Blount Co. Mayor speaks out on taxes, schools

BLOUNT COUNTY (WVLT) Blount County's Mayor doesn't says new taxes won't be necessary this coming year, but with a recession looming some are questioning how that's possible.

Volunteer TV's Stephen McLamb has more.

Mayor Jerry Cunningham made his remarks before a group at the chamber of commerce on Monday.

But today, some are expressing concern.

Sheriff James Berrong has maintained in recent years his officers need better pay to stay competitive.

And for the schools, they are planning to open two new ones this year.

Sheriff James Berrong says, "it's not going to improve any at this point in time. We're trying our best just to maintain that level as we speak."

Blount County reduced the number of School Resource officers last year due to budget constraints and now Mayor Jerry Cunningham says he doesn't see a tax increase this year.

Sheriff James Berrong declined comment except to say he hopes all the departments get funded.

The mayor's words also concern others involved with the schools who are overcrowded.

Roy Prince says, "sometimes it's a zoo over there. It's just a lot of, no room at all."

Prince says Friendsville Elementary where his son attends is overcrowded.

Don McNelly, the Blount Co. School Board Chairman says, "we're growing at a rate of ten classrooms a year so it puts a lot of pressure on resources."

Blount County hopes to alleviate that overcrowding by opening new schools next year, but with no new taxes can it be done?

Wendy Reeves, with the Blount Co. Education Committee says, "knowing that we've got two new schools coming online and knowing that we are already kinda running a bare bones budget it's hard for me to imagine that we could do that."

Mayor Cunningham claims there's six million dollars in the schools general services to open the schools but Reeves believes that number is closer to six hundred thousand.

Reeves continues, "six hundred thousand sounds like a lot of money but when you're running a 70 plus million dollar budget, that's not that much money."

Some in the community believe it will take more money.

"Got to get it from the taxpayers. It's the only place you can get it from."

Mayor Cunningham was unavailable for an interview today.

Officials in his office say he plans to address more people at the chamber of commerce again in Wednesday morning at 8:30.

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