Budget workshop picks brains on tax rate


star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  Suggestions for lowering and raising the property tax rate were thrown around the room, but no motions were made in the Carter County Budget committee workshop on Monday evening.
  Commissioners voted against a property tax rate of $2.57 per $100 of assessed value during a specially called session of the Carter County Commission Aug. 16. The workshop was arranged to let commissioners express opinions and ideas in hopes of presenting a more favorable tax rate to the commission possibly by the Sept. 13 regularly scheduled commission meeting.
  Some commissioners voted against the $2.57 property tax rate proposal because it was amended minutes before the vote to include three percent raises for county employees, adding $.05 to the rate.
  Commissioner Tom "Yogi" Bowers, who is in favor of granting three percent raises to county employees, suggested cutting $184,000 worth of funding to the Carter County Rescue Squad. He said the amount would almost equal the money needed to give county employees a cost of living raise. He argued the county needs to grant the raises and can do so without raising the tax rate if funding is cut to the rescue squad.
  Lewis challenged the idea by asking Bowers if he as a city of Elizabethton Police Department employee would not respond on a call if he did not receive a raise. Bowers, city codes enforcement officer, said, "I might not get there as fast as I ought to, but I would go."
  The proposed tax rate that failed before the county commission originally was $2.52, but it was amended to include three percent raises. A few commissioners said they would have voted in favor of the $2.52 tax rate if they had the chance.
  Commissioner Richard Tester said he would have voted for the $2.52 rate but thought the extra five cents was too much to put on property owners. "We don't want to go overboard. Let's not waste another special session with another tax increase that is going to fail," Tester said.
  Audience members argued against any tax rate increase citing the effects on poor widows and families on fixed incomes. One man said, "make the rich people pick up the slack. Let poor people pay less. The old widow woman can't make it. You ones are the people that's starving them out."
  Another idea came from Commissioner Al Meehan who said the county needs to look for more economic development and suggested "that we seriously look at how we are handling economic development. Maybe it is time for the Economic Development Commission to encourage and give him (current Economic Development Director Haynes Elliot) a good retirement party." Part of his suggestion called for hiring a new director to find industry to fill up the 100 acres of vacant industrial locations in the county.
  The county is closing in on the deadline for approving a tax rate and a budget. If the budget is not passed by Oct. 1 County Finance Director Jason Cody said the state can withhold funding for the Carter County School System. Carter County would then be responsible for funding whatever difference the state might withhold.
  After settling the lawsuit against the Carter County Jail, commissioners are now required to have modular jail units in operation by Oct. 15. Sheriff John Henson said he needs at least a few weeks to hire and train new jailers before that date, meaning he needs the budget passed before the end of September.
  Lewis argued against the settlement and the $1.8 million the county has agreed to pay for the modular units. "My daddy used to raise pigs. You put a pig in a pigpen. Now if those prisoners don't want to take care of their facilities no better than they do, then let them live like a bunch of pigs."
  No motions can come out of a workshop and the committee did not schedule another meeting before adjourning.