Commission agenda meeting looks at budget, hospital

With Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell already asking for department heads to cut 12.8 percent from their budgets, the proposed numbers are still $3.4 million short of what is needed to balance the budget, Finance Director Stephen Jennings told commissioners this week as they prepared for next week’s commission meeting.

The budget as it stands will require a 42-cent property tax. The budget committee has asked Jennings to ask all elected officials and department heads to resubmit their budget requests to make further cuts. Votes on the budget will take place in April.

During the public input portion of an agenda meeting on Tuesday, Olympia Athletic Facility owner Lon Herzbrun criticized Blount Memorial Hospital for what he said was unfair competition with his club.

“Throughout my life I’ve been in fair competition on the athletic field. We’ve been in Blount County 32 years with Olympia Athletic Club, and now the competition is unfair. We pay taxes, we have memberships, and now the hospital has athletic clubs that compete with us. I’ve talked to two mayors, and he (Mayor Ed Mitchell) says we’re right, but nothing is being done,” he said.

Eric Herzbrun spoke after his father. “There has to be something done about Blount Memorial Hospital being able to operate under a tax-exempt status and still buy property. In our case, they can turn that property into a business even though they don’t pay taxes, and they’re competing with other businesses who do,” he said.

A letter written by Lon Herzbrun was given to commission secretary Rhonda Pitts at the request of Commissioner Gary Farmer so the commission can address the issue.

District 8-B Commissioner Gordon Wright Sr. said he served on the hospital board at one time. “We have no business with any of our entities competing with outside businesses,” he said. “That’s the way I feel about it.”

Former Blount County commissioner Dr. Bob Proffitt asked the commissioners to consider taking school resource officers out of elementary schools. The doctor said he had spoken with educators in six states. “I come here tonight about an issue I feel very strongly about and that has to do with having school resource officers in every elementary school,” he said. “I haven’t found any state where elementary schools have school resource officers in every elementary schools. Even in neighboring Knox County, they don’t have police at every school.”

Proffitt said with budgets being tight, this isn’t the time to talk about laying off teachers. “It makes little sense for us to operate in an atmosphere of fear.”

During public input for items on the agenda, Linda King of Blount County said department heads should force budget cuts. “Everything should be on table, including a change in the employee benefit plans,” she said. “No one should be guaranteed a job for life and no one should receive free benefits on the backs of the citizens.”

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