The move into July for the Greene County Fair has been a successful one thus far.
Through Thursday, evening attendance at the fair has been up 7% over last year, said Rick Clark, president of the Greene County Fair Board.
“Even despite the rain in the beginning, our attendance has increased,” Clark said. “Once we got past the rain on Monday, you could not have asked for better weather for fair week.”
Attendance was soft due to the weather on Monday, but since then, crowds have been strong with sunny weather and milder temperatures than typical in late July, Clark said. Temperatures each day have been topping out in the 70s or 80s.
Scheduling the fair earlier and pleasant weather have both attributed to the increase in attendance, he said.
Hosting the fair ahead of the start of the school has been beneficial, Clark said. Previously, the fair was typically scheduled during the first week of school or one of the first weeks — a hectic time for both students and their families. Parents can, understandably, be more hesitant to bring their children out the fair as they are trying to settle back into the school routine, he said.
Parents seem more apt to bring their children to the fair this year and let them stay out later than on a school night, he said.
Many of events that are popular each year have been crowd favorites again this year, Clark said.
The Miss Fairest of the Fair and the pageants for the younger ages all brought out the typically strong crowd, Clark said. Although the Miss Fairest of the Fair was on Monday evening, the rainfall did not keep a crowd from coming out to encourage the participants, he added.
The Main Stage entertainment has brought out good crowds as well, Clark said.
One of the most popular events at the fair is the demolition derby. This year, the events were scheduled for three nights — Thursday, Friday and Saturday — instead of the Friday and Saturday events as in previous years.
“We were not sure how that would go, but we had real good attendance Thursday evening, which we were pleased to see,” Clark said.
With the addition of another night of demolition derby, the wrestling event had to be moved to another venue. The wrestling night was on Wednesday in the Livestock Barn, and drew just as large of a crowd as in previous years, he said.
Another event that is growing in popularity is the rodeo. The attendance for that event, which was held on Wednesday this year, has noticeably increased in the past two or three years, Clark said.
The change in schedule has not affected the entries into the livestock events, Clark said. But as expected, there were fewer entries for the produce and flower categories in the exhibit barn.
However, he said, there were still more than what was expected with the fair taking place earlier in the growing season. “We have had that problem even when the fair was in August,” he said. “People’s crops are still coming in from the garden.”
With a weather forecast calling for the fair weather to continue, Clark said the Fair Board is expecting a strong weekend as the annual event concludes.
On Saturday evening, the Fair Board is trying something new as the primary entertainment act, The Dugger Band, will be taking the stage at 7 p.m. That performance will be followed at 9 p.m. by “Family Feud.”
Several families have registered to participate and try to win the $1,000 grand prize, he said. “We are excited about it, and it should be fun.”
The fair concludes on Sunday, when gate admission is free. Highlights that day include the livestock shows, children and youth and a Christian music fest, Clark said.
Service is a word that Robert K. Bird takes seriously.
Bird, 90, recently announced that he is stepping down as chairman of the Tusculum Planning Commission. He also served as Tusculum mayor from 1989-1993 and then from 1995-2003, as vice-mayor, city commissioner and as a Greene County commissioner, along with one year as director of the county purchasing department.
That was all after Bird retired from a career in public service that included military service as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Army, 24 years as an FBI special agent and two governor-appointed positions in Kentucky: as commissioner of the Police Training Academy in Kentucky for four years and four years as director of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Department for the state of Kentucky.
“I’ve had a very good life, a very good career,” Bird said as he reflected on his life experiences during a recent interview. “I’ve worn a number of hats over the years for the federal (government), state, county and city so I’ve been involved in all four of them in an official capacity.”
“I decided that with my age and family and health issues, it was time to stop participating. I’m still in good mind and body, so I thought it was time to step aside,” he added.
Bird became involved in city government soon after returning in 1988 to Tusculum, where he grew up after his family moved there from the Middle Creek community of Greene County.
Bird recalled attending two-room schoolhouses in Greene County as a youth and graduating from the former Doak High School, which was on the site of the current Doak Elementary School.
Bird went to Tusculum College for one year on an athletic scholarship and then transferred to what is now East Tennessee State University. His first job after college was teaching school for one year at the former McDonald High School.
The military draft in the 1950s prompted Bird to join the Army, where he served in Europe for three years as part of the Counter Intelligence Corps, known as the CIC. His work included contact with Germans and other foreign nationals. Investigative skills he learned helped pave the way for Bird’s post-military career in the FBI.
Bird served as a special agent in locations that included Springfield, Illinois; Chicago; and Louisville, Kentucky. His FBI work included numerous criminal investigations. Bird recalled one notable case he worked connected to the famous thoroughbred race horse and 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
A mare named Fanfreluche in-foal to Secretariat was removed from her paddock in June 1977 at Kentucky’s Claiborne Farm, which Sports Illustrated called in an article about the case the “most celebrated thoroughbred stud farm in the U.S.”
Through diligent investigation, a Kentucky man named William Michael McCandless was eventually arrested in connection to the case and the horse returned to its rightful owners more than five months after the kidnapping.
Seretariat won the 1973 Kentucky Derby and became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years.
Bird, then a 20-year FBI veteran, was assigned to assist in the Claiborne investigation. He previously had cracked a stolen-cattle caper, but he told Sports Illustrated for the 1977 article that he knew little about thoroughbreds.
“I guess the FBI picked me because I was raised on a farm,” Bird told the magazine.
Bird said other authorities attempted to persuade McCandless to turn himself in after he was identified as a suspect, but “he wanted to surrender to me,” he said.
Bird retired from the FBI in 1980 and became commissioner of the Police Training Academy in Kentucky for four years, followed by his appointment as director of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Department for the state of Kentucky.
Bird has no plans to move elsewhere in retirement.
“I have a little farm here and I still walk every day on the (Tusculum Linear) trail,” he said.
He leaves behind a legacy of accomplishment that Tusculum citizens benefit from every day.
Bird’s father, John A. Bird, served as the first mayor of Tusculum after the city was incorporated in 1959. Robert Bird earned the respect of the many elected officials he served with over the years, including current Tusculum Mayor Alan Corley.
“He has dedicated an extraordinary amount of time and effort to our community since (1988). He has served on the Tusculum City Commission, and during that time served as vice-mayor and mayor. He has also served on the Tusculum Planning Commission, most recently as chairman for many years,” Corley said. “Mr. Bird has also actively and capably represented the city of Tusculum on various regional boards and commissions over the years, most recently on the Solid Waste Board and the Tennessee Rural Planning Organization.”
Corley said two projects spearheaded by Robert Bird “have had, and will continue to have, a major positive impact on Tusculum and our surrounding community.”
“He was a tireless force in the completion of the Tusculum Bypass and the Tusculum Linear Trail, both of which are used by many citizens on a daily basis. These are just two of the most visible products of his efforts,” Corley said.
Bird was also instrumental in the creation of Tusculum City Park, providing sewer service to many areas and also started the curbside recycling program in Tusculum, the first of its kind in Greene County.
“There were a lot of things we did to provide additional services for the city and avoid imposing property taxes,” he said.
Bird cited the importance of service, and a commitment by citizens to better the communities they live in.
“I think it’s very important. You have to have the initiative and desire to be part of the organization and obviously you are also going to be criticized for what you do and what you don’t do, so you have to be ready for that,” he said.
Bird still receives phone calls from irate citizens about different issues pertaining to Tusculum.
“When I hear people complaining I say, ‘You know what you can do about that, don’t you? I say run for the office and you can do something about it’ and I encourage them to do that if they’re interested.”
Bird prides himself during his time in elected service by the sole motivation of benefitting the community. As mayor and Tusculum commissioner, he earned $1 a month, which he donated to the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department.
As an FBI agent and in other positions, “I never accepted a free lunch,” Bird said.
Corley also noted that Bird is a “second generation mayor — his father, Mr. John Bird, also served as mayor and was instrumental in the incorporation of the City of Tusculum in 1959.”
“We will certainly miss Mr. Bird’s historical knowledge of and participation in the city’s official activities. I have no doubt that he will continue to be a resource for us and will also continue to be one of the biggest champions for Tusculum, just as he has been for decades,” Corley said. “While we are sad he is retiring from city service after these many years, we wish the best for him and (wife) Eva as they continue to reside in Tusculum and enjoy a slower pace.
“On a personal note, I am very thankful for the guidance and insight he has provided to me as I try to continue the legacy of success for the city of Tusculum,” Corley said.
Bird is well-known for a willingness to express an opinion whether it is popular or not.
“We need more straight shooters,” he said. “Don’t raise peoples’ expectations and let them fall.”
A strong work ethic and determination to succeed was instilled by his father John and mother, May, a schoolteacher, that helped him succeed throughout his many career choices.
Bird said he would have liked to spend more of his career closer to Tusculum and Tennessee, but recognizes he and his family would not have had so many rewarding life experiences had he not embraced opportunities offered to him.
“I’m of the old school. If you want something, you have to do it for yourself,” Bird said.
The initial steps are underway for preparing Greene County’s 2019 property tax notices.
The certified property tax rate for Greene County and other information has been submitted as required by the State of Tennessee Division of Property Assessments, according to Greene County Trustee Nathan Holt.
The tax levy information has also been sent to the county’s print vendor to begin preparing to print the notices, which taxpayers should receive around the first Monday of October, he said.
Those notices will bring increases for landowners in Greeneville as the county property tax rate will be going up by about 16 cents for those inside the town’s corporate limits. For a homeowner whose property is at the average value, $131,400, inside Greeneville that will result in about $53 more owed in taxes over last year.
In June, the Greene County Commission approved a single property tax rate of $2.0145 per $100 of assessed value for land. For decades, there have been two county property tax rates — one for land inside the Greeneville corporate limits and another for outside the town’s corporate limits.
Separate property tax rates have been set based on the payment of education debt service for the Greene County Schools through the property tax. Landowners inside Greeneville were not charged the amount dedicated for that payment since the town has its own school system. But for the next fiscal year, the county has designated that payment to be made with sales tax revenue.
What does this all mean for a homeowner in Greeneville and the amount of property taxes to be paid?
Property taxes are calculated using a property’s assessed value rather than appraised value, which is found using the assessment ratio. State law establishes the assessment ratio for different classes of property. For residential and farm properties, the assessment ratio is 25% of appraised value, and for commercial/industrial property it is 40% of appraised value.
The median value of a home in Greeneville was $131,400 in 2017, the last year data is available from the U.S. Census Bureau. For a residential property worth $131,400, the assessed value would be $32,850. The property tax for that property would be $662 with the new rate. Under last year’s rate, a property of that value had a tax bill of $609.
The property tax rate charged by the Town of Greeneville will be the same as last year, $2.1775 per $100 of assessed value. The tax for the median valued property is $715.
Looking at commercial or industrial property, a property appraised at $350,000 would have an assessed value of $140,000. The tax for this property under the recently approved rate would be $2,820 while it was $2,597 last year, a $223 difference.
For a commercial property appraised at $1 million, the property tax bill with the new rate will be $8,058, and was $7,420 for the previous year, a difference of $638 between the two rates.
In response to the increase in the property tax levy, the Town of Greeneville sent the county an invoice for $2.83 million. That is the amount that the town claims the county owes the Greeneville School System from its education debt service.
Both county and town officials have referenced state law as supporting both the action to use sales tax for the county’s education debt service and sharing funds from the education debt service with Greeneville City Schools.
The Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen also directed town officials to review joint ventures with the county to determine responsibilities and whether the town can undertake some of those on its own.
Since then, town staff have been compiling information about the joint ventures, exploring effects on the town’s budget of either leaving the joint ventures or taking on some of those responsibilities for the town only, according to Greeneville City Administrator Todd Smith.
One of those joint ventures is the Greeneville-Greene County Emergency Medical Service, and town officials have been examining what it would take to operate an emergency medical service, he said.
A plan may be on the agenda of the board’s meeting on Aug. 6. Smith said he would also report about what answer the county has given in regard to the invoice for Greeneville City Schools’ share of the education debt service. The invoice sought payment by Aug. 1.
“We have not contacted the county about it to give them time to do their due diligence,” he said. “We will report about what the county has done and look to the board to give direction for the next step.”
Property tax relief for homeowners is available through a State of Tennessee plan that can provide a discount to homeowners in one of four groups: the elderly, disabled, disabled veteran or widow of a disabled homeowner, according to the county trustee.
The state determines the maximum amount of property value that will be paid through tax relief funds, so an eligible homeowner could possibly not have to pay anything out of pocket if their property value is at or below this amount.
The relief is not an exemption, as the state reimburses the county for the tax relief amount, Holt said. Greene County also provides a county match of up to 60% of the state tax relief amount for elderly homeowners.
The income limit for elderly homeowners and disabled homeowners is $29,860 of 2018 income for the upcoming 2019 tax year to be eligible for state tax relief program. This includes income for the applicant, spouse and co-owners, if any. The income applicants must submit is always for the year prior to the tax year due to the fact that taxpayers can start paying their property taxes in October.
The income limit does not apply to disabled veteran homeowners or widows/widowers of disabled veteran homeowners.
Another tax relief program can benefit farmers and owners of forest land or large open spaces. The Tennessee Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Land Act of 1976, better known as the Greenbelt Law, allows eligible properties to be taxed on present use instead of market value.
At present, of the little under 45,000 parcels of property in Greene County, 5,242 are on the Greenbelt program, according to Assessor of Property Chuck Jeffers.
The Greenbelt law is an effort to help farmers maintain family farms as well as preserve forest land and to maintain open space by easing some of the burden of property taxes, according to the property assessor.
To be eligible, a property must meet certain criteria such as land type, size, use and income produced from farming. The law requires a minimum of 15 acres and sets a maximum of 1,500 acres that can be considered for the Greenbelt program.
The state sets the formula used to calculate the Greenbelt value, and an application can be picked up at the property assessor’s office. If the property for some reason ceases to meet the eligibility requirements, rollback taxes must be paid for the difference between fair market value and use value of the property for the past three years.