UPDATE II: Local mayors and others react on SCOTUS ruling supporting same-sex marriage

Big ruling today from the Supreme Court. Here’s what Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said, through a release:

As a signer of the Mayors’ Brief in support of the plaintiffs, I am thrilled and thankful for this ruling. It is great news for our LGBT family members, friends and neighbors. And really, it is great news for all of us. A society that fully values and respects all of its members is a more fair and just society for us all. As a Knoxvillian, I am especially proud of Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty for their role in this historic case. They stepped forward on behalf of LGBT families and their allies across Tennessee, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. I know what will mean the most to them is the simple fact that their marriage will now be legally recognized just as much in Knoxville as it was in New York.

She’s having a news conference in her office later today. What questions would you ask her? Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s reaction was much shorter, but supportive of the ruling:

Regardless of anyone’s opinion, same-sex marriage is now the law of the land, and I and my staff will work with state and other local officials to ensure that we comply with today’s Supreme Court ruling.

Here’s the Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini:

With today’s decision we see that love and respect has triumphed and we rejoice knowing that every person has the right to marry the person they love. Today is a day that Democrats celebrate with those couples as they build strong families while securing a future for themselves, in Tennessee and across our nation. Justices ruled in the landmark decision that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry and that states must recognize those marriages. The justices found that the right to marry for same-sex couples is protected under the 14th Amendment.

And the Tennessee Republican Party Chair Ryan Haynes:

Tennesseans overwhelmingly voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman. If a change was to be made, it should have been allowed to play out through the democratic process but, unfortunately, today’s judicial activism short-circuits that ability. While this has long been pushed by the Democrats’ agenda, the issue is far from settled.

Here’s County Clerk Foster Arnett, who, like the Sevier County Clerk Karen Cotter, is waiting until the Tennesse Attorney General issues a statement at 3 p.m. Arnett:

It’s real simple. We’re waiting on the Tennessee Attorney General to rule, and that’s all we’re going to say.

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It’s not construction, but it’s in the neighborhood – Washington Pike meeting

The city announced a meeting on the possibilities for what Washington Pike could look like … someday.

From the city:

What: Public meeting on design of the Washington Pike Roadway Improvements Project

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Where: Harvest Park Community Room, New Harvest Park, 4775 New Harvest Lane

Who: Staff from the City of Knoxville’s Engineering Department and the City’s consultants (CDM Smith) for the Washington Pike Roadway Improvements Project will hold a public meeting on the roadway concept design for Washington Pike from I-640 to Murphy Road.

Although the Washington Pike Roadway Improvements Project is not currently scheduled for construction, this meeting will provide information about the project status, present the concept design for streetscape improvements and provide an opportunity for public comments and suggestions.

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Knox County Budget/middle school construction – what’s next

As outlined in our story today, Knox County Schools Board of Education will next see the county budget. Really, just a portion of it.

One might think that they have some power to influence the county budget, but that is not so.

According to Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong, if the school board denies the budget amendment (the Memorandum of Understanding, a.k.a. the contract), then the county’s budget – it’s capital improvement plan – would revert to what was originally proposed by Mayor Tim Burchett.

So the school board gets to choose for itself whether to build two new schools, and make nonbinding agreements on a host of other things, outlined in this latest agreement.

Apparently there have been some revisions since the original agreement was issued last week. Here’s that .pdf: 2015-06-15 MOU

Speaking with a few insiders, it appears there’s a demand for the AJ building from area developers. And it looks like developers are champing at the bit to get public funds for the middle school projects. But really – who doesn’t like public money?

Something to consider – when and if the AJ building is sold, it will take a while to find a home for schools administration and move them out. That is, don’t expect that to happen within any narrow time frame.

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Reboot – UPDATE: Derp

UPDATE: You guys must be loving this out in politics land … anyway, I’ve got this side project that I fool around with in my spare time.

For you wordpress users out there, keep in mind what blog you’re posting to when you have multiple blogs.

This, friends is why they don’t let we scruffy reporter types have the keys to the store.

Yes, I deleted the post. Also, go read The Onion.

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Litigation fees, excess fees and the Knox Criminal Court Clerk

Today we ran a story about the potential litigation fee Knox County Commission is expected to discuss later this month.

It’s an issue we’ve been tracking for some time, and has led to a few colorful comments

from at least one attorney in town who opposes the extra fee.

“I’m against the idea. I’m against the idea of allotting any air supply to the individuals who have the idea,” Mike Whalen said.

Turns out, the $5 fee would be tacked on to a bevy of courtroom costs that pay for the DA, clerk, jail and even school construction. Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond said that

Mike Hammond

Mike Hammond

the extra money would contribute to excess fees that he hopes to turn over to the county. So, we asked if there has been any excess fees in recent years his office has turned over to the county. This was his reply, today. In short, none have been given – except when outgoing clerk Joy McCrockey cleaned out the account. In Hammond’s words:

According the Chris Caldwell, no excess fees were turned over in Fiscal year 2011, 2012, or 2013.  $600,000 was turned over in FY 2104.  $600,000 was also turned over before she left office, but that money drained the clerk back account and was returned to me when I took off office September of 2014.  So bottom line is in five years $600,000 was turned over.

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Figures behind increased city permits and inspection revenue

Yesterday we reported on increases in fees collected by Knoxville for inspections, plan reviews and permitting. A few folks in building, real estate and in elected office told us what figures show – it’s expected to be the best year since the recession for building in Knoxville, according to revenue from fee collections.

And that’s with a fee schedule that hasn’t changed since 2002. Here’s a historical accounting of those fee collections:

2000                          1,544                          9,191                        32,444 $       1,315,768.95
2001                          1,361                          9,866                        30,852 $       1,266,400.92
2002                          1,351                          9,393                        33,232 $       1,261,881.20
2003                          1,340                          9,574                        45,887 $       1,552,061.60
2004                          1,340                        10,484                        48,626 $       1,883,463.15
2005                          1,447                        11,473                        55,944 $       2,094,712.50
2006                          1,489                        11,902                        58,938 $       2,043,747.15
2007                          1,544                        13,439                        59,107 $       2,244,437.75
2008                          1,291                        10,984                        56,881 $       1,965,542.22
2009                        1,088                        9,426                      56,171 $         1,660,155.30
2010                          1,046                          8,868                        48,283 $       1,402,404.50
2011                            951                          9,330                        47,997 $       1,363,843.20
2012                          1,181                          9,805                        46,389 $       1,629,988.82
2013                          1,286                          9,066                        49,709 $       1,633,139.27
2014                          1,182                          9,664                        53,123 $       1,678,577.20
2015 *                          1,146                          8,863                        53,829 $       1,953,200.00
TOTALS                      20,587                    161,328                    777,412 $     26,949,323.73
* FYE iincludes estimation of May & June
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Wonk out: Some more figures on the schools fund balance

We’re talking about this story, here. Summarized:

The reserve fund for Knox County Schools is close to the state required minimum.

Called a “fund balance,” the reserve has paid for one-time projects, maintenance and year-to-year purchases such as textbooks. State rules say the fund balance should be at least three percent of the schools operating budget.

Based on that formula, the school system’s minimum reserve should be $12.8 million. Projections from Knox County show the fund will be within $500,000 of the state minimum by the end of the current fiscal year in June.

Here’s a quick rundown of the spending for the past five years in this doc: Fund Balance Appropriated Summary.

The fund balance is cash that a government or school system has on hand to spend as they wish, so long as they don’t dip below the state’s low threshold. This came too late to use for print, but here’s why, explained by an official with the State Comptroller of the Treasury:

The 3% fund balance legislation is found in Section 49-3-352, TCA.  I think the intent of this 3% rule was to allow school systems, during their budgetary process, to budget (set aside) 3% of unexpended fund balance as an emergency reserve.  This 3% may be expended for shortfalls in budgeted revenue and nonrecurring expenditures (capital outlay for example) with the approval of the Board of Education.  If a school system does not budget this 3% fund balance reserve, their budget may not get approved by the state Department of Education or the Division of Local Finance.

That 3 percent, essentially, is the emergency fund. And Knox County Schools have spent nearly all the way to that threshold. How close they got will not be known until about August/September, when sales tax returns come back from the state. Sales tax is collected by the state then returned to the municipalities, so there’s a lag in the reporting. Sales tax also pays a good deal of the school system’s budget.

As it turns out, Knox County’s fund balance is about 40 percent of its operating fund, or $66.1 million. Don’t expect to see Tim Burchett handing that out to schools, by the way. He’s nothing if not steadfast in fiscal policy as a no-new-taxes, drop debt and save money kind of politician.

That stance has had some wondering publicly whether it’s time to relax the tight reins on county money as Knox County is in a growth phase, including schools board members and Commissioners.

Chairman Brad Anders has said that something will need to be done – he represents the exploding Hardin Valley area where a middle school was proposed by the school board and ignored by Burchett. He’s also raised concerns over the amount of roads that are paved and hopes that could be increased.

… but when it comes time to raise taxes, it’s doubtful that there’s enough will on the conservative commission – 9 of 11 are Republicans – to vote to spend the money. I’m no betting man, but unless there’s some kind of county uprising or new commissioners on the board (both doubtful) don’t expect to see the kind of widespread funding for all the things schools and everyone else wants.

If you want to take a look at more detail from the schools fund balance go to the budget detail from previous years, search for the fund balance for schools in the detail – around page 70 in the .pdf documents.

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