By Steve Hunley

Mayor And Sheriff Come Together On Budget

The agreement reached by Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Sheriff Tom Spangler is good news for every citizen of our community.  At the heart of the issue was Sheriff Spangler’s demand for a 30% increase for departmental personnel.  The approach of issuing a demand accompanied by a threat of a lawsuit was, at best, ill-considered.  This is in no way a criticism of the sheriff personally, as Tom Spangler is genuinely a good and honest man and a great sheriff.  It is merely my own appraisal of the situation, as well as having been a public official once upon a time.  Ultimatums are generally not well received by recipients.  Sheriff Spangler would benefit from some advisors around him who better understand legislative politics and public perception.  Spangler’s zeal to better his department is commendable and should be expected, however, the mayor and county commission must balance the needs of the entire government and not a single department, no matter how important.  Most Knox Countians are probably unaware two departments of government consume fully three-quarters of the entire county budget.  Those two departments are the schools and the sheriff’s office.  Every other department and agency funded by the county comes out of the remaining quarter.  Nor is Knox County’s government as threadbare as that of the City of Knoxville, which operates no school system, libraries or health department.

Mayor Jacobs deserves credit for a job well done.  First and foremost, Jacobs realized there could hardly be a worse time to raise taxes.  Inflation is eating up the savings and buying power of taxpayers across the nation and Knox County residents are suffering just like everybody else.  On top of that, the City of Knoxville just raised its own property tax rate by 40%, which raises both rents and mortgages for everyone.

The agreement reached by Mayor Jacobs and Sheriff Spangler is a good one.  Unlike our federal budget, the agreement caps some expenditures that desperately needed to be capped, while also raising salaries for law enforcement personnel.  At the same time, the mayor is recommending a 5% raise for all other county employees.  While it is modest, especially considering the lifetime pensions and higher salaries paid by the City of Knoxville, it is more than most folks can expect.

Something City of Knoxville officials detest is the fact Knox County government, which is much larger than that of the city, hasn’t raised taxes in more than 20 years.  By comparison, the City has raised taxes twice in the last five years.  The City has to feed its own defined-benefit pension system, which is exceptionally generous.  The City of Knoxville under Madeline Rogero and Indya Kincannon has also engaged in heavy spending without much to show for it.  Knox County government has encouraged development and business to locate here while the City government has been, if not hostile, less inviting to business.  Nor has the development in the City helped to widen the tax base; quite the contrary.  The City of Knoxville government takes property off the tax rolls and funds projects like the Bridge To Nowhere demanded by the University of Tennessee, which will be a nice addition for the Vol Navy but few others.  If the students supposed to walk across the bridge daily to attend classes were to pay a toll, the fees wouldn’t likely generate $100 annually, while costing the taxpayers more than $70 million.  The City government invests in “art” monstrosities and subsidized housing.

The county commission wisely received Sheriff Spangler’s demand coldly, but Commissioner Kyle Ward urged the sheriff and the mayor to see if they couldn’t resolve their differences.  The fact Jacobs and Spangler came together and produced an agreement that is as good for the taxpayers as it is for the government reveals they are both fine public servants.

Glenn Jacobs has certainly demonstrated leadership skills with a positive attitude, which is the key ingredient for conciliation.  To craft the kind of agreement forged by Mayor Jacobs and Sheriff Spangler takes some ability.  Nor should the participation of Chris Caldwell, Knox County’s longtime Director of Finance, be overlooked.  Jacobs was very wise to retain the services of Caldwell who knows the budget and financial details of local government like a biblical scholar knows the Bible.  Chris Caldwell is one of the folks we are very lucky to have working for local government.

Kudos to Mayor Jacobs and Sheriff Spangler for putting the best interests of the people and taxpayers first!


State Should Fund Minimum Salary Mandate

Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly need to rethink setting mandatory salaries for teachers and the like, especially if they aren’t sending along the money for it.  The truth is, and legislators know it as well, that the State of Tennessee doesn’t send enough money to cover the salaries of all the teachers employed by many school systems, especially in the urban counties.  More rural counties rarely have the advanced programs provided for special ed students offered by the bigger, more urban counties.  As a member of the Knox County School Board, I remember how often residents of counties adjacent to us wanted to send their special ed children to Knox County to take advantage of the programs, while wishing to still live in counties that had much lower tax rates and few, if any, program for needy special ed students.

There aren’t a handful of Republicans who don’t criticize Democrats for their constant approval and passage of legislation making this or that mandatory, always without sending the funding for it, which drives up the cost of state and local governments, as well as the taxes to pay for them.

Legislators should recognize setting a minimum salary for one special interest group is going to bring pressure from another to do the same thing for them.  It is a bad and unwise precedent.


How They Voted

Five of ten members of Tennessee’s House congressional delegation voted “no” on the debt ceiling deal last week.  Representatives Tim Burchett, Diana Harshburger, Scott DesJarlais, Andy Ogles and John Rose were all recorded as voting against the deal.  Three Republicans voted in favor – – – Mark Green, David Kustoff and Chuck Fleischman, as did Democrat Steve Cohen.