County property tax up 4 cents

Friday, June 30, 2017

Bedford County Board of Commissioners, by a 12-5 vote with one member absent, voted Thursday night to raise property taxes by four cents, from an overall rate of $2.52 per $100 assessed value to a rate of $2.56.

For a private homeowner whose property had an appraised value of $200,000, and therefore an assessed value of $50,000, the change would mean a $20 increase in their county property tax bill.

The commission also approved a budget for the county for the new fiscal year which begins Saturday.

New positions

The tax increase will fund seven new positions -- one in the county zoning office, one in the Circuit Court Clerk's office, one in the probation office, and four new sheriff's deputies.

Commissioner Jimmy Woodson asked for the list of new positions to be clarified, saying a news story earlier this week in the Times-Gazette included a slightly different list.

Opponents

Commissioners Chuck Heflin and Bill Anderson spoke against the tax increase.

Heflin repeated his argument from a Financial Management Committee meeting earlier this week that the county's revenues and expenses are estimated too conservatively, and that there should be enough money to cover the new positions without a tax increase.

At that finance committee meeting Tuesday evening, Finance Director Robert Daniel said the figures are based on past experience and are carefully scrutinized by the state comptroller of the treasury. He said some of the additional revenue which comes in over and above the original budget is in the form of grant funding for specific projects.

Anderson said the commission needs to know more about how much it will have to spend on the new jail and justice center and the new Cascade High School before committing to any increases in day-to-day operations. Anderson also said that if the county were growing as rapidly as claimed by some, the natural growth in revenues would be enough to cover growth in operations.

Cascade

Although the tax rate vote was not directly related to either the jail or high school projects, Commissioner Linda Yockey took the chance to ask School Superintendent Don Embry to reassure her constituents that the Cascade High School project is moving forward regardless. Bids on the project have come in higher than the budget, and the commission and school board will have to figure out a way to cover the additional cost without sacrificing badly-needed classrooms. The existing building housing Cascade High School and Cascade Middle School is severely overcrowded and relies heavily on portable classrooms, which are a safety and security risk. When the new high school is built, the middle school will expand to occupy all of the existing building.

"It is our intention, the school board's intention, to carry on and get Cascade High School as soon as possible," said Embry.

On Tuesday night, one possible solution to the problem which was discussed would be for the school board to issue a capital outlay note for the difference between the budget and the actual cost, and repay it from the school system's tax rate over time.

Tax hike approved

The vote to approve a four-cent tax increase for the county general fund passed 12-5. Voting in favor were Tony Barrett, Janice Brothers, John Brown, Ed Castleman, Bob Davis, Bobby Fox, Don Gallagher, Tony Smith, Mark Thomas, Jimmy Woodson, Yockey and Jeff Yoes.

Opposed were Anderson, P.T. "Biff" Farrar, Heflin, Billy King and Julie Sanders.

Jimmy Patterson was absent.

That identical 12-5 vote was carried forward through the vote on the other three individual property tax rates -- highway department, schools, and debt service -- even though they weren't being increased. The total tax rate of $2.56 was then approved by the same margin.

Budget resolutions

Commissioners then voted collectively on a string of resolutions enacting the county budget and tax rate:

l Resolution 18-1, the tax rate resolution

l Resolution 18-2, the budget (spending) resolutions

l Resolution 18-3, making contributions to independent not-for-profit agencies. Most such agencies received a cut in their county funding again this year. Commissioners praise the work done by the agencies but say they need the money for county government itself and are questioned by constituents about the county's role in funding such agencies.

l Resolution 18-4, allowing clerks who serve more than one court to be compensated for the additional responsibility as provided for by state law

l Resolution 18-5, which allows elected officials to receive an incentive if they achieve the designation of "Certified Public Administrator" from the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service

l Resolution 18-6, which commits the county to meeting the requirements for federal education funding, and which also allows the county's "fee offices" to use the proceeds they generate as provided by state law, with any excess fees going into the county general fund.

Open records

Commissioners voted separately to adjust the county's open records policy to conform with changes in state law.

Commissioners also approved final, year-end amendments to the 2016-17 budget, to bring it into balance and account for unplanned expenses or revenues before the end of the fiscal year at midnight tonight. Separate amendments were approved for the county general fund and for the school budget.

Finally, commissioners approved an extension of the state's lease for the building housing Tennessee Vocational Rehabilitation Center. That building was constucted by and is owned by the county; the state leases it from the county for $133,734 a year.

At the end of the published agenda, the commission declared a recess so that it could meet in closed attorney-client session with attorney Ginger Shofner. The county is the plaintiff in a lawsuit by Grady Cunningham, who was repeatedly denied a zoning change for property on U.S. 231 north of Shelbyville.

After the closed attorney-client consultation, the meeting was called back into session and County Mayor Eugene Ray asked commissioners if there were any motions they wanted to make as a result of the consultation. No motions were made, and the meeting was then adjourned.