County Commission to consider tax increase proposals

By Lesley Hughes
Star Staff

   Carter County Commissioners will begin tonight to tackle the first stage of the need to bring in additional revenue to the county. Although the proposed budget will not be heard at tonight's meeting, commissioners will have the chance to consider a $25 wheel tax, recommended by the county's Budget Committee.
   On June 17, the budget committee recommended that the full court pass a $25 wheel tax to bring in revenue for capital projects, possibly as a long-term solution for the overcrowded Carter County Jail, economic development, and for two new schools in the Carter County School System.
   Budget committee member Bill Armstrong made the motion to send the proposal for a $25 wheel tax to the full commission, and the motion was seconded by commissioner Lawrence Hodge. The motion passed on a 5-3 vote. As part of his motion, Armstrong said a cap of 20 years would be placed on the wheel tax.
   Committee members did not discuss how much revenue the wheel tax could possibly generate or where the revenue will be spent once it is generated. They did say, though, that the money would be available for capital outlay projects. According to how the motion was worded, the wheel tax rate would be in addition to the increased property tax rate.
   A proposed 2004-2005 budget and a 44 cent property tax increase will have to wait for consideration at the July 19 commission meeting. According to Finance Director Jason Cody, state law requires a 10-day notice of the proposed budget and a public hearing before the issue comes before the full commission.
   A public hearing for the 2004-2005 budget is scheduled for July 12 at 6 p.m. in the Carter County Courthouse. Included in the proposed budget is a property tax increase of 44 cents, increasing the current $2.22 per $100 of value to $2.66.
   The 44-cent increase was broken down with 26 cents going to fund the purchase of portable inmate housing units at the Carter County Jail and 18 new jailers to staff the facility; 11 cents to cover approximately $500,000 of overages and operating costs associated with medical coverage, food and other necessities concurrent with the overcrowded jail; 3 cents toward anticipated increases in the cost of health insurance and retirement packages; 5 cents for a 3 percent pay increase for county employees in non-teaching positions; and 1 cent to fund requests from the 911 Communications Center for an additional dispatcher as well as matching grant money for the volunteer fire departments. In addition, the group had previously approved a litigation tax to tack on additional fees to court costs. This would allow $0.02 to be freed up on the property tax rate and also to fully fund the General Sessions Court judge's salary through the tax.
   The County Commission will consider the litigation tax at tonight's 7 p.m. meeting. The fourth and final phase of the jail study also will be presented by Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon. This phase will provide the commission with a recommended route for the long-term solution to ease overcrowding at the jail.
   The commission meeting will be held this evening in the main courtroom of the Carter County Courthouse at 7 p.m.