Several meetings took place in the Blount County Courthouse on Tuesday. But only one had half of the people in attendance leaving in anger and disappointment.
The Budget Committee meeting focused largely on school funds.
The area of contention was a request to move $1 million from the fund balance — or savings account — of the Blount County school system to pay for field houses at Heritage and William Blount high schools.
Several members of the public stood to address the committee.
“It’s a no-brainer to go ahead and fund these field houses,” said Earl McMahan, former principal of Heritage High School.
The existing field houses are reported as having no air conditioning, little space for football players and no space for sports other than football.
Many committee members asked Rob Britt, director of Blount County Schools, to clarify the proposed projects. They also inquired about current capital projects such as the installation of an HVAC system and renovation of science labs.
County Commissioner Mike Caylor raised concerns about the timing of the budget request.
“I’m a little hard pressed that it took 40 years to figure out that we needed air conditioning,” he said.
After discussion ceased, the resolution failed 4-1 with County Commissioner Tom Stinnett being the sole approver.
Parents and coaches left the commission meeting room. Many gathered in the hallway outside to discuss their concerns.
“My son says all the time, ‘Well we’re Heritage. We don’t get anything,’” said Susan Zerambo, a graduate of William Blount High School and mother of a Heritage junior football player.
“Is it going to take one of these kids getting hurt?” added Wendy Swanner, mother of a graduate from and junior football player at Heritage.
“I hope not,” County Commissioner Brad Bowers responded.
The committee approved three other budget requests from Blount County Schools.
The first was for $378,880.32 to be spent on a new security system to be installed in schools.
The Situational Awareness and Response Assistant (SARA) system sends alerts and video surveillance from nearby cameras to the Blount County E-911 Communications Center.
The money for this system comes in part from the state and in part from the school system’s fund balance.
The financing of two construction projects for county schools was approved: $41,000 for a fence at Fairview Elementary School and $85,000 for a turn lane into Heritage.
In other Budget Committee news:
• A request of nearly $23,000 for the purchase of new copiers was approved.
• In 2017, Blount County Recovery Court received grant funds for the Veterans’ Treatment Court Initiative. Nearly $37,000 of this fund has gone unused due to an overlap in fiscal year budgets. Recovery court is requesting that this money be reappropriated into the county’s 2019-20 fiscal year budget.
• The Highway Department requested $1 million for the Greenway Trail. The construction of the Greenway is funded 95% federally and 5% locally.
• More than $1 million was requested for new voting equipment. The new equipment is more compact and high tech than the current voting equipment, which has been in use by the county since 2006.
The evening of meetings moved on with a special, called commission meeting.
The County Commission was gathered to discuss refinancing of a three-year loan agreement that the county took out for Blount Memorial Hospital. This loan agreement expires in December of this year.
The resolution voted on in the meeting was to determine that the three-year county loan would be paid off with a new 10-year loan.
The 10-year loan will be taken out through revenue bonds. These bonds will be paid off through revenue that the hospital earns. If the hospital cannot pay the bonds off in 10 years, the county then would reevaluate.
The original loan was taken out for improvements and maintenance of the hospital.