“Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t, they got worse.” Will Rogers
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.
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.
$1,272,000 loan to the schools
The commission, through the Agenda Committee, actually rejected a spending request from the schools in February. This month the schools requested this money, for tennis courts renovations, once again along with more money for 3 additional capital projects. The commission was asked to approve capital outlay notes that would be funded by using monies from debt service that will be loaned to the schools. The county should be using the debt service fund to pay down debt rather than loaning it to be paid back at 2% interest. Furthermore, the county has to pay a financial advisor and bond counsel to loan money to itself. The better option would be to increase the amount of property tax going to the schools capital fund rather than a complicated loan transaction with fees and 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.
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.
The commission will look at hiring an architectural firm to renovate and/or expand the jail.
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:
From: Angelie Shankle <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 3:24 PM
Subject: Fwd: Budget Questions
To: Randolph Vineyard <email@example.com>
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
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 increase for 400 jobs?
When will the rule of law be applied equally to all businesses rather than tax breaks and incentives for the special few?
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
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.
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.
Do you think your tax money should be spent to fund an association that supports/endorses raises taxes and fees on you?
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
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?
University of Tennessee, County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) gets $28,250 a month from the gas tax. See page 9 of this Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasure report.
For more on the assistance and service provided by CTAS, read the March 2017 Commission Report.
Should this money be diverted from the roads?
by Horatio Bunce
Silly peasant taxpayers….don’t you know that party comes before principles? Especially when your precious party has a super-duper majority. It would really be embarrassing if your party didn’t “win”.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams of Cookeville with his finger in the wind regarding Haslam’s Gasolinazo:
Williams did not announce the results of the straw poll, and said that the goal is to make sure members don’t have a (sic) to make a politically difficult vote on a bill that might not pass.
“If we know that the bill is having trouble, it’s my job as the caucus chair to make sure you don’t vote on something that will fail,” he said. (bolded for emphasis)
by Horatio Bunce
State Representative Susan Lynn has an email newsletter called the Weekly Wrap. She has recently taken time off from selling Gov. Haslam’s re-branding of Common Core in Tennessee to selling Gov. Haslam’s massive fuel tax increases called the IMPROVE Act, while ignoring the $2 BILLION surplus in over-taxation the state is currently burdened with. Rep. Lynn engages in some….interesting….mathematics in justifying Haslam’s fuel tax increase to declare it “pocketbook neutral”. Meanwhile the Transportation Department is, like the Common Core tactic that worked so well, simply renaming the massive tax increase measure the “Tax Cut Act of 2017“.
As Rep. Lynn insults our intelligence to a slightly lesser degree than “Boss” Doss, I’ll give her a pass as she is from The North™ and possibly thinks us dumb hillbillies would actually use Common Core Math. Since she asked, here’s my calculation on the “Tax Cut Act of 2017”. From her Weekly Wrap:
“Improve Act Close to Floor Vote
The House is close to voting on the Improve Act – I want to know what you think. Please email me to let me know.
“The Improve Act is revenue neutral and now pocketbook neutral for most people. It will lower the sales tax on food a full percent or $1 for each $100 you spend at the store. It will also lower the Hall Income tax and the Franchise and Excise Tax on factories. It will raise the gas 6 cents or if you have a 15 gallon tank – or .90 cents a fill up. If you don’t drive a gas vehicle, it will raise the a (sic) diesel tax and impose a $100 annual registration fee for an electric vehicle.”
So as long as gas prices do not increase and you spend 3:1 food vs. fuel, then it is “pocket book neutral” as long as “most people” maintain this ratio of course. I think “most” still means more than 50% even in Common Core Mathspeak. Of course, if you are buying diesel and need 15 gallons, it will cost an additional $0.12/gallon or $1.80. Oops, there went that pocketbook thingy. I guess I need to buy another $90 in groceries so I can “save” $0.90 to keep your fuel tax increase “neutral”?
But who cares about diesel anyway? What? Oh. The truck drivers. You mean the ones that deliver just about everything you buy at the mega-lo-mart, corporate welfare queens Amazon and FedEx……and the grocery? Yeah, those diesel trucks. Gee, I wonder what that 71% increase in the diesel fuel tax will do to that $100 grocery bill you used to have? Hint: they generally have larger than 15-gallon fuel tanks and lower fuel mileage than your personal car. What will the additional 33% increase in the gasoline tax mean for your grocery budget? I am wondering if the “leadership” Republicans are really this short-sighted or if they are only counting on you being easily fooled?
Conveniently left out of the discussion are the huge cuts to the Hall Income Tax ($102.1M) and cuts to Franchise Taxes ($122.3M), which when combined with the forecast reduction in sales tax on food give a total cut of $279.2M. In other words, the proposed $1 savings on your groceries sales tax only amounts to 19.6% of the “cuts” that we have to pass massive fuel tax increases to make “revenue neutral”.
Then we move on to use of the term “user fees” instead of that bad word “taxes” and explain that “user fees” should be paid by those using the roads, but then despite her photo at the top of the newsletter with “No Socialism” prominently displayed, we are taught that Some Socialism is acceptable when it comes to taxes (or they are not good Republican principles – kind of hard to tell which):
“Why lower some taxes while raising other taxes? Government uses fund accounting. Some taxes go into the General Fund and other taxes go into the Highway Fund. The taxes in the Highway Fund are all user fees – so if you drive – you pay for the roads, and you pay for them in proportion to how much you use them.
Paying for government by use of user fees is a good Republican principle. Much of government is not user fees but subsidized through the General Fund taxes because some things cannot be paid for by use of user fees. For instance, K – 12 education – most families could never pay all of what it costs to educate their children. TennCare too is a subsidy to the recipient – because the poor cannot pay for their care. Higher education is part user fee and part subsidized – students pay tuition (user fee) but they pay less than half of what their education actually costs – the tax payers through the General Fund subsidize the rest, and they also subsidize the buildings and maintenance for the buildings.”
Wow, for a second there, I thought a sacred cow was getting slaughtered. No, I guess not everyone can afford $10,000 each for their 1.8 kids to go to “free” government school when the average household income is less than $50k and 25% or more of us qualify for food stamps. But maybe we could figure out how multiple private schools provide an education for 40% less, rather than using the super-inflated “free” schools’ price to justify another tax increase. Here’s a little food for thought. Let’s say the “free” schools could cut only half the difference in price to a mere $8000/student/year : $2000 * 1,000,000 public school students = $2,000,000,000 EVERY YEAR.
And the higher education language…students pay less than half of what education costs. Gee, after 13 YEARS (plus any pre-K) of “free” education why should they start paying for it at all? This is more divide-the-people obfuscation since of course everyone paying for tuition (or not) is a taxpayer paying for higher education (and their 20% inflation rates). Even when the students graduate, they pay taxes the rest of their lives in Tennessee. Now that community college is “free”, just wait to see how much it costs!
“So the Governor hopes to lower several taxes in the General Fund thus eliminating the surplus and effectively shifting the surplus to the Highway Fund by raising the user fee taxes. The plan is for all of this reduction and shifting to be as revenue neutral as possible to as many tax payers as possible.
Truly, every person and family will have their own calculous (sic). So please, take out a pencil and paper and do your own math.”
After justifying this massive fuel tax increase with people buying $100 in groceries and not being able to afford public school costs, the lion’s share of the tax breaks are the Hall Income Tax and Franchise Tax folk. Is that really helping “most people” or “as many tax payers as possible”? Because the rest of you dupes will be paying more for your fuel AND more for the same groceries, which means….your grocery sales tax cut is ALSO REVENUE NEUTRAL.
STOP WITH THE LIES ALREADY! IT’S A TAX INCREASE ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT!
I’m attaching 3 reports and the explanations are listed below. This week the legislative process peaked out and has started to slow down.
Report “A” shows 11 bills in C&R that have not been put on notice, 70 bills on the move next week and 1 Senate bill scheduled for C&R 4/20/17.
Report “B” shows 46 bills have passed, 10 bills have failed and 8 bills have been withdrawn.
Report “C” shows 52 Senate bills have been placed in General Sub, 28 House bills have been take off notice, 5 bills have been deferred until next year, 7 House bills have been placed behind the budget, 3 House bills are waiting for a special committee, 4 bills have been recommended for summer study and 1 house bill has been set for the last calendar for Finance sub..
The bills that are in General Sub could be put on notice any day and the House bills that are off notice can be put on notice any day except the bills assigned to committees that have been shut down.
Thanks and have a great weekend,
This legislation would make it harder on local government employees, their friends and relatives, sitting on the Blount County Commission to raise your property tax rate. This could offer some protection to taxpayers who are plagued with numerous conflicts of interest in local government. The legislature should prohibit county employees and their relatives from holding office.
Here is the list of Tennessee legislators who signed the Americans for Tax Reform State pledge. Some of these legislators have indicated that they support the gas tax increase. They need to remember their pledge to the taxpayers of the state of Tennessee.
Tennessee State House
State House District: 1 Jon Lundberg (now a State Senator)
State House District: 7 Matthew Hill
State House District: 11 Jeremy Faison
State House District: 16 Bill Dunn
State House District: 19 Harry Brooks
State House District: 22 Dan Howell
State House District: 24 Kevin Brooks
State House District: 36 Dennis Powers
State House District: 38 Kelly Keisling
State House District: 40 Terri Lynn Weaver
State House District: 45 Courtney Rogers
State House District: 49 Mike Sparks
State House District: 56 Beth Harwell
State House District: 57 Susan Lynn
State House District: 61 Charles Sargent
State House District: 63 Glen Casada
State House District: 66 Joshua Evans
State House District: 68 Curtis Johnson
State House District: 71 David Byrd
State House District: 72 Steve McDaniel
State House District: 89 Roger Kane
State House District: 96 Steve McManus
Search results URL: http://www.atr.org/pledge-database?sort=&order=&office=11&state=TN&district_number=&name=&incumbent=0
Tennessee State Senate
State Senate District: 1 Steve Southerland
State Senate District: 5 Randy McNally
State Senate District: 13 Bill Ketron
State Senate District: 14 Jim Tracy
State Senate District: 16 Janice Bowling
State Senate District: 17 Mae Beavers
State Senate District: 22 Mark E Green
State Senate District: 23 Jack Johnson
State Senate District: 24 John Stevens
State Senate District: 26 Dolores Gresham
State Senate District: 27 Ed Jackson
The agenda was light this month. The same Budget Committee members were reappointed for another year. Members include Commissioner Mike Caylor, Sharon Hannum, Commissioner Mike Lewis, Mayor Ed Mitchell and Commissioner Jerome Moon. These are the same people who presented a “balanced” budget to the commission by upping the revenue projections for housing state inmates rather than reducing spending. The current budget is funded with a property tax rate that is 16% higher than it was two years ago and a local option sales tax that that is 22% higher than it was 2 years ago.
The commission got its first official meeting experience with the new IT system. The old system was much simpler to use. We’re told this will make it easier for the county to do business in the long run.
Information Technology (IT) Committee meeting
The IT Committee meeting was canceled. I still haven’t received the IT timeline that I asked for many months back.
The mayor has called a commission meeting to be held in the training room of the Highway Department at the Operations Center on February 6th at noon. The Highway Superintendent is requesting approval to spend $800,000 of fund balance for an “Emergency Purchase” of 4 equipment floats and 8 dump trucks.
The jail evaluations will meet in the commission room on February 23rd at 8:30 AM to interview the 3 architectural firms that were chosen based on scoring of written qualifications. These written qualifications and scores are currently secret due to a change in Tennessee purchasing law last year. The public will still not be able to comment on the firms. Purchasing Agent Katie Branham wrote of the interviews, “They are open to the public for observation only.”