Questions For The Hamilton County Commission - And Response

Monday, October 8, 2018

The "New" Hamilton County Commission is looking for reasons to have office space, where that space should be and how much should be allotted for this cost. 

1.Would this be an attempt to spend the $180 million tax increase that Mr. Graham imposed upon us during his tenure, I should say that Mr. Sharpe told me the amount was actually $120 million?

2. Why are we now trying to allocate more taxpayer money to something that has worked very well for many years?

3. Has the amount of hours spent for this part time position increased so dramatically in such a short period of time justify the added cost burden upon the taxpayers? Or should I defer back to question 1?

4. Could this be an attempt to reopen the compensation package the state sets for the mayor's pay and the ripple affect it would have on the City Council and the newly elected School Board?

Let's review:
1. Commissioners get an annual salary of over $23,000
2. Full benefits insurance worth over $2,000 per month.
3. A $12,500 expense account
4. Cell phone and service $100 per month.
5. $60,700 per commissioner compensation per year.

Folks they meet four times per month even in a five week month.

Meetings last perhaps two hours. This compensation amounts to $1,265 per meeting per commissioner.     

6. UnifiEd spent a lot of money to support certain candidates and insure victory. Were we voters misled about the real agenda. We were told that Mr. Graham refused funding for schools eight straight times. Still looking for my answer here.

7. Is more office space needed to meet with wealthy business leaders to get more Pilot programs approved?

Disclaimer: I actually support District 6 being restructured after talking with Mr. Sharpe who explained to me that he had overwhelming support from his constituents in the Northshore and Red Bank areas for the Pilot program allowing for more more affordable housing. A Lookout Valley poll that was taken showed zero support yet it carried no weight. We in Lookout Valley do not share your vision of socialism. We believe in lending a helping hand but it does have an endpoint. So you all take the Section 8 affordable housing structures that Pilot programs offer you. We will build and support our Section 8 affordable housing and manage our side with a plan for assistance not a way of life and see who runs out of money quicker.

Sooner or later you will run out of other people's money.

Ron Ray 

* * *

The office space issue has been around for several years, but it was already addressed when we (through the taxpayer funding) remodeled the courthouse. The Commission meeting room is the largest in the entire building, and commissioners actually already have four shared offices (though one is currently being used for storage), two conference rooms, and private restroom facilities. Commissioners also have two full-time staffers right there in the office, and they hold half interest in the county attorneys and auditors.

Let's address Mr. Ray's points one by one:

1) We "raised" taxes in 2017 in the amount of $25 million, not $120 or $180 million. The false number of $180 million came directly from David Sharpe in the form of two mailers and face to face interactions during what many saw as an incredibly dirty campaign. To answer Mr. Ray, yes, this is an attempt by the commissioners to spend money on themselves, rather than on much needed infrastructure and repairs already described across the county.

If a constituent needs to meet with their commissioner, there are many options. For myself, I always made my office at my business open to anyone needing a face to face. For a private and unemployed person like David Sharpe, the county already supplies ample meeting space at the courthouse. Commissioners campaigned for a year on the promise that they are accessible, and to now try to charge taxpayers an extra fee (in the form of private offices) would be incredibly ridiculous. As public servants, our job was to serve the public in the form that the position was presented. Any commissioner holding a seat for any other reason than a dedication to that public 
service should step down, or at least be honest and let your constituents know of your monetary ambitions at their cost.

2) The county has many needs, and all of them are more important than this needless waste of money. Some commissioners do nothing more than show up for the meetings, and people with that kind of work ethic should not be rewarded for their laziness until all of the county's needs are 
met, which would be very expensive on its own.

3) No, the hours have not changed. Some commissioners have meetings they choose to attend throughout the month, but that is dependent on the individual commissioner, and not any more than they are already doing. Mr. Ray's assertion that the required workload is only four meetings a 
month, each typically lasting no more than two hours, is correct.

4) Yes, this is absolutely an attempt to reopen the compensation package. If you remember, several commissioners have been getting a letter signed quietly to ask our state legislature to remove their set rate of pay from the mayor's (which affects a commissioner's percentage of pay). This was done publicly and in the open when Chairmen Henry, Skillern, and Fields were there, but Chairman Bankston began a secret campaign to accomplish this. Chairman Fairbanks also tried to organize backroom deals that would double the Commission expense rate, until that was brought to light and shouted down by public dismay. The fact is, no commissioner has ever used the $12,500 allotted to them for actual travel expenses. Instead, that money has been used as a replacement for discretionary funding. This is all publicly published information on the county website.

5) The review of compensation was a bit low, but pretty close.

6) For the record, I, Commissioner Joe Graham, never refused funding for our schools- not even once. This was a tragic and blatantly crafted lie that was circulated throughout District 6. What I did do was seek to balance spending and fiscal responsibility by refusing to raise taxes unless there was an actual need that could not be accomplished through currently available means. When I started as a commissioner, the 2010 budget for the School System was $361 million. When I left office last month, we had already passed the new school year's budget of $440 million. That is a $79 million increase to the School System budget over eight years, averaging $9.8 million per year, and that's not even including the extra $252 million we dedicated to new school construction 
and additions.In 2017 when we moved the millage rate back to its current amount which created the $25 million in new revenues. We went 11 years without a tax increase and even then past commissioners have never not even close have they raised (never in Hamilton County history) taxes $180 million, this is a lie.

7) It is my opinion, based on the amount of office space, meeting space, staff, and available resources already available, that the County Commission has more than adequate room to do its business, and additional dedicated offices for each commissioner in the courthouse would be an incredible waste of money in the face of real county needs.

I'd like to thank Mr. Ray for asking his questions. Never forget that these are our commissioners, and it is up to the taxpaying public to hold their elected officials accountable. 

Joe Graham
County Commissioner, District 6 (2010-2018) or until further notice.



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