THE HUNTER REPORT
WHO'S THE LIBERAL, NOW?
A CHANGE OF HEART... SPEND & TAX
WHAT HAPPENED TO ACCOUNTABILITY, RESPONSIBILITY?
BY: PAT HUNTER
A couple of weeks have since passed and I would like to share my thoughts. How surprised were you to hear about the majority of school Board members including Van Shaver's pivotal vote for generous pay raises estimated at over $721,000? This amount did not include other proposed pay increases, which were estimated between $20,000 to $40,000 for two new Central Office staffers (IT Director & Assistant School director), in the upcoming FY 11-12 Operating Budget.
At the May 26, 2011 Special Called Loudon County Board of Education workshop/meeting, new school Director Jason Vance recommended Board approval of a deficit operating budget of $202,384.00. After the Power Point presentation on the proposed school operating budget, Director Vance said that if the State hadn't mandated certain things in our budget we would be in the black. Director Vance's recommendation was to approve the budget and request that Commission approve $200,000 (deficit) to offset the budget.
Loudon County's School board policy states that the director shall be responsible for preparing the budget, and the budget proposal should be balanced. While the budget included some cost savings and reductions, the budget also included additional pay raises, much more than Governor Haslam's 1.6 percent mandated pay raise for all certified teachers at an estimated cost of $244,000. The lions share would be paid for with BEP state funds, and the remainder with local funds. While cuts were made to instructional supplies and books, the travel budget remained untouched; give me a year to look into that commented Vance. What kind of priorities and message did that send to parents, teachers, and taxpayers?
One reason for hiring Jason Vance and paying him top dollar and benefits was his insight as assistant school director for the past few years. Vance was familiar with the budget and school building plan, and he could hit the ground running. Many of these same budget issues had been discussed by the school Board in the presence of Jason Vance. That included numerous past budget discussions about Pre-K costs, which included more assistants than State law required; more para pros (assistants) then BEP revenues support; a generous travel budget for hotel and other expenditures, 100 day contracts for assistants called Intervention Specialists (Family Liaisons) who were paid between $19,000 -22,000, and much more.
Ironically, minutes earlier, board member Van Shaver had spoken that this was the largest request, which he described as "enormous" set of salary increases, "way beyond the curve". By law the school system is required to provide BEP money to certified employees about 325.7 (est.) employees. He explained that once Education Jobs money ($1Million Obama) earmarked for Loudon County was spent, future monies would then have to come from local tax revenues (property taxes).
Board member Van Shaver asked Director Vance for an estimate to give all employees across the board a 1.6 percent pay raise and still be in the black. Director Vance replied that it would cost about $284,000, but that he recommended more pay raises, which he referred to as "commitments". It's too bad that Shaver and the majority of school Board members didn't make a motion for a 1.6 percent pay raise across the board for all employee at an estimated cost of $284,000. By doing so the budget would have also been balanced without spending the entire $721,000 -$761,000, in view of this recession.
In the past, Board member Van Shaver mostly voted NO when it came to spending education stimulus ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) "Obama Bucks" a nickname he coined. Hardly a time would pass without a comment about spending ARRA money. His apparent disdain for spending Obama Bucks was expressed in off cuff comments, or was it all theater?
County spending continues especially with the county employee health insurance, an increase of 23.7 percent while taxpayers pay 92 percent and a county employees contribution of 8 percent.
Moreover, the proposed County budget indicates a decrease in projected tax revenues, an increase in spending and expenditures, and a decrease in the fund balance as the County continues to draw down millions in reserve funds.
Most recently, the Loudon County Budget Committee examined the Chancery Court Clerk and Master Fred Chaney's budget. The Clerk's postage budget was readjusted from $6,000 to $10,000. Additional funds for postage were needed to send out letters to people who are in arrears for property taxes. Collections and lawsuits are part of the process to collect delinquent taxes. Last year, Fred Chaney requested and received additional funding for a part-time employee to help with the delinquent tax workload. This year's budget request was to double pay for the part-time help budget line item from $4,800 to $9,600 but that request was first denied by the Budget Committee. But, on Thursday, June 9th Clerk and Master Chaney informed the Budget Committee that he had one part-timer to help out and that she would be working a longer period because of the additional workload. He provided a handout that showed over $1 Million in delinquent taxes, and 2,230 parcels of property that are in arrears through 2009.
Loudon County's April and May 2011 unemployment rate remains at a steady 8.1 percent with about 1,970 unemployed people. For many years, Loudon County enjoyed low unemployment, under 4 percent. What a difference an economic down spiral makes.
Seniors and the disabled did not see a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2 years. This pattern is likely to continue for a 3rd year because of rising Medicare premiums, which threaten to wipe out any increase in payments.
With the school board's recent vote for pay raises, this will pave the way for Loudon County Commission to follow the school Board's lead with similar percentage pay raises, and to tax, and spend, in these hard economic times.
Perhaps, Mr. Shaver's viewpoint about spending, and a property tax hike has changed but I would like to remind him of his campaign promise to the voters of the 5th District when he spoke against the wheel tax, or for that matter any new or additional tax burden on Loudon County residents. ..."Local governments including the Loudon County Board of Education must learn to manage their finances. Continued wasteful and unnecessary spending must stop. Our elected officials cannot continue to throw our tax dollars away and then expect us to willingly give them more. Fiscal responsibility, sensible spending and the elimination of wasteful spending make far more sense than continuing to squeeze the taxpayers." ... " If elected, I will bring accountability and responsibility back to the board of education." Source: Loudon County News Herald - Loudon County School Board candidates share information - Van Shaver http://www.loudon.xtn.net/story/5691
It's still hard to understand how a person so dedicated to holding down spending changed gears in midstream, and how a purported fiscal conservative could vote for hefty pay raises, and dip into those "Obama Bucks" which he appeared to detest, instead of holding true to his ideology of spending less, trimming and cutting the fat, to balance the budget. So who's the liberal, now?
CLICK TO SEE VIDEO
What's the motion for asked Bobby Johnson, Jr.
To adopt the budget with amendments replied Van Shaver.
I'll second said Johnson.
Scott Newman: Mr. Ubben you made the motion, do you want to remove your motion? Do you want to play these games, go ahead?
Gary Ubben: No....let it stand.
Scott Newman: There's a motion and a second on the floor.
Ms. Lovelace will you take roll call, please.
Joan Lovelace: Mr. Marcus - No; Mr. Best - No; Mr. Ubben - No;
Mr. Newman - Yes; Mrs. Russell - Yes; Mr. Simon - Yes; Mr. Jenkins - Yes; Mr. Tate - No;
Mr. Shaver... "Golly bum, what a spot..." as he threw his pen on the table.
"You had the guts to make the motion" said Leroy Tate.
"Yes, how's that, there's my guts, Yes" replied Shaver,
Mr. Johnson - Yes.
The motion passed six to four, Joan Lovelace announced.