A Third And Final
Vote Passes With
Narrow Margin Of
10 For, 7 Against
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Greene County Commissioners passed a 20-cent property tax increase proposed by Commissioner Bill Moss on a vote of 10-7 on Monday.
The increase will cover the county school system's $1.19 million deficit, provide 2 percent raises for all county employees except for those certified school employees already getting a 2.5 percent raise, and give "some boost" to the road department's depleted fund balance, Moss said.
The sharply-divided vote came near the close of a three-and-a-half-hour meeting Monday morning at the Greene County Courthouse.
A public hearing on the budget immediately preceding the meeting filled the upper level of the courthouse with concerned citizens who spoke for and against a property tax increase. (More information on comments from the public will appear in Wednesday's issue of The Greeneville Sun.)
Because of space constraints, by 8:45 a.m., county deputies providing meeting security were no longer allowing individuals into the courtroom where the hearing and meeting were held.
Most in the crowd, including those left in the hallway, stayed through the long meeting until the vote approving the 20-cent hike.
Earlier in the meeting, a vote on the 20-cent proposal failed, with nine commissioners voting for the increase and 8 voting against it.
A SECOND VOTE
A new proposal had then been presented by Commissioner Tim White for a 13-cent tax hike, with all of the proceeds going toward education.
Greene County Budget Director Mary Shelton had calculated that a 12.94-cent property tax increase would be required to cover the county school system's projected deficit, yielding approximately $1.7 million annually.
Under state law, revenue for education must be split between the county and city school systems based on average daily attendance.
The Greene County School System traditionally receives about 70 percent of local property tax revenue for education, with the Greeneville City System receiving the remaining 30 percent.
Therefore, if the increase in the tax rate had been 12.94 cents per $100 of assessed value, the $1.7 million would have provided approximately $1.2 million for the county system and about $500,000 for the Greeneville school system.
However, that vote failed, 9-8, prompting White to move to reconsider Moss's 20-cent tax increase proposal.
THIRD AND FINAL VOTE
In the final vote for the resurrected 20-cent tax increase proposal, the following commissioners voted in the majority for the increase: Wade McAmis, Fred Malone, Tim White, Robin Quillen, M.C. Rollins, Hilton Seay, John Waddle, Bill Moss, Jan Kiker and Jimmy Sams.
Voting against the increase were John Carter, Rennie Hopson, Ted Hensley, Robert Bird, Phil King, Margaret Greenway and Nathan Holt. (See related story on commissioners' comments, Page A-1)
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
County Mayor Alan Broyles announced at the beginning of the meeting that commissioners Lloyd "Hoot" Bowers and David Crum were out of town on vacations that had been arranged before the called session of the commission had been scheduled.
By state law, Commissioner Anthony Sauceman could not legally vote on the budget because he was hired as a county employee after his election to the commission.
The two other commissioners currently employed by the county, Kiker and Hopson, were already county employees prior to being elected and were legally able to vote after reading aloud a formal "Conflict of Interest" statement, in which they stated that they were voting for what they considered the public good, in accordance with their consciences.
A majority of the commissioners read such statements before every vote, mainly because they have family members who work for county government or the city school system in some capacity.
Those who read the statements included Commissioners Sams, Kiker, Waddle, Holt, Seay, Quillen, Hensley, Hopson and McAmis.
Moss also read the statement due to his retired position from Rodefer Moss, an accounting firm that audits the county school system annually.
The final vote came with exactly the number required to pass.
Normally, voting on the budget would require an 11-vote majority, but with Sauceman unable to vote and Commissioner Brenda Grogan's recent death, County Attorney Roger Woolsey confirmed that only 10 votes would be necessary for passage.
The Greene County Budget and Finance Committee ended its public hearing prior to the full commission meeting with a vote recommending paying all deficits, including the county school system's, out of the appropriate fund balances, and leaving the property tax levy unchanged.
The proposed General Fund budget included $20,980,109 in expenditures and $20,159,500 in revenues.
(Of those expenditures, $437,200 were contributions to local agencies, many of which are non-profit, from the General Fund. Another $253,700 in contributions comes from the hotel/motel tax.
(The Commission voted to approve these annual donations at the same level as last year, with Hopson as the only opposing vote and Sauceman abstaining throughout the budget process.)
This left an $820,600 deficit that the budget committee proposed paying out of the fund balance.
Doing so would leave an estimated $3.2 million remaining in the fund balance on June 30, 2013.
Deficits other than the school system's that the Budget and Finance Committee's proposal called on to balance using that budget's respective fund balance included:
* Workers' Compensation, with a proposed $4,000 deficit;
* Drug Control, with a proposed $33,000 deficit;
* Highway Department, with a proposed $1.4 million deficit;
* General Debt Service, with a proposed $285,600 deficit;
* Education Debt Service, with a proposed $31,000 deficit; and,
* Capital Projects, with a proposed $7,398 deficit.
This recommendation remained largely intact in the approved budget, except for adding revenue for providing raises to county employees, covering the school deficit, and providing some extra funding for the road department.
Had the Board of Education taken the system's deficit out of the system's fund balance, as the committee proposed, the fund balance would have dipped just below the 3 percent of the operating budget that the state requires the system to maintain.
If the commission had sent the system's budget back to the County Board of Education with the deficit, however, by state law the board would have had the final say on any cuts, and the final decision about whether any of the fund balance would have been used to offset the deficit.
With the revenue increase that passed, the new tax levy, according to Shelton, would be $1.5137 per $100 of assessed value for those living inside the Greeneville city limits.
The "inside" total does not include the county's education debt service of $0.1932, which only applies to those living outside the city limits.
The rate for those living outside the Greeneville city limits is now $1.7069 per $100 of assessed value, Shelton said.
Commissioners Carter, Hopson, Bird, Greenway, and Holt voted against the change to the tax levy.
MEANING OF CHANGE
Since residential property is assessed for tax purposes at only 25 percent of its appraised value, the 20-cents-per-$100 increase in the property tax would mean:
* $25 in additional taxes for the year for a property appraised at $50,000;
* $50 in additional taxes for the year for a property appraised at $100,000;
* $100 in additional taxes for the year for a property appraised at $200,000;
* $150 in additional taxes for the year for a property appraised at $300,000,
and so forth.
In other business, the Commission voted to approve the following resolutions:
* a proposal by the Tennessee Department of Transportation to replace small drainage structures along State Route 93, locally known as the Kingsport Highway; and,
* an annual update to policies and procedures relating to negotiations and acceptance of payments in lieu of taxes, if deemed beneficial to the public purposes of the Industrial Development Board.