Property owners in Greeneville will face higher tax bills in 2020 following action Monday by the Greene County Commission.
The commission in a 12-9 vote approved a resolution setting a single property tax rate inside and outside the corporate limits of Greeneville at $2.0145 per $100 of assessed value for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
This single rate increases the rate for property owners inside Greeneville by about 16 cents over the rate last year.
Owners of land outside Greeneville limits will not see a property tax increase in the coming year.
Voting for the resolution were Kathy Crawford, Dale Tucker, Tim White, Josh Arrowood, Robin Quillen, George Clemmer, Pamela Carpenter, Lloyd “Hoot” Bowers, John Waddle, Josh Kesterson, Teddy Lawing and Paul Burkey.
Voting against it were Kaleb Powell, Brad Peters, Jason Cobble, Clifford “Doc” Bryant, Bill Dabbs, Lyle Parton, Gary Shelton, Jeffery Bible and Butch Patterson.
The single property tax rate reflects a change from separate tax rates levied on landowners outside the Greeneville corporate limits and those within it.
Separate rates have been place for at least four decades. Last year, the tax rate was $2.0145 for those outside the corporate limits and $1.8551 per $100 in assessed value for those within Greeneville.
The additional revenue will help the county balance the budget and eventually be able to start putting about $3 million for school capital projects without an increase to the $2.0145 tax rate, Budget Director Danny Lowery said.
The two rates in the past have been based on the amount of property tax revenues the county government uses to pay Greene County Schools education debt service.
Separate rates were historically based on a rationale that Greeneville residents should not pay the portion of county property tax used to retire county school bonds since the town funds its own school system.
Much of the discussion and debate surrounding the tax increase focused on the use of the additional revenue to reduce the budget deficit in the county’s general operating budget.
Also discussed was whether sales tax revenues could be used for education debt service payments as proposed in the budget.
The tax rate resolution also set the wheel tax rate at $55, reflecting no change from the previous year. Wheel tax revenue is divided in three ways: $43 to fund the Greene County Highway Department; $9 to the county’s general fund; and $3 for volunteer fire departments.
In other business, the commission approved general government allocations and contributions to non-profit agencies and organizations. (See related article, page 1A)
In discussing the tax rate proposal, Commissioner Brad Peters asked how the single tax rate proposal came to be part of the tax rate resolution and whose decision it was.
Peters said he did not remember it being discussed at the commission’s May 28 workshop or a June 5 Budget and Finance Committee meeting.
Commissioner Robin Quillen said that it was discussed at the budget workshop. Lowery responded that it was proposed after questions were raised about including a 2.5 percent increase across-the-board for county employees.
Lowery said the proposal is a step to further reduce the county’s budget deficit, projected for the coming fiscal year as $1.4 million.
The budget director said that the single tax rate had also been addressed in conversations during the June 5 meeting.
Peters responded that not everyone had knowledge of what was discussed, as several conversations about budgetary questions were going on simultaneously at various times during the meeting.
Peters also asked when the budget deficit had become such a concern, because the county has been operating with a deficit. Lowery responded that the intention was to budget responsibly and not allow the deficit to grow.
The budget director said it would have been better, in his opinion and in hindsight, if, when the two rates were originally proposed, to have borrowed more than needed for county schools, share the appropriate percentage with the town’s school system, and set a single tax rate.
Commissioner Butch Patterson said that he was part of a discussion at the June 5 meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee about the single rate, and he stated then he was against the additional revenues not being used for Greene County Schools.
“The Greene County school system has only asked one time for money from the county commission and got turned down,” he said. “I want that 4 cents to stay with the Greene County school system.”
The county retired one of the bonds that make up the education debt service last year, which accounted for 4 cents of the amount allocated for that specific debt from the property tax last year.
Quillen said the county is in much better financial shape than it was in 2010. “We are diligently working and getting there, but it is not an overnight fix,” she said.
Also debated was the possible use of sales tax revenue to make education debt service payments rather than using property tax collections.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Greeneville City Schools Director Steve Starnes addressed the commission, stating that his understanding of state law would dictate that the county share a portion of the additional revenues to town’s school system if it is designated for education.
Speaking later during discussion about the resolution, Greeneville City Administrator Todd Smith reiterated the position that Greeneville was due about a 32 percent share of the tax revenue, based on its average daily attendance.
As the debate began about the tax rate, Peters asked if the education debt service was moved from being paid from the property tax to the sales tax.
Lowery responded that doing so was a better use of that revenue stream.
“We are trying to maximize our [property] tax rate without raising taxes and keeping the rate at $2.0145,” he said. “It was proposed to get the biggest bang from our revenues.”
“In my opinion, it is the best for (county) school system,” Lowery continued.
In response to questions about whether the county could make the education debt payments from the sales tax, Lowery said there are conflicting sections within Tennessee Code Annotated and quoted a section of state law that permits use of any tax revenue to make debt payments.
Woolsey said that the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service had been contacted about that conflict, and their attorneys are of the opinion that a county has to meet its obligation of paying debt, and that it may use sales tax revenues if it desires.
The state Comptroller’s Office had also been contacted, and the county has heard no response that the sales tax use would be objectionable, he said.
As discussion continued, a motion was made to end the debate, but it failed with a vote of 11 in favor and 10 against. A two-thirds majority was needed for its passage.
Following the vote, Commissioner Clifford “Doc” Bryant, who had been previously speaking, expressed concern about people’s right to be heard.
Prior to the County Commission meeting, three residents spoke in opposition to a tax increase during a public hearing about the budget.
Judith Sexton, who lives in the county, asked the commission to consider working families and the elderly on a fixed income and the hardship an increase might cause for them before taking action on a the tax rate.
“You are supposed to be representing us taxpayers,” she told the commissioners. “You are not representing me in the right direction.”
Mary Ann Johnson, a retired educator from New Hampshire living in Greeneville, said that the commission needs to look at how the funds are spent, particularly for education, and make cuts before increasing the tax rate.
Fred Boswell, whose farm is partly inside the Greeneville limits, told the commission that the county needed to better manage its funds and look at how funds are spent.
Breaking from tradition, not one — but two — Tennessee scholarship pageants will be taking place over the course of the next two weeks.
The Miss Tennessee Volunteer Scholarship Pageant, formerly the Miss Tennessee Scholarship Pageant, can expect the usual traditions in Jackson but with one caveat: The winner of the pageant will not move forward to compete to be named Miss America.
Due to a change in leadership in the Miss America Organization, the original board of directors decided to continue hosting a pageant in Jackson, without the Miss America affiliation.
The Miss Tennessee Volunteer Scholarship Pageant begins Wednesday, and a Miss Tennessee Volunteer will be crowned on Saturday night.
Events during the week will include private interviews for each contestant, a swimsuit and fitness round, evening gown and talent round. The women with the highest scores will then compete for the Miss Tennessee Volunteer crown on Saturday evening in the Carl Perkins Civic Center in Jackson.
Nadia Treadwell, who was crowned Feb. 24, will represent Greene County at the Miss Tennessee Volunteer Scholarship Pageant. She was crowned after the original Miss Greene County, Brianna Mason, split from the board of directors.
Treadwell will perform “The Best” for her talent, a news release said. She will compete in interview and swimsuit on Wednesday, evening gown on Thursday and talent on Friday. Depending on her scores, she will compete for the title on Saturday night.
Other local contestants include Greeneville native Alley Morgan, who holds the title of Miss Carter County, and Miss Watauga Valley Anne Sandelovich, who is an educator at Greeneville Middle School.
The Miss Tennessee Scholarship Competition, in affiliation with the Miss America Organization, will take place from Wednesday, June 27, to Saturday, June 29, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
In a recent press release, Foundation Chair Eddie Smith explained why the pageant moved from Jackson.
“It was time for a change,” he said. “The move to Knoxville was a no-brainer. We hope that in the future, several cities in our great state will be able to host. Our goal is to become accessible for fans, volunteers, and posterity living throughout the state.”
One of the largest differences between the Miss Tennessee Scholarship Competition and the previous pageant is that there will no longer be a swimsuit portion of the event.
According to the Miss America website, “the new competition reflects a greater inclusiveness, giving more women the opportunity to earn scholarships and compete for the job of Miss America, to make a difference in their communities, states and beyond.”
Brianna Mason will be competing under the title of Miss Greene County, though she is no longer affiliated with the old leadership of the pageant that is traveling to Jackson.
“My goal has always been to become Miss Tennessee and to serve the state in that capacity,” said Mason. “I will be pursuing that ambition of mine at the Miss Tennessee Scholarship Competition [in Knoxville].”
Also representing Greene County will be Miss Historic Greeneville Harley Ramsey and Miss Pioneer Lydia Hollis. The two were crowned March 31 after the Miss America Organization instituted a new board of directors for the region.
The Miss Tennessee Scholarship Competition winner will move on to compete for the title of Miss America later this year.
For more information, see www.misstn.org.
A man who walked into the Greeneville Police Department on May 23 waving two knives must receive a mental health assessment and return to General Sessions Court in 90 days before it is determined if he is competent to stand trial.
Darius Cordello Brown, 31, of Blue Springs Parkway, was charged with aggravated assault after the incident, which resulted in access being restricted to Greeneville Town Hall until the situation was resolved by police.
There were no injuries.
A preliminary hearing scheduled Monday for Brown was continued until a mental health assessment at a facility designated by Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. is completed.
The charge remains pending until a determination on Brown’s competency to stand trial is made, Assistant District Attorney General David Baker said.
Brown has been held in the Greene County Detention Center since the incident. He will continue to take medication and a mental health assessment will be completed over the next 90 days.
Bailey will review the findings at Brown’s next court appearance on Sept. 4, Todd Estep, assistant public defender representing Brown, said after his court appearance.
On the afternoon of May 23, Brown walked into the police station, which is in a section of Greeneville Town Hall, “with large knives in each hand,” Assistant Chief Michael Crum said after the incident.
Brown “continued to place officers in fear of serious bodily injury as he paced with the knives and made threats,” a police report said.
Greeneville Police Department officers negotiated with Brown for about 30 minutes. Brown was taken into custody in a hallway area of the police department, which is partially partitioned off from the public.
Access to town hall and the adjoining police department was restricted during the incident for the safety of the public. GPD has a separate entrance from other town hall offices.
Two backpacks Brown had taken with him were found near the entrance to town hall near College Street. A Greene County Sheriff’s Department K-9 officer trained on explosives residue gave a positive hit on the backpacks, Crum said.
The Greeneville Police Explosive Ordinance Detection unit responded to the scene and secured the items. No explosives were found. The Morristown Police Department EOD Unit assisted.
While the incident was underway, the town hall parking lot near College Street was restricted.
The Greene County Commission on Monday approved a proposed general fund budget totaling $27.6 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
The budget includes allocations to non-profit organizations, following extended discussion about salary increases and economic development efforts.
The general fund budget totals $27.6 million and covers general government offices, the courts, the county’s sheriff’s department, health department and contributions to other non-profit and governmental agencies.
The budget also includes a 2.5% across-the-board salary increase for county employees.
Some salary increases for personnel in various departments reflected in the budget were a point of discussion during the meeting.
Commissioner Butch Patterson said that he and other commissioners had attended the June 5 meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee meeting to ask about what appeared to be other salary increases within the departments.
While answers were provided during that meeting, Patterson asked that they be shared with the full commission since not everyone was able to attend the June 5 meeting.
Budget Director Danny Lowery explained that those employees whose salaries are increasing within departmental budgets will not get the 2.5 percent increase.
Commissioner Robin Quillen, who serves on the Budget and Finance Committee, said that the proposed budget included a 50-cent raise for hourly employees at Greene County-Greeneville EMS to help make their pay more competitive, while other increases involved specific situations. A paraprofessional and mechanic are receiving raises higher than the 50 cents to also bring their pay up to a comparable rate.
Budget and Finance Committee members and Lowery explained that raises for an employee in the Property Assessor’s Office and one in sheriff’s department, respectively, were given for certifications earned within the last year. An increase was also given to those within the highway department to bring those at lower scales to the $11 per hour salary.
County Mayor Kevin Morrison said that some instances have involved part-time workers becoming full-time or increases from 37-hour to 40-hour work weeks, such as his administrative assistant — a move, he said, that will save money through reduction of overtime pay.
Capital projects funded in the budget are purchase of a new radio system for the sheriff’s department and EMS, a fuel depot for county vehicle use and a new telephone system for the Greene County Courthouse and offices in the courthouse annex.
Morrison said digital radios will allow the sheriff’s department and EMS to be on the same frequency as Greeneville’s police and fire departments, and plans are to eventually provide digital radios to volunteer fire departments.
A single fuel depot will help save between 10 and 25 cents for fuel, depending on the price level, he said, and will pay for itself in a couple of years. The fuel depot is tentatively planned to be adjacent to the Highway Department’s headquarters on Hal Henard Road.
The phone system replacement for the courthouse and annex is needed as replacement parts are no longer available for the existing equipment, Morrison said.
Budgets for the solid waste and highway departments and Greene County Schools are separate, but were included in the resolution.
The solid waste budget totals $2.5 million.
The Highway Department’s budget is $8.4 million.
The school system’s general purpose budget, which has also been approved by the Greene County Board of Education, totals $51.1 million; its food service budget totals $4.1 million; and the school capital projects budget is $694,600.
Commissioners also approved allocations for non-profit organizations, including $100,000 to the Greene County Partnership for economic development.
Greene County Partnership President and CEO Matt Garland was asked to address the commission about economic development efforts. Commissioner Bill Dabbs asked how the Partnership was using its funding toward economic development, saying the community needed substantial progress to improve its long-term financial condition.
Garland said he focuses on industrial economic recruitment with the majority of his efforts focused on existing industry because that is where 85-90% of all new jobs are generated.
Since 2016, the Partnership has helped create 800 new jobs through about $200 million in investment by local companies, Garland said.
The Partnership works with local industries in finding tax credits or incentives that can assist them in expanding, he said, explaining that he and the other Partnership staff can lend their expertise to a plant manager or other officials at the companies who do not have time to do much of the required paperwork toward these programs.
The role of the Partnership is to help facilitate expansion by helping industry as it did at Parker-Hannifin last year, Garland said, telling about how the staff helped the company find a program and fill out the necessary paperwork to fund the expansion.
When asked about bringing new industries to the community, Garland said Greene County is not competitive with other surrounding communities due to the lack of publicly owned, “shovel ready” property.
Industries are primarily looking for property that is ready for development and that has at least adjacent infrastructure in a community with a work-ready labor force, he said.
Right now, there is one “shovel ready” publicly owned site, Garland said. That recently developed site in the Hardin Industrial Complex is a “Select Tennessee” site that will be promoted by the state, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Partnership, he said.
Greene County needs more “shovel ready” sites, he said. The Partnership is also working with local school systems to create programs giving students the training and skills needed by local industries.
Attracting an industry to a community can be a long process, Garland said, noting that it can take multiple years of talks and negotiations to bring a company to a community.
He also noted that the Partnership’s allocation for economic development and its tourism efforts come the hotel/motel tax rather than from property tax or sales tax. The hotel/motel tax is charged to those staying in hotels in Greene County.
The budget projects $100,000 each for economic development and tourism. Both will receive what revenue is collected.
When asked about the collections, Garland said the Partnership keeps a close track of it to make sure hotels are paying the tax as they should.