Commission approves 15 percent tax hike

By Lesley Hughes

star staff

  The Carter County Commission approved a $.34, or 15 percent, increase to the previous $2.22 per $100 of assessed value property tax rate on Monday evening during the regular September meeting. The tax rate included a 1.5 percent pay raise to county employees but also cut $50,000 from the Carter County Rescue Squad.
  The decision to cut the rescue squad came after some commissioners were in turmoil between giving county employees a raise and chipping into squad services. Commissioner Jack Buckles motioned to amend the $2.56 recommendation by reallocating a penny from overages from the Carter County Jail to the rescue squad. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Robert Davis, but Commissioner Tom Bowers quickly made a motion to table the amendment.
  The table passed 18-6, bringing the full court to the starting point of $2.56 with a 1.5 percent cost of living raise and a chunk bitten out of the rescue squad.
  As if the $50,000 cut to the squad was not large enough, Bowers made a motion to amend with a further cut of $100,000 more, which he suggested be put to use as additional employee raise funding totaling 3 percent. Commissioner Terry Montgomery seconded the amendment.
  Commissioner John Lewis said, "I think we would be making a bad mistake in cutting the rescue squad any more. I am not in favor of cutting them none. There is more things that are important here. I don't think we should mess with the rescue squad no more."
  Al Meehan, 2nd District commissioner, asked for a rescue squad representative to brief the full court on the ramifications of a $150,000 cut, but a motion to table was made by Buckles and passed 20-4.
  Question was called on the initial $2.56 motion, forcing commissioners into a roll call vote without further discussion. Commissioners Lawrence Hodge, Wayne Holtsclaw, Amos Stevens, Al Meehan, Joe Woods, Jerry Pearman, Phil Nave, Jo Ann Blankenship, Charlie Bayless, Dickie Renfro, Bill Armstrong, Davis, and Roy Merryman voted for the increase. Commissioners Doug Buckles, Jack Buckles, Jim Whaley, L.C. Tester, Bowers, Montgomery, Lewis, John Snyder, Lynn Tipton, Jeff Treadway, and Richard Tester voted no. The motion for a $2.56 tax rate per $100 of assessed property value passed 13-11.
  In an effort to ease the majority of the county's financial burdens from property owners, commissioners also considered a $25 wheel tax. The motion called for the allocation of $10 to the Carter County School System, $10 to the Carter County Jail, $3 to Economic Development, and $2 to the Carter County Highway Department. A five year cap was proposed for the wheel tax, meaning the amount could not be raised for five years unless the increase was approved by a two-thirds majority vote of the commission.
  Bowers argued that a wheel tax would be "double taxing property owners." Jack Buckles questioned County Attorney George Dugger and County Mayor Dale Fair if property owners could be excluded from paying a wheel tax. Fair said he had checked on that option, but said it was not legal to exclude property owners, citing "discrimination."
  Other commissioners also asked if low-income families or those on fixed incomes could be excluded or possibly be given a discount, but Fair also said these suggestions were not a legal option.
  Richard Tester said, "I think maybe the majority of the people don't realize that they want all these amenities that governments give them, but they also have to realize that there is a price tag for your benefits, whether it be property taxes. We always want the benefits but we don't want to pay for them."
  The wheel tax motion failed by a 12-12 vote with Commissioners Hodge, Holtsclaw, Stevens, Pearman, Nave, Bayless, Renfro, Tipton, Treadway, Armstrong, Davis, and Merryman voting yes. Commissioners Doug Buckles, Jack Buckles, Meehan, Whaley, Woods, L.C. Tester, Bowers, Blankenship, Montgomery, Lewis, Snyder, and Richard Tester voted no.
  Fair also addressed an investigation into a drill that was conducted on Aug. 2 during a commission meeting. Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Earnest Jackson was suspended with pay after conducting the drill. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation examined the logistics and implementation of the drill. However, results from the investigation had not been released to Fair as of Monday night. He did say the investigation is finished and that he will be announcing a decision on the matter within the next two days, with or without TBI results.