Action by the Greene County Commission on Monday raising its property tax levy by about 16 cents only for Greeneville residents has town leaders asking questions and exploring options in response.
Those options might include Greeneville creating its own Emergency Medical Service and 911 system rather than participating in joint ventures with Greene County government. Or, an invoice could be sent to the county for $2.3 million — a figure town officials contend is Greeneville’s share of bonds Greene County issued for education that city taxpayers are now set to pay.
All were part of discussion during the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on Tuesday, a session dominated by discussion of the county commission’s approval of a single property tax rate for landowners inside and outside city limits — a change from decades of past practice.
The county property tax rate of $2.0145 per $100 in assessed value set Monday was an increase for those inside the town’s corporate limits, who were levied $1.8551 in the current year.
Two property rates have been charged by Greene County for about four decades for those inside and outside the Greeneville limits.
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.
As debt for the county school system has been paid, the tax rate has been increased incrementally over the years for Greeneville property owners to reflect retirement of the bonds. However, the single rate was proposed instead of incrementally increasing the property tax until the debt is completed retired in 2026.
Mayor W.T. Daniels described the situation as “frustrating” as discussion began about the town’s $26 million 2019-20 fiscal year budget. It was approved on second and final reading Tuesday. (See related article, page 1A.)
After the budget was approved, Daniels said the town will be looking at joint ventures and seeking any funds from county education debt service it may be entitled to in light of the changes.
“It is frustrating for me, and I am sure it is for all the citizens of Greeneville,” he said. “For the county to pay for employee increases and for its debt on the backs of Greeneville taxpayers — it is unacceptable.”
There is no property tax increase in the town’s 2019-20 budget, which all citizens “should be proud of” and that comes as the result of town department heads’ and employees’ efforts to serve citizen using resources available, Daniels said.
Daniels said the county’s increase may cause the most hardship for elderly citizens on a fixed income and others who struggle financially.
“Sixteen cents is considerable,” he said.
Daniels again questioned the reason for the increase.
“If you are going to raise taxes, give me a compelling reason why you are going to raise taxes,” he said. “You don’t raise taxes for the sake of raising taxes. Someone has to pay the bill.”
In Monday’s county commission meeting, the increase was described as a measure to reduce the budget deficit and help fund allocations.
Alderman Keith Paxton said he has received a number of phone calls from residents concerned about the increase.
“I know that people move here who say that they paid a lot more in Texas and in California,” he said. “But to get that much in one year, it is a huge chunk. We usually make increases in steps.”
Daniels said that the town needs to take a look at joint ventures such as EMS and 911 and explore if those are services that Greeneville can provide for its residents.
Last year, the town took over oversight of the Greeneville Municipal Airport after the county commission voted to end a partnership between the two to operate the facility. Since that time, the town has invested about $1 million in the airport because of its importance to the whole community, Daniels said.
The town also provides about $157,000 for the operations of the Roby Fitzgerald Adult Center, while the county contributes $14,000, he said.
The town provides about $931,000 in funding for the Greeneville Parks and Recreation Department, to which the count contributes $40,000, while about 60-70 percent of those who are served by those departments are from the county, Daniels said.
“Look at what the city does for the county,” he said. “We pay city tax, and we pay county tax.”
He said that the city’s budget is “not poured in concrete” and can be amended if the town decides to alter how it handles joint ventures.
City Administrator Todd Smith agreed about a need to research the joint ventures.
Smith said the town’s share of funds the county has allocated toward debt service also need to be further explored, with measures considered to obtain the town’s share as dictated by state law.
The county’s debt would have “rolled off” in six years, and everyone is of agreement that the property tax rate should be equal then, Smith said, but he added that he does not understand why a single property tax rate needed to be set now.
As part of the 2019-20 fiscal year budget approved by the county commission, debt service payments will be taken from sales tax revenue rather than property tax. There is a question about whether the county can use that source of revenue for the debt service, Smith said.
The University of Tennessee’s County Technical Advisory Service has advised the county that use is acceptable, based on one section of state law. However, another specifically states that the debt service for schools is to be paid by property tax.
In addition, a section of Tennessee Code Annotated states that a municipal or special school district shall receive a portion of a bond issued by the county for school debt, based on the average daily attendance of students.
With the change in the property tax rate, the town’s taxpayers are now paying for school debt, Smith said, and according to state law, the town is to get a share of the bond based on the student average daily attendance.
The county has about $8.8 million in education debt service debt, and Greeneville City Schools’ average daily attendance is 32 percent, Smith said. Based on those figures, $2.83 million should be shared by the county with the Greeneville School System.
If the board desires, an invoice can be prepared requesting $2.83 million for Greeneville City Schools’ share from the county payable in 30 days, Smith said.
The City of Tusculum continues promotional efforts to attract business to sites along U.S. 11E and elsewhere in the community.
The value of new business in the city is reflected by the positive effect added sales tax revenues have in providing services to Tusculum residents. Mayor Alan Corley said that a projected sales tax boost of about $100,000 for the 2019-20 budget year due to revenues from several new businesses will help pay for services and purchase of a new garbage truck.
“It is due to the continued success of our current businesses as well as the addition of new businesses like Aldi and Chick-fil-A,” Corley recently said of the revenue boost.
Aldi opened in April 2018. The Chick-fil-A restaurant at Tusculum University also opened last year and is a popular destination for local residents who otherwise might not visit the campus.
The advantages of doing business in Tusculum will be described in a promotional publication the city is preparing.
“We are in the home stretch working on the promotional booklet and hope to have it ready soon,” Corley said Tuesday.
The booklet will have similarities to one prepared by the Town of Mosheim. An advisor is assisting with its design.
It will include aerial images of prime, available residential and commercial tracts of land taken earlier this year using a drone.
Space for development, including one 26-acre tract along East Andrew Johnson Highway, remains available.
“There continues to be interest in that area along East Andrew Johnson Highway, but nothing to announce yet,” Corley said.
City officials are not shy about touting potential benefits of locating business and residential developments in Tusculum.
“We continue to promote commercial development every chance we get to anyone who will listen,” Corley said. “Once the booklet is ready, we will get with property owners in our areas zoned for business to focus everyone on a push for recruitment.”
The 2019-20 fiscal year begins July 1. The city of Tusculum has no property tax. Increased sales tax revenues help the city provide services to its citizens and needed equipment like the trash hauler, Corley said.
“That commercial development is very important to us as it will provide the revenues that allow us to continue to provide services to our residents,” Corley said.
The Greeneville Historic Zoning Commission has given its approval to plans for a new structure for Isaiah 117 House.
As Isaiah 117 House, a single-level home on West Main Street will serve as an “in-between” space where children can stay as they wait to be placed with a foster family.
Jeff Idell of Idell Construction told the commission that a single-level, 1,696-square-foot home is to be constructed. The house will have similar features as other Isaiah 117 Houses and should blend in well with the surrounding properties, he said.
Idell served as spokesman for the project and is one of three contractors planning to build the house.
It was announced earlier this month that Lynn Pitt Construction, Seaton Contracting and Idell Construction will work together on the home. According to representatives from Isaiah 117 House, it will take a projected $200,000 to build, but contractors are working to mitigate costs by donating time and materials.
So far, over $120,000 has been raised.
A non-profit organization, Isaiah 117 was founded in Carter County in 2018 by Ronda Paulson following her own experiences as a foster parent. As of late January, over 70 children had been helped since the Isaiah 117 House opened in Elizabethton.
“When children are removed from their homes out of concern for their welfare, they are usually brought to the Department of Children’s Services Offices to await placement with a foster family. This wait can be several hours to nearly a full day. … Isaiah 117 provides a comforting home where these children instead can be brought to wait — a place that is safe with friendly and loving volunteers who provide clean clothes, smiles, toys and snuggly blankets,” according to the organization’s website, www.isaiah117house.com.
Because the site falls in the town’s historic district, a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Zoning Commission, granted Tuesday, was required before a building permit could be issued.
In separate action, the commission approved new signage for Greeneville Pediatrics, 221 N. Main St., to reflect its affiliation with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
Tom Allen of Allen Sign Company of Knoxville said the new signs will replace existing signs — a wall sign on the office building and a free-standing sign in front of the office.
The Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Tuesday approved a $26 million budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year with no property tax increase.
The budget resolution set the town’s property tax rate at $2.1775 per $100 of assessed property value, the same as the current fiscal year.
The budget funds initial construction for the Downtown Redevelopment Project. That first phase involves improvements to the streetscape on Depot Street from College Street to near the railroad depot.
The downtown project is to be financed for 20 years, with annual debt payments totaling about $150,000.
Funds for completion of a new, accessible playground for children with disabilities at Hardin Park and a dog park and disc golf course on Whirlwind Road are also included in the budget.
Allocated are a 2% cost of living increase for employees, a data back-up system, funding for an airport manager, a $20,000 increase for the public library, and HVAC upgrades to the police department, parks and recreation department and town hall buildings.
While Greeneville City Schools requested additional funding, its allocation in the town’s upcoming budget year is unchanged from the current year.
In its preliminary budget, the school system projected a $191,194 shortfall in its general operating budget. It requested an increased allocation for three items — an additional kindergarten teacher at EastView Elementary School, an additional special education teacher based and $66,000 for a third of the cost to replace the gym floor at Hal Henard Elementary School.
In separate, but related, action, the board approved resolutions allocating $74,798 for the Greene County Partnership, $8,000 for Keep Greene Beautiful, and $7,500 for the Dickson-Williams Historic Association.
Also approved were a $1.8 million State Street Aid budget, a $2.4 million municipal solid waste budget and a $1.7 million landfill budget for the next fiscal year.
In unrelated business, Ben Brooks, Bill Brown and DJ Dalton were reappointed to the Greeneville Historic Zoning Commission, and Sarah Webster and Angelo Botta were appointed as new members on the Greeneville Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
Meeting as the Beer Board, aldermen approved a permit for on-premise consumption at Costa Del Sol on North Rufe Taylor Road.