With early voting only a day away, 17 candidates for Maryville, Alcoa and Louisville city councils and school boards got to meet the public at a candidates forum Tuesday morning at the Blount County Chamber of Commerce. The mood was light and most of the questions familiar as the candidates addressed their commitment to smart growth, keeping the priority on schools and transportation. The audience followed with questions along the same line.
Questions and comments included concern over loss of revenue for the cities if and when the streamlined sales tax goes into effect. The multi-state tax is designed to capture revenue from Internet sales, but the change to a destination-based collection rather than origination, which could hurt some cities. State Rep. Doug Overbey said the streamlined sales tax is scheduled to go on line in July of 2007. The multi-state sales tax plan would collect sales taxes based on where merchandise was delivered versus where it is purchased. Overbey said he believed the bill, when passed, will have a "hold harmless clause to ensure local governments wont lose revenue.
Education was also a topic for the candidates and the audience, with George Lane asking about consolidation of the city school systems and stating that he believed a consolidated system would be a cost-saver. More silence than comment followed Lanes questions and observations.
"I see no reason to have duplicate systems," Lane said.
Mickey McClurg with the Alcoa School Board said there had been nothing done. "I hear what youre saying. I dont necessarily agree."
McClurg said Lane could speak with the officials in the Knox County system and find that a consolidated system isnt necessarily less expensive to run. "I think we need to get back to smaller schools," McClurg said. "Should we put our kids in such large classrooms and schools? Its not fair."
Overbey said he wanted to be at the forefront of ensuring that neither a new educational funding formula nor the stream lined sales tax hurts constituents in his district.
Hunt said one of the most important challenges for city council will be to ensure that that they plan to generate whatever loss of revenue is created by the new educational funding formula or the streamlined sales tax.
Joe Gallagher asked if there was an ideal growth rate for the city
in light of its funding responsibilities to schools. Incumbent
Maryville City Councilman Ron Ivens said 2 percent is probably the
average growth for the past few years for Maryville.
"We know how important our schools are," Ivens said. "Over the past 10 years, it cost $1.6 million a year in increases (for our schools). Over the past 10 years we have not gone to taxpayers. We have worked and broadened the tax base and this has offset the cost of the system," he said. "We must have growth. Growth is truly making life a lot better for the citizens."
Maryville City Council candidate Andy White said growth is something residents hear a lot about in Maryville. White said he grew up in Athens, about 40 miles south of Maryville.
"If you talk to people there, they want growth, theyre begging for it, but theyre not doing anything to get it," he said. "People think they want to live in a community without growth, but you dont. If you dont have growth, you dont have progress and taxes go up to pay for services. You have to have smart growth."
Adriel McCord asked about spurring growth on the East side of town versus all the growth occurring now on the West side. Hunt said that part of what will drive development in that area is the Pellissippi Parkway interchange with Old Knoxville Highway. He also said the new research and development park planned for that area will bring upper end technology jobs. "Youll see that kind of development," he said.
White said that another factor in East side development would be "if and when" the Pellissippi Parkway is extended to East Lamar Alexander Parkway. "It will be a naturally occurring thing with the growth toward that area," he said.
Tipton said the research and development park will create a retail atmosphere similar to what is seen at the Turkey Creek shopping center community in West Knoxville. While East Maryville has been slow to grow, much of the reason for that is tied to complications with traffic, he said.
Maryville Council candidate and city planning commission member Fred Metz then mentioned that the state may soon start working on the roundabout planned for the Five Points intersection on East Broadway Avenue in East Maryville. The intersection has long been a sore point because of its complicated nature.
City council candidate Grant Cash echoed the concerns of the other candidates, telling the audience that he was committed to growth, but it had to be smart growth. "I believe our education system has to be our top priority," he told the crowd.
Other candidates at the forum included Alcoa mayor Don Mull, Alcoa
school board members Julie Rochelle and Mickey McClurg, Maryville City
School Board candidates Christi Sayles, and incumbent McAmis and
Overbey, all unopposed. In contested Louisville races, Mayor Geraldine
Anderson and challenger Lynn Roberts were on hand, as were incumbent
Gourmley and challengers Mark Thurston and Rob Tingle.