Tag Archives: unfair

On Budget-busting fire hydrants and utility districts’ power

The town of Elkton, population about 600, has 42 fire hydrants and pays the local utility district $24.50 per month per hydrant to have them connected to the water system. The Tennessean cites the situation as an example of problems with Tennessee’s utility districts.
Mayor Carolyn Thompson doesn’t think the amount … is fair and is fighting back. She refused to pay the full amount for three months, and the South Giles Utility District threatened to turn off the city’s water.
The dispute highlights an ongoing issue with the more than 180 utility districts across Tennessee. There is often little transparency and accountability for how the districts operate. Water rates and activation fees vary widely from district to district.
The same goes for the fees utilities charge municipalities and others for the use of fire hydrants. Some utilities don’t charge anything. Others pay just a few dollars a month. For some cities, the bill can add up to a huge chunk of the budget.
“I feel that I have a fiscal responsibility to this city to manage the financial situation here to the very best of my ability,” the mayor said.
“We really have cut our budget to the absolute core, and we are still struggling. It is hard on us.”
South Giles Utility District officials say they are simply running a business and need the fee to help offset the cost of the very improvements — such as larger diameter pipes — that make using fire hydrants viable.
…Elkton pays $12,348 a year for its 42 fire hydrants, regardless of how often or how much water is used. That’s nearly as much as the entire yearly $12,650 budget for the volunteer fire department, records show.
By contrast, Pulaski in Giles County pays a flat $1,033 a year for nearly 500 hydrants. The city of Tullahoma in Franklin and Coffee counties pays about $11.20 a month for each of its 1,024 fire hydrants. And Columbia in Maury County is not charged anything for its hydrants. These cities are all are served by separate utility districts.

UT Ticket Tax Unfair, Officials Say

People purchasing tickets to University of Tennessee athletic events pay a 5 percent “amusement tax” in addition to other levies, with the revenue earmarked for the City of Knoxville and Knox County. UT officials would like to keep the money – about $1.5 million per year – for UT purposes, reports the News Sentinel.
For decades the University of Tennessee has sought to eliminate the tax.
The university, however, does not want to lower ticket prices, said Senior Associate Athletic Director Bill Myers. Rather, UT Athletics want to keep roughly $1.5 million it’s currently collecting on behalf of the city and county and use it toward planned construction projects and making up the $4 million budget shortfall the athletics department faced last year.
The tax dates back to state legislation passed in the 1940s and applies only to Knox County. The law has since been whittled down with exemptions over the years and now largely targets movie theatres outside the central business district and regular-season college athletic events in Thompson-Boling Arena and Neyland Stadium.
“We’re the only entity in the state that pays this tax — I’m talking about university athletic programs,” said Chancellor Jimmy Cheek. “Vanderbilt doesn’t pay it, University of Memphis doesn’t pay it, ETSU doesn’t pay it. It’s a state law that affects only Knox County.”
It’s an unfair tax, he said.
…Though the money is a small portion of the city’s roughly $180 million general fund budget, it’s revenue the city does not want to do without, said Knoxville Law Director Charles Swanson. If it disappears, he said, the city may have to raise other taxes to make up the difference.
City officials appreciate the value of having the university nearby and the economic stimulus that fans bring when they come to town, but it presents challenges that cost money to deal with, he said.

Haslam: Critics Unfair in Criticizing ECD’s Hiring of Samar Ali

Gov. Bill Haslam defended his administration Tuesday against critics from within his own party, saying those who want him to rid state government of Democrats, gays and a Muslim don’t represent the views of most Tennessee Republicans.
From Michael Collins:
“Recent polls show that people who self-identify as conservative Republicans – 80 percent supported us,” Haslam said, referring to a Vanderbilt University poll released in May. “So I think you have to put it in that context.”
Asked what might be motivating his GOP critics, Haslam said, “I certainly can’t get inside their heads to understand.”
But he suggested the criticism is unfair and said his administration continues “to focus on the things that I think people elected us to do – bring jobs to Tennessee, keep improving our education system, run the government as effectively and as efficiently as we can.”
Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who is in his second year as governor, has come under attack in recent weeks from a dozen or so self-described “Republican activists” who are urging county party organizations to adopt resolutions condemning his hiring decisions. At least eight county party groups have adopted such resolutions.
Haslam’s critics also are urging the Republican State Executive Committee to take some action against the governor.
The crux of the critics’ complaint is that Haslam has failed to rid state government of Democrats and gays in key positions, such as those working in the Department of Children’s Services. The groups also have blasted the governor for hiring Samar Ali as director of international marketing with the Department of Economic and Community Development.
A resolution passed by the Stewart County Republican Party called Ali “an expert in Shariah Compliant Finance, which is one of the many ways Islamic terrorism is funded.” It also noted that she is a one-time appointee of President Barack Obama — she served in a White House fellowship program — and that her family has a long history of supporting the Democratic Party.
Speaking after his appearance before a congressional panel in Washington on Tuesday, Haslam said Ali is highly qualified for the state job and “we’re lucky to have her in Tennessee.”
“She is somebody who could literally have jobs a whole lot of places, and she chose to come to her home state and serve,” he said.
Haslam noted that Ali was the class president of her high school in Dickson, Tenn.; student council president at Vanderbilt University; and a member of the 4-H Club while growing up. “She is as Tennessee as they come,” he said, “and I just think (the criticism) is unfair, quite frankly.”
The county GOP critics also have complained that Haslam has kept 85 percent of former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s appointees to executive jobs. But Haslam said incoming governors have historically held over people in those jobs from the previous administration.
“In the end, I think it is about how do we get the very best people to work for the state of Tennessee,” he said.


UPDATE: The Nashville City Paper has a profile of sorts on Ali, including her comments on being an Arab-American after 9/11. An excerpt is below.

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