Saturday, May 07, 2011

Mayor Burchett says budget knife is attention-getter for economic development group

By News Sentinel staff

Comments made by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett have sparked an exchange with a partnership designed to bring jobs and economic growth to the Greater Knoxville area.

Burchett made the comments Monday during a WBIR-TV interview. He was asked about part of his proposed 2012 budget in which he recommends cutting funding for the Innovation Valley Inc. partnership from what was once $350,000 to $125,000?.

"I haven't seen checks and balances there," he said, "a system where we've seen any production that I'm satisfied with.

"I think the best way to get ahold of that is to make cuts and get folks' attention... If they don't (improve) we'll continue cutting them."

Innovation Valley Inc. sent a letter to several media outlets this evening, stating Burchett's statements "could lead to misunderstanding by readers and viewers."

The letter was signed by Thomas Mason, chairman of the board; Jimmy Haslam, chair elect; and Kevin Clayton, secretary-treasurer.

"It is our belief that Knox County has seen a tremendous return on its investment since 2008 when Innovation Valley began," the letter states. "Knox County has the lowest unemployment rate among the state's metropolitan areas, and Forbes magazine ranked Knoxville no. 9 among medium-sized cities on its 2011 'Best Cities for Jobs' list."

"I appreciate the fact that they are taking full credit for that," Burchett said, when read that part of the letter this evening, "but I can assure you a lot of people had a hand in that. It's not just one organization. I think people come here and bring jobs because of our low tax rate and the fact that we have no income tax and are a right-to-work state."

Burchett called the proposed cut "nothing personal."

"The Chamber, Innovation Valley and the Development Corp. get $800,000 - all under the auspices of the Chamber - and we are in unprecedented economic times and we are cutting across the board. At the same time we are putting a half million dollars into our infrastructure - county roads and such - that is demanded. I think that is responsible government.

"Everybody wanted me to run (for mayor) as a fiscal conservative," he said. "Everyone wants us to make cuts everywhere but theirs. If they don't want the cuts then tell me who to lay off; people don't realize it but that's where we are at."

The letter states Innovation Valley would "welcome the opportunity" to tell its story.

It states that IVI "eliminates duplication and inefficient delivery of services in the region by creating a coordinated plan of work." The letter also states that IVI has kept the county abreast of its progress and finances with annual and quarterly reports.

"We are proud of what Innovation Valley has accomplished by bringing together local governments and the private sector to promote the Knoxville area - in a cost-effective and efficient way - as a great place to do business," the letter states.

Innovation Valley Inc. is composed of six partner agencies: the Knoxville Chamber, Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Loudon County Economic Development Agency, Oak Ridge Economic Partnership, The Roane Alliance and Tellico Reservoir Development Agency.

© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.

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