Whether it be a property tax increase, a sales tax hike or the creation of a second wheel tax, it looks inevitable that county residents will be shouldering an increased financial burden to keep the county in the black.
The Claiborne Budget Committee seemed to agree during a recent meeting that the County Road Department, just one line item in a bulky budget, is in dire need of additional funding to keep abreast of deteriorating roadways.
Those funds will likely come from either a ten cent increase in county residential property taxes or a second wheel tax.
During its latest meeting, the budget committee considered raising additional revenues via an increase in the sales tax. Currently, 2.25 percent of the state’s sales taxes lands into the local coffers to be evenly divided between the three cities and the county, depending on where each business generating the sale is located.
Sam Owens, who is the county finance officer, said last week a one-half percent sales tax increase would generate about $550,000 in county revenues, alone.
County commissioner Bill Keck, who is also a member of the budget committee, reminded his fellow board members of the last local sales tax increase.
“When we raised the three-quarter cent sales tax years ago, it was all supposed to go toward the schools. Now, we didn’t get the cities to sign off on it. After we got it voted in, the cities got half instead of it all going toward the schools,” said Keck.
The extra revenues, he said, could be used to offset the costs of the Claiborne Jail expansion project.
“But, the cities have to sign off on it. We don’t want to be like three years ago,” said Keck.
County attorney James Estep III said the cities also have expenses to cover.
“Their argument is, we’re using their services, too, by driving and shopping in their cities. They’ve got police departments (to maintain),” said Estep.
The board agreed the original Claiborne Justice Center project should be paid off by 2024. The wheel tax created to pay for the initial project is set to run to 2030.
Those extra funds, roughly more than $4 million, could also be used to help pay for the jail expansion, said Keck.
Apparently, the county would incur stiff penalties if it were to pay off the Justice Center bonds early.
One bit of business did occur during the rambling meeting last Thursday. The committee unanimously approved a three percent pay raise for all county employees. However, it will take a majority “yay” vote by the full Claiborne Commission to place the stamp of approval on the raise, as presented to them by the committee.
Keck said he would like to take the proposed budget home with him to review it for areas where cuts could occur.
During a telephone interview last Friday, Owens said it would be a “physical impossibility” to bring the new fiscal year budget before the full county commission for approval in August.
The county is currently awaiting word on the exact amounts of various state and federal revenues, he said.
“The committee has gone through every line item once, but they have the option to go back and change anything they think needs it,” said Owens, adding his best guess is a late September conclusion to the budget preparation.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.