County officials react to tag-fee defeat

On Nov. 4, Blount County voters defeated the tag-fee increase presented by the county commission for their consideration by a vote of more than 5 to 1. In light of the commission’s positioning the measure as the county’s only hope for improving roads in the foreseeable future and its resounding repudiation by voters, The Blount Countian asked officials to comment on the road ahead.

Commission Chairman David Standridge

“I think the climate of what’s going on doomed the tag fee – the wet/dry vote and economic conditions, too. We couldn’t predict either one of those things. I think the wet/dry vote hurt the tag fee. The claim was made in the early going that revenues from liquor sales would go to benefit roads, which wasn’t completely true, but people just said, ‘Well, if they get that, they don’t need any more money from increasing the tag fee,’ so they voted no on both of them, as it turned out.

“I understand it was a hard time for people to vote yes on any increase that would affect them. They made that pretty clear. We’ll just have to do the best we can with what resources we have. It’s going to be difficult to do any paving under the circumstances. We’re going to have to focus just on maintenance.

“What we have to keep an eye on is tax revenues. We’ve based the budget on what we think is going to come in, and the way things are going, it may not come in. If it doesn’t, then we’ll have to react to that.

“In the meantime, when people come to the commission wanting roads paved, we’re going to just have explain to them ‘Listen, these are the numbers. This is what we have, and with these increasing costs of materials, the money just isn’t there. We came up with this plan that would have allowed us to meet some of those needs, but it obviously wasn’t the right one, because voters rejected it.’

“So, maybe we have to try to find another way – go back to the drawing board. If anybody has any ideas on how to do that, let us know.”

District 4 Commissioner Waymon Pitts

“We studied this proposal a long time before presenting it to the people. The reason for it was rapidly increasing costs and flat revenues. Lots of people in the county live on bad roads. We know that and it was the main reason for the tag-fee proposal.

“Without increased revenues, we’re going to have to slow down on road improvements like resurfacing. That doesn’t mean we quit working the roads. It means we go almost totally into maintenance mode (repairing and potholing), which is what I’ll have to do. People need to realize that. Having said that, I’ll restate my commitment to do absolutely the best I can with the resources I’m given to work with.”

County engineer Richard Spraggins

“What it means practically is that we won’t make any progress on improving the roads in the county. We’ll just be trying to maintain the status quo – trying to keep from falling further behind on deterioration. What the vote total says to me is that people have said ‘we’re happy with what we’ve got.’ On second thought, I know they’re not happy with what they’ve got, because we hear from people every day who are not happy, so I guess it translates to ‘we’re not happy with what we’ve got, but we don’t want to pay any more to make things better.’ And that’s about where we are.”

County administrator Chris Green:

“I think the people have spoken, and we’re going to have to live with it. I think people were confused by some of the issues that came up. I think they heard that the county was in good financial shape, and they decided, ‘well they don’t need any more money, then.’ That’s not the case. We do need more revenues if we’re going to keep our roads in proper condition, but I don’t see us going back for any revenue-raising proposal any time soon.

“I think some time is going to have to pass. Then at some future time, maybe a broad coalition would have to come together – like the county commission, maybe the county board of education, and maybe the mayors of the towns – and put together a proposal that would put a piece of the pie on everybody’s table. Then maybe there would be more broad-based support. But that would have to be later on when current conditions have changed.”

No comment

County commissioners Robert Bullard and Tom Ryan declined to comment, Ryan saying he had thought a lot about the outcome, but wasn’t yet ready to make a statement as to the implications for the county or his district.

Bullard said he might comment later, but did not want to do so until after the upcoming commission meeting. Commissioner David Cochran, still recovering from recent back surgery, could not be reached for comment.