News Briefs:

Referendums, budget red ink topics at commission meeting

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

The resolutions to support two state referendums banning gay marriage and giving counties the right to freeze senior citizens' property taxes passed without much fanfare at the Blount County Commission Oct. 19. It was discussion over county departmental red ink and the Board of Zoning Appeals that held much of the commissioner’s attention during the
three hour meeting.

Jim Folts of Blount County addressed the commission regarding a study he and others completed on Oct. 13 that showed many of the county’s departments were running in the red for the year. According to his documentation, the county is $1.4 million over budget in just the first 15 weeks of the fiscal year. If the county continues to spend at the current rates, it will have a deficit of nearly $5 million by the end of the year. The county will be out of money by May, he said.

Following the meeting, Blount County finance director Dave Bennett said Folts figures were accurate and if a county department failed to make appropriate cuts to get on budget, the county government had the authority to intervene.
"If they spend all of their money in six months, we’ll close them down," he said. "By law, we’ve got to make sure they’re got enough money to last the year. We’ll tell them to cut back, or we’ll do it for them."

Bennett said if a department appears in trouble, the county will issue a warning to that department a couple of months in advance. Each county department’s budget is reviewed monthly. It’s not ever happened that the county has had to take over a department, he said.

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham spoke regarding the status of the animal shelter issue. The Maryville Animal Shelter
run by the Maryville Police Department sees 3,000 animals a year and more than 70 percent of those animals are from the county. Because the city wanted the county to double the more than $138,000 it gives annually for animal control, the county was looking for a more cost-effective way to deal with animal control. Cunningham said the county could buy equipment from the city after the county backs out of its current agreement and hire two city employees who would lose their jobs when the county money stopped coming. The county’s operation would then operate much as the City of Alcoa’s does.

With each animal having three days to be adopted or put down, the shelter would charge $5 a day with a $9 entry fee. The cost for each animal would come to $24 each, Cunningham said.

The mayor agreed to return to the commission at next month’s meeting to share more cost figures regarding the idea for handling animal control.

Commissioners spoke for several minutes regarding the lawsuit filed by Cornerstone of Recovery, Inc., against the county. The issue at hand concerns the Lakeview Estates subdivision, where Cornerstone purchased houses for transitional clients.

Among the issues discussed was whether the BZA went against the former county attorney’s advice concerning houses the center bought for clients to live in at the Lakeview Estates subdivision. The facility contended that the BZA violated the civil rights of their clients in barring houses for them in the subdivision.

Commissioner David Graham said the BZA did the right thing in working against Cornerstone. "Sometimes you have to take up a cause, even if you’re an underdog," he said. "These people (Lakeview Estates’ residents) paid property taxes for 43 years, and someone was encroaching on them."

Commissioner Bob Proffitt said the Lakeview Estates’ residents hadn’t been served well. Kenneth Melton said the subdivision was in his district, and he felt Cornerstone was doing business in a residential area not zoned for business.

"These people came in their subdivision, bought these houses, put people in them, and I think that’s a business," he said. "They’re doing it for a profit."

Commissioner Scott Helton asked what action the commission could take to prevent a similar situation in the future. "Do we need to change the zoning so they can’t do this anymore?" he asked.

The commissioners voted to meet at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday in November to further discuss the role of the BZA, a board of volunteers who hear zoning appeals.

Trick or Cans planned for Halloween
Teens from across Blount County will be knocking on doors Halloween night, but they won’t be asking for candy, just cans. This year is the ninth annual Trick-or-Can event to help the Blount Connection Food Bank.

Coordinating the program designed to help the food bank make it until donations increase near Thanksgiving are 18-year-old Maryville High School senior Jennifer McAmis, her brother Scott McAmis and Camille Crumpton, a junior.

According to Jennifer McAmis, Blair and Jessica Seymour at New Providence Presbyterian Church started Trick or Cans in 1997 and New Providence members have always been in a leadership role, even as the effort has become more of a community-wide project involving students from middle and high schools throughout Blount County as well as Maryville.

"I think they just wanted to find something for people to do on Halloween and not get in trouble," Jennifer McAmis said. "You’re too old to trick-or-treat and the helping people part is a really big plus."

Jennifer McAmis said she was in middle school when it began and didn’t participate the first year. She then learned that more than 5,000 cans were collected that first year. "It has kept growing," she said. "We have students from every high school."

Jennifer McAmis said the job of coordinators starts at the end of August. They find the sponsors for the T-shirts and truck and all the expenses connected with the project. They also find the people who take on leadership roles and become responsible for whole neighborhoods. The recruited leaders count the number of houses and recruit other individuals to help in the effort. "A lot of our job is delegating," Jennifer McAmis said. "They put out fliers in mail, and their friends go collect, and we count the cans."

While the Halloween collections usually begin at 6 p.m. on Oct. 31, the effort kicks off long before then. "We’re counting until 10 p.m., but it’s a lot of fun," she said.

The volunteers bring the cans to the junction point for the effort at New Providence Presbyterian Church on West Broadway Avenue. The atmosphere is usually light as everyone is having a fun time, Jennifer McAmis said.
According to Jennifer McAmis, 260 students in grades 7 though 12 have signed up to help.

"It’s a blast! People try to come up with costumes around their T-shirts. We’ve had people dress up as traffic lights, people wear crazy things on their T-shirts," she said. For donors who plan to be away from home, they can leave their canned goods in a bag at their front door. For information, email : trickorcans@gmail.com.

ETHRA looking for landlords and safe housing
East Tennessee Human Resource Agency is searching for landlords and property managers interested in participating in the Housing Choice Voucher program.

According to a press release, ETHRA is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program helps more than 700 families in 16 counties obtain safe, decent housing at an affordable price.

Homes must be inspected and meet HUD's Housing Quality Standards. Rental subsidy is based on family income and paid directly to the landlord. For more information, please contact Lisa Condrey or Steve Bandy at 865-691-2551.

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