Last week, The Blount Countian gave the four serving county commissioners an opportunity to express themselves (they did) on “Moving Blount County Forward,” the countywide 1-cent sales tax proposal, itself moving forward toward a Nov. 8 referendum. This week, commissioners-elect Mike Painter (District 2) and Nick Washburn (District 4) get the same questions.
Why ask them? They weren’t involved in weighing the pros and cons leading up to the creation of “Moving Blount County Forward.” They’ve never built a county budget. They won’t even be sworn in until Nov. 16, the week after the election. Why should their opinions matter?
Because, along with returning commissioners Calvert and Armstrong, they will have to manage the consequences of the voters’ decision, as it affects the biggest single issue at stake in the election: the future condition of Blount County roads. (Not that the fiscal health of two county school districts, the municipalities, and the volunteer fire and rescue departments isn’t important, too.)
Since the new commissioners will be among the leadership in the county responsible for carrying out the voters’ will, it’s fair to ask their stance going in. As noted above, neither man has had an opportunity to help craft a fiscal year budget, or to struggle managing necessary budget adjustments during a typical year.
Here’s what they said about the upcoming referendum.
1. Do you personally support the countywide 1-cent sales tax?
Mike Painter:“I’m not 100 percent for it or against it. I think we pay enough tax, but if it will help us get our roads back in shape, I’d be for it. I don’t know all the ins and outs of it yet.“
Nick Washburn:“I’m not either for it or against it. But me personally, I’m going to vote for it. Without the extra money from that tax, we’re not going to have the money for a better county. Without it, we’re not going to go anywhere. It might not be the right move, but without it, we’re not going to be able to go forward.”
2. Will you work to support the sales tax initiative in the countywide referendum?
Mike Painter:“As soon as I get a chance to inform myself (as to whether it’s needed), I will support it if I think it is. I’ve just got to look into it further. I do think public meetings will give people a chance to openly discuss it and get their questions answered.“
Nick Washburn:“To be honest, I’m working a full-time job, sometimes with overtime, so no, I won’t have time to work to pass it. I did say I would come to some of the meetings, especially in my district. I am not going to campaign for or against it, but I will pass on any information I get to the people. It’s good to give people a choice on what to do – not just force it down their throats.“
3. Have you been asked to comment on the tax plan in your district so far, and if so, what have you said?
Mike Painter:“No. I’ve thought out of respect for Carthal, I need to kind of stay on the sidelines until I’m on the job.”
Nick Washburn:“I haven’t been asked so far by the people in my district.”
Here’s the box score on county leadership’s support of ”Moving Blount County Forward.“ Like a number of the commission votes on important matters over the past two years, the tally is 3 in favor, 2 against, with the same voting alignment holding true. Commission Chairman Chris Green and Commissioners Gary Stricklin and Dean Calvert strongly favor the tax measure, and Commissioners Allen Armstrong and Carthal Self strongly oppose it.
As to scoring the incoming commissioners on where they stand on the tax increase proposal and what type of mandate they would like from their constituents? Score them hesitant to say.