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Debt burden weighs on voters

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

Roane County has a population of 53,508, according to a recent U.S. Census estimate.

If every resident contributed $1,000, that still wouldn’t be enough to pay off the county’s $56 million debt.

By comparison, nearby Loudon County’s debt is $27.3 million for about 47,000 residents.

The candidates running for Roane County executive have all spoken  during the campaign about lowering the debt.

Miles Ledbetter Jr. said he would devote more scrutiny to departmental budgets.

“If employees cannot hold their budgets, if I catch them splurging after I told them not to, they’re going to be fired,” he said during a forum in June.

Election Day is Aug. 5.

Ledbetter faces incumbent Mike Farmer, as well as Ron Woody, in the race for county executive.

Farmer said the key to retiring debt is not borrowing more money.

With the new jail finished and a TVA-funded school building plan under way, Farmer said he doesn’t see the county borrowing for a major capital project in the next few years.

“We’ve got a plan in place to retire 23 percent of our debt over the next four years,” he said.

Farmer also said all the interest on the county’s debt is now fixed.

“We got away from the variable interest rates,” he said.

The county commission passed a $103.6 million budget last year.

Woody said his plan to lower the debt includes cutting expenses.  

“We’re going to look at the budgets we can get more efficient on,” he said.

“We’ve got some cuts that we have in mind. Those cuts then, we can transfer that savings into a capital projects plan.”

Woody said it would not be his policy to borrow money for something that’s only going to last a few years.

“I’m going to submit to the county commission a debt policy that’s going to say we will never borrow money for assets that exceed their life expectancy,” he said.

Americans’ frustration with the national debt has sparked protests and anger across the country.

The county’s debt burden hasn’t been lost on some residents.

Robert Silvera expressed frustration with how much of his county property taxes go toward paying it.

He urged officials to get a handle of the local debt during a recent commission meeting.

“Our federal government is out of control as far as spending is concerned,” he said. “I think that we need to not follow them, but rather show example from the ground up on a county level.”