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Bristol Virginia Borrows to Cover Bloated Spending

by Lewis Loflin

Tax collections, in particular meal taxes being off 6 percent has forced Bristol Virginia to borrow $1 million just to pay the bills. This comes after years of out of control spending, looting funds from the City utility, and "Voodoo booking" has left the City almost $120 million in debt. According to City Manager Bill Dennison, "Cash flow is the only reason. Revenues are down, but it's always tight this time of year." Other taxes are off 4 percent.

This is the same City government that went in on a speculative $2.5 million land deal with a private developer. He later defaulted on the agreement costing the City $2-$3 million in losses they never planned on. No Mr. Dennison it's not just cash flow. He went on to claim this "refinancing" is a common practice in Virginia and I guess that makes it alright.

This money is being borrowed at 5.75 percent interest and must be paid back in 12 months. They hope to do this with property taxes in December. Revenue began declining in January when the return from millions spent on pork-barrel tourism projects failed to perform as planned. According to the Herald Courier the final budget, approved 3-1 by the City Council, allows the city to borrow as much as $4 million for this purpose during the current fiscal year.

Not so fast says Councilman Guy Odum who cast the lone no-vote in the in the 3-1 decision. He says, "We should have done some creative things early in the year to deal with this" shortfall. And this is not over yet. We can continue to borrow more." Both he and Councilman Jim Heaney have been trying to clean up this corrupt City government but keep getting out-voted.

To quote, "Since July, we've borrowed $2.7 million to keep the city operating. That's like $1.7 million to pay the mortgage and $1 million to buy groceries." They both voted against refinancing $1.6 million in long-term bond debt which keeps the city from paying a $1.1 million payment in 2009 and a $500,000 in 2010-11. They simply put the problem off and it keeps growing. Mr. Odum calls it borrowing, the City refinancing. What's the difference? Ref. BHC September 30, 2009

In a community with a per-capita income of $17,000 here are the shocking salaries of some top City officials:


Stimulus Pork at Bristol Virginia Schools

Ina Danko, is the superintendent of the Bristol Virginia school system. Bristol Virginia was ranked as one of the worst systems in the state according to the Roanoke Times (www.roanoke.com) December 17, 2006. She was Virginia High principal until she retired to head the City school system with a whopping salary of over $90,000. Virginia High was about the worst school in the whole state.

During the 2002-03 school year, 24 percent of Virginia High's 225 freshmen failed, one of the highest rates in Southwest Virginia. The year before that, 24 percent of the high school's 211 freshmen were retained. The press blamed it on not being accepted, etc. To quote student, "I went to high school, and it seemed like everything got worse. If you don't fit in, you're not accepted. If they don't like the way you look, they tell you that you need to go change your clothes. I wouldn't go because of all the kids." It sounds like a discipline problem to me. Perhaps they should mandate uniforms and strict dress codes. Ref. BHC Aug 15, 2004.

That school is near the Bristol Virginia public housing with its large number of black residents, violent crimes, and drugs. In fact controversy arose when black students were shown to be under performing white students even in the same classes and being treated the same as white students. It's perhaps unfair to blame Mrs. Danko for problems she didn't cause and can't fix. See Race behind School Score Declines about the controversy when the No Child Left Behind scores came out in Bristol, Virginia.

According to Mrs. Danko they cut over $1 million from the budget earlier and the stimulus pork is welcome, but doesn't make up for all of the cuts. They plan to use the money for tutors, literacy coaches, cafeteria equipment, some fencing, computers and software, and retaining employees. Other than some temp work by a local fence company, it will simply retains mainly government jobs and produces nothing for long-term private sector jobs.

To quote the Herald Courier,

"The school system provided the names and winning bids for four contractors, totaling a shade under $50,000: Area Radon Services and Rio Grande Fence Co., both in Johnson City, Tenn.; American Steel and Iron in Bristol, VA.; and Johnson Fence Co. in Bristol, Tenn. "I hope the stimulus money trickles down to us a lot more," said Alan Johnson, of Johnson Fence Co., which also has won stimulus-funded contracts for Russell County schools.

Johnson said his business is "not that bad, but not good, like it used to be." His work force consists of his wife, two sons and six full-time employees who install fences. He hasn't considered hiring additional workers, nor has he had to lay off any..."

And there we have it. We are creating no new jobs, just holding on to a few present jobs, mostly government, as long as the pork keeps coming. The danger is what happens when it ends? In fact according to press reports the stimulus money is simply filling in the gaps where the State of Virginia has cut funds and filled it in with federal money. Ref. BHC September 27, 2009

Virginia High School

On May 14, 2007 in the Bristol Herald Courier,

Bristol, VA. and Tenn. school officials said graduation rates released by an independent research group are probably wrong. Last week, school officials from both Bristol's reviewed graduation numbers from a report released by Maryland-based Editorial Projects in Education, which reported Tennessee High had a 63.2 percent graduate rate and Virginia High School posted 52.1 percent rate.

"That seems very, very low," Bristol Virginia Superintendent Doug Arnold told the Bristol Herald-Courier. "And in reality, I suspect it is." EPE, a non-profit research organization that publishes Education Week magazine, released the report that shows graduation rates for every public high school across the nation. It also shows high school enrollment, number of teachers, student-teacher ratios.

While Bristol, Virginia claims this is low, I suspect it and others are too high. I've examined the data myself and it's a mess. The The New York Times (March 20, 2008) in an article titled States' Data Obscure How Few Finish High School shows the data in most states is inflated. For more on this visit www.silentepidemic.org. Virginia High is also on the bottom in the Tri-Cities region. Here are some of the other area schools 2006 graduation rates according to the group's report:

Sullivan County schools - 63.7
Washington County, Tenn. - 71.1
Washington Co. VA. - 84.6
Kingsport - 69.9
Johnson City - 76.2
Wise VA - 73.2
Scott Co. VA. - 73.7

Visit the Virginia High School website. To quote the Bristol Herald Courier May 12, 2008,

New Virginia High principal targets graduation rates. Martin Ringstaff, principal of Dan River High School near Danville, VA., was selected Monday as the next principal of Virginia High School...Among his goals, Ringstaff said he wants to examine Virginia High's rates for dropouts, attendance and graduation. "I think the graduation rate needs some attention. We need to see what's going on there," Ringstaff said...

I wish him well. Also see The Obama "Change" Show Comes to Virginia High in Bristol, VA

Shell Game in Wythe County

"Though they receive a fraction of the statewide total, localities in the region claim some of the highest stimulus spending per person, ranging from $398 a head in Wythe County to $130 in Russell County. The impact of those funds, however, is more elusive."

If we are wondering why the billions in stimulus pork dollars are producing nothing we can visit Wythe County, Virginia. Wythe County has been most saturated with stimulus pork dollars at nearly $11.5 million. According to the Bristol herald Courier they rank 6th out of 95 counties in Virginia. Nearby Abingdon, one of the wealthiest communities in the state got only a fraction ($379,000) of the stimulus pork. According to them (9/7/2009) it's a shell game:

Wythe County Administrator Cellell Dalton downplayed the impact of the stimulus funds. "It's just a two-year stopgap measure to help states out," Dalton said of the money his county has received from the state. "In my opinion, the state has taken federal dollars and used those to supplant the revenues they should have paid" to cities, towns and counties, he said. "The state is making localities pick up the shortfall."

To date, Wythe County has received a $71,000 grant for the county's Sheriff's Office, a $6.5 million grant for highways and bridges, a $1.4 million grant for a sewer pump, and $3.3 million in education funds. But the way Dalton looks it at, the state has played a sleight-of-hand game, swapping federal funds with their strict conditions in place of the money it would normally send to localities.

In fact, Dalton said, he's short this year. "I think it's not even status quo," he said of funding from the state. "I think the only stimulus money we've received is for the sewer project itself."

Mountain States Health Alliance closing Indian Path Pavilion in Kingsport

July 3, 2009 Mountain States Health Alliance is closing Indian Path Pavilion, a 67-bed psychiatric unit over the next couple of months, and consolidating its mental health services at 75-bed Woodridge Hospital in Johnson City. MSHA's board of directors approved the move, which will eliminate 114 jobs...those employees include psychiatric nurses and master's prepared clinicians.

Their Johnson City facility is also under-utilized. (An internal) study confirmed that one consequence of recent budget cuts has been a hit to mental health services. Fleming called that area of health care a "regular target" in tough economic times, and that has prompted the slowdown in patient volume...

Extract Johnson City Press. At Congressman Rick Boucher's recent Town Hall on healthcare reform, hospital officials such as those from MSHA said publicly the drug and alcohol abuse in this area was "terrible." Indian Path Pavilion also served Virginia residents.

This page posted 22 November 2009