BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — The Blount County Commission met Thursday evening to discuss several proposed resolutions. Several members of the community gathered to speak on a proposed increase in the Certified Tax Rate after the county reappraised the value of homes in the area.
On the agenda was also a resolution ratifying changes to the Private Rights Acts of 1945, after state leaders passed a law allowing the commission to take action on the management of Blount Memorial Hospital.
Some other items included a resolution to express support for a new law that protects the gun industry from lawsuits following shootings, and a proposed reaffirmation declaring Blount County as a "Second Amendment Sanctuary County."
More information about different proposals is available below.
Resolution Ratifying an Amendment to the Private Acts of 1945 - PASSED, 17-2, with one abstaining
After Governor Bill Lee signed a bill allowing the Blount County Commission to change the management of Blount Memorial Hospital, the commission will discuss whether to ratify those changes, which requires a two-thirds vote.
Specifically, the new law changes the Private Acts of 1945 which dictated the conditions under which the county is authorized to own and operate a nonprofit hospital. It allows the county to operate and manage the hospital, or maintain a nonprofit organization to manage it.
The state law explicitly said that if the county ever stops owning or managing the hospital, it must require that the structure painting signs in prominent places that designate it as "Blount Memorial Hospital" in the agreement between it and the seller. It says the signs would need to remain up as a "tribute to the men and women who served this state and our country with valor during World War II."
It also explicitly says any nonprofit organization that may manage the hospital would not be deemed the owner of the hospital's assets — an argument made after months of controversy between the commission and BMH.
In June 2022, Blount County leaders wrote a letter to the hospital's board of directors explaining their concerns over how the board was choosing its CEO. Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell was one of the leaders who signed the letter. It said that the mayors felt the process to find a new CEO did not strictly follow state law and hospital policies.
Then in November 2022, Mitchell sent another letter to the hospital saying he had "grave concerns" about how BMH is operated. In it, he said that BMH was appointed to operate the hospital on behalf of the county, but it never became the owner of any hospital assets.
Later in December 2022, BMH filed a lawsuit that asked for a ruling to allow BMH to proceed with plans to sell a facility in the Springbrook area for around $22.2 million. It was opened in 1996 and provided outpatient care, as well as other healthcare services, according to a press release from the hospital.
In March 2023, the Blount County Commission approved talks between Mitchell and the University of Tennessee Medical Center about the future of the hospital.
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell had previously alleged that the facility was purchased with county revenues, making it county property. The hospital said that it was built without county funds, and said it was not licensed as a hospital, and so argued they were allowed to sell it.
"In general, we need to work through strategies that help address our operational needs and one of those are cash, so we need to continue to identify strategies to bring cash to Blount Memorial," Dr. Harold Naramore, the CEO, previously said.
In 2019, the hospital refinanced its revenue bonds, meaning the bonds were backed by the revenue of Blount Memorial Hospital, Inc. The hospital said it lost around $40 million due to the pandemic.
"I think this closes the loop and allows to do some things that need to be done," said Mayor Mitchell.
He also said discussions with the University of Tennessee Medical Center to take over management of the hospital had not continued since the bill passed, and said discussions could now continue with them or with any group.
"It needs to be fixed, and we're finally going to be able to get our people where we tried to appoint them," said Commissioner Mike Akard. "Let's make it happen, let's end the defiance, let's fix our community hospital for the long-term."
Resolution to levy a tax rate in excess of the Certified Tax Rate - Removed from agenda
The Blount County Commission will consider whether to pass a resolution that could change how much homeowners pay in property taxes. Recently, the county went through a property tax reappraisal, and some homeowners found that the value of their homes doubled.
State law requires the counties and cities to reexamine property tax rates after a reappraisal to make sure higher taxable values do not automatically result in a tax increase. This is known as the "certified tax rate law" and requires local governments to conduct public hearings before adopting a property tax rate that generates more taxes overall in a reappraisal year than were billed the year before, at the previous year's lower values.
A separate law also allows counties to implement a tax rate exceeding the certified tax rate, as long as they advertise their intention ahead of time.
After conducting the reappraisal, a preliminary tax report found that the certified tax rate in Blount County would be around $1.59 for each $100 of assessed value — which would effectively guarantee that the county makes no profit off the new home values.
The resolution would give Blount County a chance to implement a higher tax rate than that.
"I want our public to have public hearings and public committee meetings on June 5. Everyone needs to understand this is not final yet. I think when we get final numbers from the state, we will get the opportunity to adjust accordingly," said one commissioner.
The resolution was removed from the meeting's agenda.
Resolutions on guns
Two resolutions were also on the agenda Thursday. They were mostly symbolic.
The first called on the state legislature to pass laws on seven specific points, listed below.
- Prohibit causes of action against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products, and their trade associations, for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.
- Preserve a citizen’s access to a supply of firearms and ammunition for all lawful purposes, including hunting, self-defense, collecting, and competitive or recreational shooting.
- Guarantee a citizen’s rights, privileges, and immunities, as applied to the States, under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, pursuant to section 5 of that Amendment.
- Prevent the use of such lawsuits to impose unreasonable burdens on interstate and foreign commerce.
- Protect the right, under the First Amendment to the Constitution, of manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products, and trade associations, to speak freely, to assemble peaceably, and to petition the Government for a redress of their grievances.
- Preserve and protect the Separation of Powers doctrine and important principles of federalism, State sovereignty and comity between sister States.
- Exercise congressional power under Article IV, section 1 (the Full Faith and Credit Clause) of the United States Constitution.
A state law signed by Governor Bill Lee effectively granted protections to the gun industry from being sued over shootings, and the resolution also explicitly voiced support for it.
The second resolution reaffirmed the county's commitment to being a "Second Amendment Sanctuary County." They said they would continue to "provide safe haven and protect" rights for citizens of Blount County to legally own guns.
Both resolutions passed unanimously.