A slowing real estate market has led to layoffs in the Blount Count Property Assessors office.
Mike Morton, Blount County property assessor, said that he has implemented budget reductions that began on July 1 for the 2011-12 budget cycle.
Morton said the reductions are in response to the continued slowdown of the local real estate market activity since 2008, which created a decrease in work-load for the office. Morton said he is eliminating six positions, five with lay-offs and one by not filling a vacant position. This reduction in workforce impacts all four of the departments within the Assessor’s office. The move represents a decrease of approximately 25 percent of the department’s budget, said Morton.
“I kept waiting to see if the real estate market was going to improve and waited as long as I thought I could,” he said. “To this point it still hasn’t. The bottom line is with those numbers; it tells us the whole story. Our work load is down 40 to 75 percent, and I didn’t have work for the current staff I needed when we were going full-throttle three years ago.”
Morton said he made the decision to lay off an additional five people in the middle of June and made it official at the first of July. Morton said he didn’t base his decision of who was laid off on seniority, but rather volume of work and which departments were most affected by the slow down.
“We incorporated an electronic routing system about three years ago. It tracks all our work that comes in and tells us where it is directed to and keeps track of volume,” he said. “It was great indicator of not only work slow-down, but what departments were most affected. We made our decisions based on reports of where volume is down.”
Morton said there are four departments in his office. “They were all affected. We had at least one person from each department laid off,” he said. “That is just the way it shook out. It is not a pleasant thing to do, but I felt it was necessary. When you don’t have the work for people to do, it hard to justify the positions.”
Morton added, “This is the most difficult decision I have had to make since becoming the Assessor of Property in 2000 because of the outcomes for the people in the affected positions and their families. These individuals have done a good job serving our community, and I look forward to the opportunity to adjust personnel as our local real estate market activity dictates.”
From 1996 to 2008, Blount County experienced a large economic expansion. The real estate market was growing at approximately 6 percent a year and in some areas of the county as much as 8 to 10 percent a year. This expansion created approximately 1,100 newly constructed homes, 325 recorded plats, 1,500 new permits and 5,000 deed transfers per year for the Assessor’s office. Also during this time, new businesses moved to the area, Denso expanded and the development of Hamilton Crossing (shopping center) contributed to the increase in work for the office.
Beginning in 2008, Blount County’s real estate market growth decreased to 2 to 3 percent per year and many of the areas experienced no growth. In contrast to the growth previously referenced, the decline resulted in approximately only 250 newly constructed homes, 200 recorded plats, 800 new permits and 2,500 deed transfers per year.
“The real estate market directly affects our office. It is my fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Blount County to reduce our budget,” Morton said. “This reduction will not cause an interruption of services. It is an honor and privilege to serve our community on a daily basis, and I believe these adjustments are in the best interests of all of Blount County.”