The Blount County Commission voted 18-1, with two commissioners absent from Thursday, June 17, meeting, to adopt the certified property tax rate of $2.04 per $100 of assessed value, dropping it from the current $2.23 rate. To make up for the decrease, money will be taken from the General County Fund and the Debt Service funds.
Finance director Steve Jennings said this would take the Debt Service fund from about $13 million to less than $10 and would take the General County Fund (Rainy Day Fund) from $7.7 million to $3.6 million.
Jennings said the only way to make up the losses is by cutting spending or raising taxes. “We’re basically delaying the inevitable,” he said.
Jennings broke down the $2.04 this way: Blount County schools budget receives $1, the General County Fund receives 66 cents and Debt Services, 38 cents.
“This funds the schools at $76.74 million and allows them to avoid layoffs and hire back 16 of the 50 positions eliminated due to attrition, meaning 34 positions will be left unfilled. About $3.6 million comes from General County Fund and $3.5 million is taken from Debt Service fund for total amount of about $7 million,” he said. “In my opinion, it puts the General County Fund way too low.”
During brief discussion about setting the tax rate, Commissioner Bob Proffitt attempted to add an amendment to set the rate at $2.15 per $100 of assessed value to have enough money to finish and open Prospect School, now under construction in Seymour. Proffitt’s motion died for lack of a second. With commissioners Mike Walker and Brad Harrison absent, the final vote was 18 for the rate, one (Proffitt) against it.
When it came time to pass the budget, Commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves made a motion that commissioners’ pay be reduced 10 percent. The amendment passed with commissioners John Keeble, Gary Farmer, Steve Hargis and Kenneth Melton voting no.
Commissioners, who are paid $450 a month, will lose $45 of pay, dropping the stipend to $405 a month.
Outgoing County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said he and his staff worked hard to cut their spending. “I’m confident I did my part. The 15 or 16 departments under me, we cut costs by 20 percent,” he said. “I feel sorry for whoever has to go through this next year. They will be looking at a 40 percent tax increase, and it will be quite a shock unless the economy dramatically improves.”
The mayor said a few commissioners are looking at the possibility of selling the former Blount County Health Department building at 1006 E. Lamar Alexander Pwky., which now houses the Blount County Historical Museum. “I think that’s a pretty smart idea. A good number of commissioners think the sale of that asset takes us a long way to getting money to open Prospect School.”
Pitts Reeves said after the meeting she hoped that all commissioners next year would explore ways to be more efficient. “I suggest we might save jobs by looking at employee benefits because that’s where so many of our costs are, but we could just as easily look at communication, fuel, travel and energy costs,” she said.
Jennings said it has been a learning experience preparing this year’s budget and property tax rate. “Coming from private industry, everyday is a learning experience,” he said. “The processes are different, and there are a lot of different motivations.”