Knox County, state leaders to discuss upcoming matters

State, county and school leaders on Thursday will begin talking about what matters the Tennessee General Assembly should address when it meets in January.

The discussion, which is part of an annual dinner with the local Legislative delegation, is expected to focus on a number of hot button items that include but aren't limited to taxes, parking, testing procedures and education-related bonuses.

However, key to the meeting, said state Rep Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, is creating open dialogue among the three boards.

"It's really an opportunity for every level of government to communicate with one another about issues coming up on the horizon and how we can help out each other," said Haynes, the delegation's chairman. "That's really the whole purpose – to keep communication open."

Knox County School Board Vice Chairwoman Gloria Deathridge agreed.

"It's basically a chance to share ideas and information and a chance to get together and know each other," she said. "There's a lot of things that will be coming up, like charter schools and vouchers, so it's a chance to get the conversation started and figure out where we go from there."

The meeting, which is open to the public, starts at 6 p.m. at Outdoor Knoxville.

"It's a chance for commissioners and others to bring their ideas forward," said Brad Anders, Knox County Commission chairman.

Anders, who is co-hosting the dinner with Haynes, said he wants officials to talk about mandated computerized testing and whether the state through either lottery money or one-time funding could help pay for it.

"Everything is going to have to be submitted electronically starting in 2015 and, really, it's an unfunded mandate," he said. "it's in the tens of millions (of dollars) for us, or it could be."

He said officials also want to talk about open meeting rules and whether emails to media representatives are sufficient for commissioners to meet one on one.

In addition, commission Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith said he wants to address the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Services, or CTAS, program.

State law allows counties to pay bonuses to employees who take the classes and earn the designation of "certified public administrator." The county also pays up to $1,000 for employees who remain certified, which requires about 15 hours of class work each year.

"I think it's ridiculous to pay the amount of money we people for people to take that continuing education course," he said. "I don't see any merit in paying for something that's optional for people to take, and only for the people who are selected by the officeholders. It's just a kick back from the employer to their favorite employees."

Knox County's administration also is expected to weigh in Thursday.

County Finance Director Chris Caldwell said local leaders would like the state to reduce or eliminate the admin fee it charges to collect sales tax.

"With the technology now, I don't think there's that much work that goes into collecting it," he said.

The state keeps 7 percent of the sales tax and each month sends the county back 2.25 percent of it. However, the state each month also bills the county a 1.125 percent fee, which totals about $1.5 million a year.


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