Saturday, July 30, 2011

Save TEAM Center

While I have had my differences with Bill Lusk on town policies and issues,  I have always respected his dedication to his son, who suffers with autism. He has an OpEd in the Times Free Press yesterday, July 29th which I feel is quite pertinent and I wanted to share it with my readers. I tried to post a link, but was unable so have taken the liberty of copying the article to my blog. Please read it.

TEAM too critical to lose
 TEAM is a place of caring specialists who serve children and adults and their families. TEAM cannot be duplicated.
By Bill Lusk
 After 47 years, Tennessee’s Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) has decided to withdraw grant funding for TEAM Center. This shocking surprise was immediately followed by news that TEAM would close its outpatient clinic. All this comes as a terrible blow to families trying to cope with developmental disabilities such as autism.
 Unfortunately, many facts and important details have not been reported. After a concerted effort by many of the families affected by TEAM’s closing, we discovered that most of our lawmakers were unaware of the elimination of TEAM’s grant, because it was not mentioned in DIDD’s budget. Had DIDD’s budget report indicated this important grant would be eliminated, the public would have received notice, and I believe many of our legislators would have tried to prevent such an action. I trust that our legislative delegation is now working to rectify the problem.
 TEAM Center provides unique services in this area. The clinic at TEAM specializes in evaluation, diagnostics, and treatment for people of all ages and incomes with developmental disabilities. Each member of the staff at TEAM is a highly trained disability specialist. One is a nationally recognized neuro-developmental pediatrician and professor at Emory University. Their knowledge make TEAM a valuable resource for our region and many families drive hours to receive treatment.
 The cost to provide services for the developmentally disabled is significant because these conditions are lifelong and often accompanied by other disorders. Caring for a person with a developmental disability is a family experience. Whether for diagnosis or treatment, work by the family, patient and his/her clinician will far exceed typical insurance reimbursement and is much more time consuming.
 TEAM provides highly trained staff within a flexible environment that is responsive to patients’ needs. The clinicians, the tools, and the environment are different based on the individual’s needs, and many of the ancillary services provided are not reimbursable. This is especially true of TennCare which reimburses about 30 cents on the dollar.
 TEAM’s clinic is extremely efficient while providing positive outcomes for its patients. The following data highlights the impact that the state grant has vis-à-vis other services provided by DIDD: that TEAM’s services were easily obtained via TennCare or the Department of Education. This contradicts DIDD’s own assessment. In the 2011-2012 budget, the other three Resource Centers with a total budget of $13,852,800 are being built because, as DIDD states:
 “The resource center serving persons with intellectual disabilities in East Tennessee will provide access to a variety of medical and health-related services that are difficult to obtain in the community due to the lack of available and willing providers. (Emphasis added.) These services will enable persons enrolled in the Medicaid waiver programs to successfully reside in community-based settings of their choice.”
 But what about those in our area who cannot travel to Greeneville or patients who are not enrolled in Medicaid waiver programs? What will happen to them?
 My family, for example, struggled through years of uncertainty, misdirection and misdiagnosis by the school system’s psychologists and other providers. That delay in receiving an accurate diagnosis may cost our son dearly in his years ahead because early intervention is paramount. It was not until we discovered TEAM that our son was properly diagnosed and an appropriate course of treatment was developed.
 TEAM’s staff is world class, and there is no duplication of services in our area as claimed by DIDD, and certainly not under one roof. TEAM is a place of caring specialists who serve children and adults and their families. TEAM cannot be duplicated. Accordingly, it should retain the $286.67 in state funding per patient necessary to maintain the program and provide our region with an invaluable level of services for the least among us.
 Bill Lusk is a resident of Signal Mountain, where he serves as mayor, and is the father of a child with autism.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Last time on tax increase

I thought I would address the recent Signal Mountain property tax increase one more time, primarily as concerns the rhetoric. The original referendum passed in 2004 allowed a property tax increase "up to" 35 cents to pay for the school bond. This tax would go away when the bond was paid off. This amount was calculated based on a 20 year loan payoff at the maximum interest rate of 6% (we purchased a "cap" on the interest rate). Since then interest rates have run something less than 1% and we have greatly accelerated the pay-off on the loan.

My proposal, which Bill Wallace and Dick Gee agreed with and advanced so capably was to avoid a tax increase by lowering the amount of the "school tax" to offset any general tax increase. Susan Robertson called this a "back door tax". Well, back door or front door, a tax is a tax. My proposal would have kept money in people's pockets at a time when the economy is in significant pain and that was the goal. Her "front door" approach takes money away now and leaves a higher overall tax rate in effect when the "school tax" is eliminated, so is really both a front door and a back door tax!

The Council majority stated that lowering the bond payments to the minimum would cost an extra $150,000. This amount would be spread over the next 10 years or so. With approximately 7500 citizens and just under 3000 households, this amounts to approximately $20 per person or $50 per household. That's not per month or per year or per decade, but total. So, we could have assessed every household a one time fee of $50 (rhetorically speaking) instead of increasing taxes by $150 annually for every $100,000 of assessed value of your house. Frankly that doesn't make economic sense to me nor sound like much of a savings.

Finally, there is the "moral and ethical" charge. One or two years ago, after the county reassessed all county property, we lowered our overall tax rate by 15% to compensate for a 15% increase in property values. At that time, we lowered the "school tax" from $.35 to $.30 to keep it from biting into general revenues and to avoid a tax increase. This was non-controversial and I don't remember any discussion about the "moral and ethical" consequences. I also don't remember any consideration or discussion of how much tax would be rescinded when the loan was paid off. If the "school tax" is lowered, that is how much will be rescinded. It was not an issue then, so I don't know why it is an issue now. On this, as on so many issues, the principles of the majority on the council seem to bend to fit whatever their latest whim is, be it taxes or land use or money for education, etc.

I hope that the voters who promoted Ms. Robertson for her anti-tax stand during the campaign (see will do a bit more research next time.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

new taxes... express your opinion

As you probably know, after initially voting to keep taxes level on June 20, Mayor Bill Lusk reversed himself and voted for a tax increase at the Monday morning June 27 "agenda" meeting. He said he did this because he heard from more people supporting a tax increase than those opposing. Obviously, since he had previously voted to oppose the increase and noone knew he was going to change his vote it seems clear that he only heard from those who were encouraged by Susan Robertson to contact him to support her. She aggressively has been pushing for this tax increase (after initially proposing a "wheel tax" then a "garbage tax") after stating during her campaign last fall that she hoped there wouldn't be any need for a tax increase for 3-4 years!  

Since we are currently spending an extra several hundred thousands of dollars per year over and above the minimum payment required for the high school bond, I have long advocated using that extra money to avoid a tax increase. We have already shaved at least 6 years off the life of the loan and are currently paying around 1% interest on the bond, thus with inflation this is essentially a no interest loan. Mayor Lusk in the paper today made the rather odd statement that part of the reason he voted for a tax increase, after initially voting against it, was because he expected he would have to raise taxes again next year! Ironically, one or two years ago, when increases in the property assessment values allowed us to lower the overall tax rate, we decreased the amount going to the bond from $.35 to $.30 to shift revenues from bond payments to the general fund and avoid a tax increase, so there is nothing sacrosanct about this amount. Apparently the only difference then was that it was an election year.  
 Obviously, we are talking about two legitimate positions... keep taxes the same and continue to pay off the loan "only" 6 years early or raise taxes to pay off the school loan even earlier. My real issue is the hypocrisy of Ms. Robertson running on a "no new taxes" pledge then immediately and aggressively pushing for multiple tax increases, coupled with Bill Lusk voting one way at the public budget meeting then,
 without any previous indication of his change of heart, changing his vote during a special Monday morning meeting when very few people can attend. These meetings were originally proposed by Mr. Lusk as work sessions to discuss issues and decide when topics were ready to be put on the agenda for our regular more public meetings on Monday nights, not as a way to hide from the public when making controversial flip-flops. Unfortunately, it has frequently been used for just that purpose. I can't tell you how many times Robertson, Lusk or Allen stated during one of these meetings "we have to keep this secret, the citizens won't like it or understand it", including meetings with developers to sell town recreational property to those developers, economic development plans like Ms. Robertson's suggestion to get a convenience store built on Shackleford Ridge Road near the High School, traffic cameras and many discussions about individuals they deemed unacceptable for town boards. I rebelled at this cynicism and arrogance which was a big reason for the differences in style between myself and the other council members. This issue deserves a clear public airing.  

The final vote on the budget (and the tax increase) will be this Monday, July 11 at 6:30pm at the Town Hall. Councilmembers Dick Gee and Bill Wallace have voted to oppose this increase and I suspect will continue to show their strength of character by remaining consistent and opposing this increase. If you have an opinion, I would urge you to attend this meeting and express that opinion. If you can't go, you can email the council at: 

I would also encourage you to consider sending a "letter to the editor" to the Times Free Press at:  

or at 

Thank you for listening to me! I hope you also come to see "Beauty and the Beast" this weekend or any of the next four weekends in July at the Signal Mountain Playhouse: