A marathon meeting of the Claiborne Commission last week netted the adoption of the new fiscal year budget that includes a property tax hike of ten cents per $100 of assessed value.
The equation works out to an approximate $25 tax increase on a house valued at $100,000.
The 21-member board spent nearly four hours, in total, listening to concerned residents during a public hearing, then mulling several proposed amendments during the reconvened meeting.
Discussions bogged down several times as each proposal was defeated. In the end, an original motion made by commissioner Steve Mason and seconded by commissioner James Hatmaker was adopted by a vote of 11 to ten.
As adopted, the resolution calls for the ten cents tax levy, a $100 per month, per commissioner pay cut and a reduction of $150,000 from the Claiborne County Jail budget.
The passage of the resolution will also allow the county to transfer into the general fund some $200,000 in reserves from the landfill budget, and about $50,000 from the Industrial Board reserves.
The commissioners went into the meeting with the burden to vote their consciences on the earlier proposed 27 cents property tax increase. Apparently, their constituents made their thoughts known, as the original appropriations resolution was voted down by 16 to five.
Those voting in favor of the resolution were commissioners Shawn Peters, Ann Bowling, Juanita Honeycutt, Danny Longworth and David Mundy.
The failure of the appropriations resolution left the field wide open for new proposals to balance the budget.
During the protracted discussions, it was debated whether it was necessary for the county to include in the budget a tax increase. County finance officer Sam Owens insisted the state had told him that the budget would not be approved if it did not include one.
Owens said it would take a levy of at least ten cents to “break even.”
Commissioner Whitt Shuford suggested “whittling down” the budget before voting on any property tax increase.
“We need to be doing our due diligence. Maybe, we could get down to five cents on the property taxes,” said Shuford, adding any cuts to the budget should be voted on prior to any vote for a tax hike.
Once the tax levy was adopted, the commission turned to the task of adopting the new fiscal year budget. The first go-around was unsuccessful, however, as the resolution failed by a vote of 11 to ten.
Those voting against the adoption were commissioners Shuford, Hatmaker, Longworth, Zachary Bunch, Charlton Vass, Bill Keck, Gary Poore, Anthony Rowe, Mitchell Cosby, Billy Johnson and William Jessie.
Commissioner Keck then made a motion to amend the resolution by rescinding the tax rate – a move that would require a two-thirds approval by the commission.
Keck pointed to the funds already collected this fiscal year on those contract prisoners who have not yet been transferred from the now decertified Claiborne County Jail.
The motion failed with a vote of 13 to eight. Commissioners Bunch, Honeycutt, Bowling, Mason, Longworth, Mundy, Hatmaker, Aimee Upton, Shawn Peters, Joan Cosby, Dennis Estes, Mike Campbell and Nicholas Epperson voted against the measure.
After a bit more discussion, the commission took a second vote on the budget, managing to adopt it with a vote of 13 to eight.
Those voting against the budget adoption were Shuford, Vass, Keck, Poore, Johnson, Longworth, Jessie and Mitchell Cosby.
Commissioner Estes is sponsoring a resolution that, if adopted on second reading, will rescind the ten cents property tax increase after one year in favor of a $25 wheel tax to cover continued balancing of the budget.
“I don’t think it’s fair to place the burden on just the property owners of this county. This way, it will be more fairly distributed,” said Estes, during a telephone interview.
The resolution is expected to undergo its first reading during the October meeting of the commission.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.