Budget banter

Commission recommends lowering property tax rate to $2.04

The Blount County Commission is poised to adopt the $2.04 certified tax rate.

During the Thursday night, June 10, monthly agenda meeting, commissioners passed a unanimous resolution -- 20-0 (with commissioner Holden Lail absent) -- recommending the commission adopt the $2.04 certified tax rate based on property reappraisal figures submitted to the state by Property Assessor Mike Morton. The commissioners will vote on the rate during the June 17 commission meeting.

Because of the increase in property values over four years, the certified tax rate dropped, decreasing from $2.23 per $100 of assessed value to $2.04. The new rate reflects what is needed to bring in the same amount of money from property taxes to fund the budget that was brought in last year.

Commissioners had considered keeping the rate at $2.23 per $100 of assessed value. After a 90 minute-long discussion at the agenda meeting, finance director Steve Jennings said it was apparent commissioners wanted him to look at the affect of adopting the $2.04 rate with a portion going to schools. Remaining money to fund the budget would come from the general and debt service funds.

“There is flexibility if you want to deplete the fund balance,” Jennings told the commissioners. “You could get by for a year, maybe two, at that level, but unless things miraculously improve, a tax raise is inevitable,” he said. “It is inevitable that unless appropriations are cut, we inevitably have to have a tax raise.”

Jennings said that the commissioners need to fund the schools to a bare minimum of $76.5 million, which would mean schools would be getting $.96 cents of the $2.04.

“If you want to get (the schools) to $76 million, which is $2 million more, you need you pull $3 million out of debt service fund,” he said, because the other million is split by Alcoa and Maryville city schools because city residents pay county taxes as well. “If you stay at $2.04, leave the general county fund at $5.5 million and take the rest of the money out of the debt service fund -- $8 or $9 million -- you can funds schools with enough money to barely educate the kids. You can do that. I would ask you to carefully consider at what level you want to fund schools and then you have a choice to make. Do you raise taxes, deplete the fund balance or go with a strong drive to freeze hiring, make cuts and dig deeper?”

Jennings said what he was hearing was that the commissioners wanted to lower the tax rate. In doing so, Jennings said, “You can get through the next fiscal year, and we’ll be here next year talking about same thing. It is doable. It is just a matter of where you want to be.”

Commissioners spoke up against keeping the property tax rate at $2.23 per $100 of assessed value and voiced their reasons for lowering it to $2.04.

Commissioner Mike Walker said keeping the tax rate the same is “forcing ourselves into a position where next year we truly see the impact. I guarantee you, if this commission passes a tax rate without really looking at the budget, it is not going to succeed because. . . you’re going to have taxes not collected because they are too high.”

Commissioner Steve Hargis spoke against the $2.23 tax rate. “There are people out there on fixed income and on Social Security who are not getting a raise, and it will be devastating. I’m going to support the $2.04.”

Commissioner Ron French asked why commissioners didn’t consider a $2.10 tax rate and generate another $1.8 million. “What concerns me is next year. If we don’t do anything this year, there is going to be audience full of people here next year.”

In the end, the vote was unanimous to recommend the $2.04 rate to commission. The vote will be held at the commission meeting on Thursday, June 17, at the regular county commission meeting.

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