Commissioners talk debt management, TVA resolution

The Blount County commission won’t discuss any new proposed debt management guidelines at the May 21 commission meeting, waiting instead for a proposal from the county mayor’s office on new debt management policies.

In the Tuesday night commission workshop, Commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves made the motion to put discussion of debt management policies on the May 21 agenda. County mayor Jerry Cunningham and finance director Dave Bennett weren’t at the meeting but commission chair Steve Samples read a letter from them regarding the debt management and asking that commissioners wait on discussing the matter.

Reeves motion failed.

Polices regarding debt management arose around the county’s practice of using debt swaps, where the county works with a third party firm to receive lower interest fixed rates on bonds.

Finance director Dave Bennett has said the last bond swap negotiated was in December of 2005 and that this practice has saved the county millions, but that other counties across the state have gotten in trouble when they didn’t budget enough to cover those bond payments.

Samples said any new policies regarding debt management will have to go to the budget committee first and then to the full commission. The commission will be discussing the 2009-10 budget in June. “It will be coming in June anyway so I don’t know what action is necessary at this point,” Samples said.

Reeves said while she didn’t have a particular policy in mind, the subject was worthy of attention. “I’d like to have chance to discuss this,” she said.

Commissioner Ron French said he’d like to see information on the matter so as to have a month to study it.

Vice chair Gary Farmer led the meeting and said the matter regarding debt management was set to go before the budget committee in June. “Do we want to send this to the full commission or wait for information from budget committee in June? The choice is up to you,” he said.

Reeves said the new state comptroller is serious about correcting problems with how counties are managing their debt. “I have some ideas for what would be successful. I know we have people on this commission who know this inside and out. This is a golden opportunity,” she said.

Reeves said decisions about rules for how counties manage their debt will flow from the state and this is an opportunity to have input into those rules.

“These decisions are going to affect the way we can do business for a long time. I think we have an opportunity in Blount County about what we would like to see coming from the state in term of rules,” she said. “I’d to hear from some of you who know this stuff.”

Commissioners voted 14-4 against putting it on the May 21 agenda. Commissioners Joe McCulley, Monika Murrell, Reeves and Mike Walker voting yes. Commissioners David Ballard and Peggy Lambert were the only individuals not present.

In other business, Graham reminded commissioners of the drainage problem for the baseball field at Carpenters Middle School.

“We bought a piece of property that had drainage problems. We need to continue to work and have continued to try to work to solve these issues. However the baseball field has drainage problems. This past spring it was problematic,” he said.

Graham said that next school year commissioners will need to look at this again. “This needs to be taken care of. I don’t want it to be left off the agenda. We were supposed to have this solved for these folks at this school,” he said. “I don’t have anything to move to the full commission. I appreciate the education committee also putting it on their record so we know if this.”

Samples made a motion the commissioners all sponsor a resolution urging TVA to negotiate a favorable contract with Alcoa, Inc. The company is attempting to keep that shuttered smelter division at a point where, if they’re ready to open, it will be favorable to the company, he said.

“I think it would be very good if every single commissioner would sign on as a sponsor, and we sent this united resolution to TVA and to Sen. Alexander. He’ll obviously have a great deal of input. That is absolutely critical to whether or not we get those jobs back at Alcoa,” he said.

Walker, a Denso associate, said he thought the resolution was a good idea, but he had a concern. “Should we not encourage TVA to negotiate favorably with all industry,” he said.

Samples said he didn’t think the resolution would put the county in a bad position. “Alcoa has been a stalwart of this county for years,” he said. “If we had another major manufacturer that had a similar situation, we wouldn’t hesitate for second to do the same thing for them.”

McCulley voiced concern that resolution carried no stipulation forcing Alcoa, Inc., to reopen the plant if a better power contract is secured.

“Otherwise, we would get a power reduction for them, and it would be beneficial to them, and they still never reopen the plant,” he said.

The motion passed with everyone but McCulley voting for it.

In budget matters, Assistant finance director Dana West said there were four increases to the budget. The first is in the Sheriff’s Department for $79,800. “This is for money for certified deputies and that comes from the state. The next three are all for emergency management - $8,400 for a local emergency planning grant. The second is $228,761.50 for Homeland Security grant program and $35,000 for emergency management performance,” she said.

Commissioners will approve a budget for 2009-10 in June. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 8 at the courthouse, West said.

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