The Claiborne Commission spent a substantial chunk of time last week reviewing and discarding various amendments to an original motion adopting a property tax levy.
Going into the meeting, the commissioners’ first task was to either adopt or reject the proposed appropriations resolution that included a 27 cent property tax increase and various departmental budget cuts.
That resolution was soundly defeated by a vote of 16 to five, leaving the playing field wide open for a new plan.
Commissioner Steve Mason made a motion to adopt a ten cents increase in property taxes. His motion was seconded by commissioner James Hatmaker.
However, an estimated half hour was spent in a winding discussion on several topics before the vote was again called.
One of those topics centered around the motion by commissioner Juanita Honeycutt to add as an amendment a total $250,000 transfer to the general fund of reserves from the county landfill and the Industrial Board.
Honeycutt said the moneys would save the county from facing a zero fund balance.
The vote was interrupted a second time by commissioner Whitt Shuford, who questioned the move to adopt the tax increase, barring discussion of possible budget cuts by the commission.
“Just to vote in the tax of any kind, wheel or property, without going through this budget – without us doing our due diligence in attempting to bring that number down – if we could sit here and whittle for the next couple of days, and bring that down to a $5 wheel tax and a five cent property tax. Then, we are doing our due diligence for the county and its citizens by not just imposing a tax on them,” said Shuford.
“Ten cents is fair, in my eyes. If we sit here and nickel and dime it out of each of these departments…. And the reality is, people are going to be coming back toward the end of the year and saying, ‘I’m short on this. I’m asking for it back.’ And then, we’re back in the same boat that we’re in, already,” said Honeycutt.
After another lengthy discussion and a break, the commission seemed ready to vote on the ten cents property tax increase and amendment made by Honeycutt to cut some $50,000 from the Industrial Board and about $200,000 from the landfill reserves.
This amendment was adopted by a vote of 14 to seven, despite a lengthy discussion by landfill supervisor Mike Russell about future department needs.
Commissioners Charlton Vass, Bill Keck, Dennis Estes, Mitchell Cosby, Billy Johnson, Aimee Upton and William Jessie voted against the measure.
Shuford introduced an amendment to reduce commissioner salaries by $50 per month and to do away entirely with the salaries of all committee members. This would be in effect for one year, according to Shuford’s amendment.
However, Tennessee Codes Annotated (T.C.A.) §55107(d) requires all committee members be paid one-half the regular salaries of commissioners, according to county attorney James Estep III.
Shuford then proposed another amendment with a motion to reduce county commissioner salaries by $100 per month.
The amendment was approved by a vote of 13 to eight. Those voting against the measure were commissioners Mason, Hatmaker, Shawn Peters, Aimee Upton, Danny Longworth, Gary Poore, Mike Campbell and David Mundy.
An amendment, proposed by commissioner Bill Keck and seconded by commissioner Vass, to cut $500,000 from the jail budget was defeated by a vote of 17 to four.
Keck said the cut would take back the funds formerly used for food and other county-responsible expenses from the housing of state and federal prisoners.
Sheriff David Ray questioned the proposal, saying the county had already approved a $150,000 cut from his department which includes the prisoner housing costs incurred by the county.
“I can’t see it would be possible to run the jail another year, if we cut it further,” said commissioner Peters.
Commissioner Jessie agreed, saying the county should not “cut the legs out from under law enforcement.”
Commissioners Vass, Keck, Poore and Mitchell Cosby voted in favor of this amendment.
Another amendment by Keck called for the elimination of two county positions at a savings of about $65,000. After discussing the merits of the two employees, the motion failed by a vote of 15 to six.
What could have turned the meeting into an all-nighter was summarily kicked to the curb by a vote of 15 to six. Shuford first suggested cutting from the budget half, or some $67,500 – the amount the county currently donates to all charitable organizations. Shuford stipulated the volunteer fire departments and the county rescue squad would be exempted from these cuts.
Commissioners Peters and Estes voiced concern for this proposal, reminding the commission of certain state and federal guidelines involved when nonprofit organizations acquire funding.
Commissioner Poore pointed to donations made by the county to Pleasant Point and Speedwell Academy, saying he feared other organizations of this type would be asking for money.
Shuford then changed his amendment that would require the commission to go through the long list of charitable donations, one by one, to see where budget cuts could be done.
The commissioners took a break at that time. When they returned from break, the matter failed to gain enough ‘yes’ votes to pass.
Later in the meeting, Peters presented a resolution calling for approval of $135,000 to cover donations to the various charitable organizations. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 19 to two. Commissioners Poore and Shuford voted against the measure.
An amendment brought to the floor by Vass, and seconded by Mitchell Cosby, would have reduced the jail budget by $250,000. However, Vass amended his motion to cut $150,000, instead. The amendment was approved by a vote of 19 to two.
Commissioners Longworth and Jessie were the two ‘no’ votes.
Near the end of the meeting, prior to the final vote to adopt a ten cent tax levy, commissioner Peters asked the exact amount the hike would cost a taxpayer who owned a $100,000 home.
A quick calculation showed that homeowner would need to fork up about $25 more to pay their annual property tax.
“We’re shutting down the government and making these people go without a paycheck for $25 per household. I see a problem here, and I’m ready for you guys to suggest something else, because I’m done,” said Peters.
After a bit more discussion, commissioner Hatmaker said he wanted to change his ‘no’ vote.
“I’m not going to shut this blamed county down for $25,” said Hatmaker.
Due to regulations regarding official meetings, the commission was forced to do over the vote. The tax levy was officially adopted by a vote of 11 to ten.
For more information about the commission meeting, read ‘Commission balances budget’ and ‘Commission sweats the big stuff.’
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.