Commission holds tax rate, passes a $156 million budget

The citizens of Blount County won’t see an increase in property taxes in 2009-2010 as the Blount County Commission held the tax rate at $2.23 per $100 of assessed value when they passed a $156.3 million budget on Thursday, June 18.

The budget, $156,320,171 for the year, is $6 million less than the 2008-2009 budget. It includes $75.2 million for schools; $10 million for the Blount County Sheriff’s office; $17.5 million for debt service; $7 million to the operation of the jail; $5.6 million for highway and public works; $2.1 million for public library and $1.4 million to juvenile services.

Funding for non-profits were reduced 25 percent this year as part of a four-year plan to eliminate county funding of all non-profits. Four non-profits -- the Juvenile Diversion program administered by Child and Family Tennessee, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Johnson Group Home and Blount County Boy’s Home -- had all their county funding cut with those monies being redistributed to other agencies. On a motion by commission Scott Helton, those monies were diverted to Haven House, A Secret Safe Place for Kids, Blount County Community Action Agency, Douglas Cooperative for the Disabled, Blount County Disabled Veterans and New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center.

“The question that each commissioner must ask themselves is, are you are going to send Blount County tax dollars, your constituents’ tax dollars, to the state of Tennessee for state-funded programs for out-of-county residents? Or, are we going to keep the money in Blount County for Blount County residents,” Helton said. “Charity begins at home. For this reason I’ll be voting no to this amendment (to restore the funds to the four non-profits in question). I feel Blount County tax dollars should stay in Blount County for Blount County programs.”

Kathryn O’Day, president of Child Family Tennessee, spoke during input for items on the agenda and said Child and Family Tennessee had nothing to hide. “The decision made on June 9 (at Commission work session) will hurt children and families of Blount County and ultimately the community as a whole. Without these funds, we will have to reduce services. I urge you to reconsider your decision from the June 9 meeting.”

Commissioner David Ballard made a motion to restore funds for the non-profits who lost their funding in the work session. Wendy Pitts Reeves seconded the motion.

“I am not in disagreement with the principle behind this,” Pitts Reeves said. “My concern is it happened so fast. One of the speakers said in this particular time when families are struggling more than ever, this isn’t the time to do that.”

The motion to restore the funds failed 9-11. The next vote was on the original motion to cut the funding for the non-profit organizations. It passed 13-7.

Commissioner David Graham was the only no vote on the motion to pass the 2009-201- budget, although he did vote to keep the current tax rate at $2.23 per $100 of assessed value.

In other commission action, Holden Lail made a motion to replace the ethics committee with a policy of contracting an attorney to investigate alleged ethics violations. Kenneth Melton seconded the motion. Proponents of the measure said the policy would ensure matters would be handled fairly and professionally. Opponents said using a committee of citizens would foster more openness in government. The motion to replace the ethics committee passed 12-8.

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