because the Sheriff gets more, per state law.
|Office Holder||State Minimum||Current Pay|
|Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher||$81,153||$89,269|
|Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap||$89,269||$98,197|
|Sheriff James Berrong||$89,269||$117,835|
|Mayor Ed Mitchell||$93,732||$123,727|
The Mayor is making nearly $30,000 more than the state minimum. The Sheriff is making $28,566 more than the state minimum. We keep hearing about deputies making around $28,600 and correctional officers making around $27,600. It’s interesting the Sheriff’s pay above the state minimum is around the cost of pay for a deputy. The Sheriff could forego the additional pay and hire a new deputy or give 28 deputies a $1,000 pay raise with the amount that he is getting above the statement minimum, while still making about 3 times what his deputies and correctional officers are making.
The cost to the taxpayers above the state minimum is $75,605 for these salary supplements. The commission can and should cut these salaries to the state minimum. The officers will still make far more than most of their employees and the citizen taxpayers.
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
An Open Letter to Blount County Employees
There seems that a large number of Blount County Employees, particular Sheriff’s employees expressing frustration about the taxpaying citizens who are opposing the 22% increase in property taxes. Let’s acknowledge that emotions are flying high and that we need a rational dialogue to satisfy both our county government employees and the citizen taxpayers.
Politicians will say and promise anything to anyone to stay in power; and one of their favorite political pawns are their employees. This is especially true for our Mayor, County Commissioners, Circuit Court Clerk, Register of Deeds, Highway Superintendent and most notably our Sheriff. I want you to ask yourself honestly, “Is it possible that we are we being played by our bosses who are career politicians looking out for their own interests?”
Once the County Commission approves the budget for each department, department heads have “total control” of the spending within their departments. If you took the time to see how much your “bosses” waste the taxpayer’s money, you would be shocked and disgusted. The truth is that IF your elected officials really wanted to give you a raise, all they would have to do is stop wasting so much of the taxpayers’ money. Like magic, there is already enough money in your department budget to give you the cost of living increase in your salary.
No, your bosses would rather continue wasting hard earned tax dollars, and then chooses to use you, (his employees) as political pawns to justify burdening the taxpayer with a 22% property tax increase!
Your Department heads successfully work you up into a tizzy, getting you all upset at those citizens who are against a 22% property tax increase. Your bosses want you to equate citizens being against the property tax increase as the same thing as being “against county government employees.” And you fall for it every time; never realizing that it is your boss who is using your low pay to increase his wasteful budget.
Citizen activist Linda King has repeatedly been accused of “being against the county employees.” Don’t fall for that. You can watch her speak in favor of pay raises for the deputies.
Four years ago, Commissioner Jim Folts was the only Commissioner on the board who tried to get the other Commissioners to start properly setting aside sufficient funding the county employees promised retirement benefits. Commissioner Folts was attacked by those with the biggest salaries for trying to get the other 20 “promise anything” (commissioners / politicians) to stop wasting the county’s budget and start properly funding Blount Count’s long term retirement liability.
Sure the other 20 County Commissioners smugly sat up “pretending to care” about your retirement, but actions means more than the shallow promises of career politicians. In 10 or 20 years, when you are expecting to retire on your government pension, you shouldn’t be surprised that they did nothing to live up to the promises they were making to you, in order to get your support. The truth is, Commissioner Folts was the only true friend you had up there on the board fighting for your retirement. Your future is dependent upon more than your annual cost of living raises.
Four years later, your department heads are using you again. There are a some new commissioners like Mike Akard, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe who are trying to prepare for the County’s future (your retirement benefits) by controlling spending. Instead of blaming these fiscally responsible commissioners as being ‘against the county employees’, I ask you to rethink the situation.
The question is not whether or not you should get a pay raise. The real question is: “Is it fair to ask the citizen taxpayer to have to subsidize waste, fraud and abuse in your department heads budget, when your bosses have total discretion to streamline their budgets and give you a pay raise that ‘they say’ they want to give you?” Your bosses play you like Lucy plays Charlie Brown.
Let me ask you one last question. Do you think your bosses really care about you when they make 3-4 times what you do and gave themselves big pay raises last year while giving you nothing?
If you think they do care, consider the following: state law mandates that the Mayor Ed Mitchell be paid $93,732 but he is making $123,727. State law mandates that Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher be paid $81,153 but he is making $89,269. State law mandates that the Sheriff be paid $89,269 but he is making $117,835.
The bottom line
Your bosses always make sure to take care of themselves and their cronies but all you ever hear them talk about are the crumbs that they give you. Don’t be Charlie Brown. You the employees and the citizens who pay your salaries deserve better.
Several people have contacted me about the Library Director KC Williams sending an email in support of the tax increase, saying the library will have to cut services if the the increase isn’t approved. Here are some of the responses.
Yesterday I received a mass e-mail from the Blounty County Library Director, KC Williams. The message states the library and other departments are at risk if the tax increase isn’t approved and telling us to contact our commissioners to support the tax increase. Well I’m contacting my commissioners to tell you I DO NOT support the tax increase and I do NOT support department heads sending biased emails to the public! Have the Commissioners actually directed the department heads to contact the public and threaten them? I wonder at the legality of a government manager sending such an email. I worked for the federal government for 34 years and if a federal employee had done this, ON GOVERNMENT TIME, ON A GOVERNMENT COMPUTER, WITH GOVERNMENT LETTERHEAD, they would be fired. In Federal terms this is called the “Washington Monument” ploy. Whenever budget cuts are proposed, departments submit lists of programs that may be cut. They always pick the items that they know will garner the greatest public outcry, such as closing the Washington Monument. It’s a stupid ploy and nothing more than a scare tactic. It also assumes that the public is so ignorant and uninformed that they will fall for it. While I do enjoy the library and hope it is around for a long time, the fact is that, in our current internet world, libraries are soon to be as rare as a Blockbuster Video store. And lastly, you proposed the tax increase to pay salary increases and health insurance, when did it evolve to closing the library?
Dear KC Williams,
I can appreciate your concern over the possibility of not receiving an increase in your upcoming budget.
Please consider the impact that a tax increase will have on those of us who will have to adjust our budgets in order to pay for your operations. Perhaps you and the other Blount County administrators will step back for a moment and view the proposed tax increase from the perspective of those of us who will be forced to carry the burden. These are difficult economic times and it seems like those of you who are responsible for spending our tax dollars would sharpen your pencils and make the difficult choices necessary to control your spending and to keep within limits that protects the financial security of our neighbors.
We as citizens of Blount County depend upon you administrators and our elected commissioners to make every effort to manage our county finances more efficiently. Unfortunately we the taxpayers are often not given the respect we deserve and there is no one to stand up and advocate for our position.
With a view from the other side…
It is disappointing that our public library would act as a tool for the liberal, tax and spend career politicians lead by Ed Mitchell. YES, the library is important but what thought has been given to the military veterans, senior citizens, and an ever diminishing middle class that continues to fund a run away county government.
What do you tell those of us that already do without, proudly served our country that are now bound to such a tight fixed budget that we find ourselves in the red at the end of the month? Is there truly a belief among the majority of the County Commissioners that veterans and senior citizens of the county enjoy an excess of disposable income? How do they sleep at night?? It boggles the mind. When the demands to fund more government waste comes from these out-of-touch politicos, what do you propose seniors and veterans do with no money to give?
PLEASE , help me understand how this does not affect your heart when you continually demand money from those most unable to comply without dire consequences. How does the reality of your veterans and seniors having basic human needs denied so MORE taxes can be paid. Is it OK with you that the citizens of Blount county are growing in number destined to eat oatmeal and generic cereal 7 days a week?
The question continues to go unanswered . . . when a career politician’s home budget sees more money going out than coming in, do they have a magical outside source to get back in the black? No, I am assuming they make cuts.
Our library is worthy cause but there are undeniably places cuts can be made as with every single department in the county. Sending threatening notes as a tool for the BIG salaried, under-worked and overpaid lifetime politicians of Blount county is beneath the Blount County Library.
I’m really questioning the legality of this e-mail! D:-(
As many recent articles in the Daily Times have indicated, the Blount County mayor and certain commissioners seem to have decided that Blount County needs a property tax increase. The extra tax is needed, among other things, to make it possible to increase the pay for county employees. Before this tax increase is passed I would like for you to consider the following questions.
1. Why do the people of Blount County need to cut their spending in order pay for a tax increase so that you can increase your spending?
2. How do you suggest people living on a fixed income come up with the extra money to pay this extra tax? People who are retired or disabled certainly can’t work an extra shift at work to make up for the extra cost. What do you suggest we cut from out budget? food, prescription medication, heat and air, a doctor visit?
I would love for all of Blount County employees to receive a pay raise. Please open your eyes to the hardships that the people of this county are going through. During the economic downturn many of them lost their jobs and are now working two part time jobs just to make ends meet. Some did not lose their jobs but took pay cuts in order to keep their jobs and as of today they are not back to the pay scale that they were at before the downturn. Lots of people have not had pay raises yet you insist on robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you want to give them a raise, do what you are expecting us to do—CUT YOUR SPENDING. After all this is what you are asking us to do in order to come up with the extra to pay this tax increase.
Recently when Mayor Mitchell nominated Sharon Hannum for the financial board it was brought to his attention that her property taxes had not been paid. The mayor made the comment that she was retired and living on a fixed income and it was hard to come up with the money to pay your taxes on time. I personally have nothing against Sharon but I know she is blessed to receive a pension from her former employer. This is something a lot of people do not have. Now the mayor not only thinks we can come up with that money but thinks we can afford to pay more. A considerable amount more!
If you are going to raise our taxes, please tell the citizens of Blount County who are trying to raise their families, pay their medical insurance and buy groceries (which has increased in cost) where they get the extra to pay for the tax increase.
When you think the people of this county have recovered from its economic problems think again. Blount Memorial has just notified some of its employees that they will be outsourcing their jobs. Some of these employees have been employed with them for 25 and 30 years. They are not old enough to retire and receive social security. Their lives have been turned upside down. Where do you suggest they get the extra to money for your tax increase? I am sure they would forgo any raise just to keep their job.
DON’T INCREASE TAXES—-CUT YOUR SPENDING—-VOTES DO COUNT—LISTEN TO YOUR CONSTITUENTS!!!!!!!!!
With all the false information and statements floating around regarding the pay raises and upcoming budget vote, it’s a good time to bust a myth.
Myth Buster 1
Assertion by the political machine: Linda King and the people in “her group” are against the county employees. One author said that she never made any recommendation to that effect.
Fact: At the June 21, 2007 Blount County Commission meeting, Linda King spoke in favor of deputy pay raises and said that the people of Citizens for Blount County’s Future supported the pay raises. What she pointed out in her speech was that the Sheriff had turnback money in the budget that could have been used to give pay raises to deputies.
Some of the people in “her group” are the people that the same false statements are being made about today, namely Commissioners Karen Miller and Tona Monroe. Commissioner Mike Akard was not an active member of “her group” but the same false statements are being spread about him. These three commissioners voted against the unfinished, inadequate Evergreen Study. That doesn’t mean that they are against employee pay raises.
June 2007 could be June 2015. The story is the same. We hear about deputy pay but never hear about cuts. Turnback is only discussed if the citizens bring it up and they are branded as “naysayers” and being against the county employees for daring to mention that there be some accountability to the taxpayers. The Sheriff didn’t show much interest in his deputies when he had the money left over in his budget that could have been used to give raises.
The questions that the taxpayers should be asking are why do we not see the same routine out of other offices and departments? Why are the deputies always the ones being demagogued?
The job of the county departments head and the mayor is to ask for more money. You could give them a 100% increase in their budget request and they would come back tomorrow asking for more. That is their job as bureaucrats and I understand that. But your job as county commissioners is to stand in the gap to stop the runaway budget because of their personal agendas and excess spending and stop this foolishness because the citizens of Blount County, who are under tax payer duress anyway, cannot afford this added burden. We need you as county commissioners to grow a backbone and demand that department heads reduce their budget costs instead of just automatically granting their current requests.
Some of the proposed money brought in from a property tax increase would be to fund the short fall of the health care fund. Why are you not currently pursuing the options of making the county employees pay for more of their health care benefits or make some plan changes first before you put forth this proposal to raise taxes. You have a 1.8 million short fall year to date. What are you going to do next year when that will more than likely increase. Implement the wheel tax possibly?
My husbands insurance rates increased this year by 36% and who pays for it? He does. He doesn’t have the advantage of passing that increase onto someone else. Our sheriff has a 10.6 million dollar budget. You mean to tell me he cannot reallocate his budget to give his deputies a raise. We just passed the 22% sales tax increase last year which I thought was for education. Why do they keep coming back for more? If you make the money available they will find ways to spend it and next budget they’ll ask for more.
My family runs a fiscally responsible household and when we need to cut that’s what we do. And if you pass this property tax increase guess what we will be doing? Making more cuts. It is your job as commissioners of this county to be fiscally responsible stewards of the taxpayer’s money and right now some of you are failing miserably. I know some of you have your mind made up already, but those of you on the fence, I ask that you do the fiscally responsible thing and vote no on the property tax increase. Thank you.