It looks as though the county property tax hike of ten cents last year was just a warm-up for bigger things to come. The Claiborne Budget Committee spent nearly two hours Tuesday evening crunching the new fiscal year numbers in an attempt to squeeze every ‘unnecessary’ penny from the totals.
Squeeze, though they did, the budget came up short, prompting the ‘t’ word from the braver members of the group.
The proposed budget is far from being cemented. However, it is likely that either a property tax increase will be levied or, another wheel tax will be adopted to cover the shortfall.
At first glance, it looked as though the county property owners could be in for a tax hike of some 40 cents.
Committee member Mike Campbell said he could not “in good conscience” present to the Claiborne Commission a budget that included a 40 cents tax levy.
After a bit of wrangling, the members managed to slice the proposed increase to just 25 cents.
However, everything but the proverbial kitchen sink would need to go. That would cut virtually everything on the county ‘wish list’ except the costs of acquiring two E-911 repeater sites and surveillance cameras for the Claiborne County Jail – safety factors that the members refused to cut from the budget.
At one point, the committee considered lowering the proposed tax hike to 20 cents. However, county finance officer Sam Owens reminded the group that doing so would cause the budget to only “break even,” placing the county finances in a perilous position by bringing about a ‘zero’ fund balance.
Committee member Shawn Peters said it is “irresponsible” to propose a budget with a zero fund balance. He said the group needs to find a way to further cut the budget.
Owens cautioned the committee to beware that using every penny in the current balance would mean an automatic 19 cents tax hike going into the 2018-19 fiscal year budget battle.
Campbell proposed an idea that could prevent a property tax hike. He suggested eliminating the Road Department’s use of the wheel tax currently in place and switching the revenue from that tax to the county general fund balance at the end of the calendar year.
However, that idea was quashed by a vote of five to four. Committee members Charlton Vass, Bill Keck, Mitchell Cosby, Dennis Estes and James Hatmaker voted against the motion.
County Mayor Jack Daniels protested the vote, saying he felt that property owners have already paid enough.
“I’m for a $25 wheel tax. I don’t agree with another property tax increase. A lot of people rent in this county. Everyone with a car buys tags,” said Daniels.
After more debate and crunching of the numbers, the committee decided to postpone any further meetings until the annual Tennessee tax aggregate report is received.
Earlier in the meeting, the committee did accept the Claiborne County Board of Education budget, pending adoption by the school board at its next meeting. Connie Holdway, director of schools, said her budget carries no new tax dollars.
The next meeting of the Claiborne Budget Committee is tentatively set for one of four time slots – June 20, June 22, June 27 or June 29, pending receipt of the state aggregate report.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.