FINANCE FAVORS TAX HIKE

Commission addresses priorities

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 6/14/19

After a second review and round of changes to the 2019-20 budget, Bradley County leaders are looking at proposed property tax increases of 10 cents for some residents and 15 cents for others. How much your tax bill could increase depends on where you own property.

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FINANCE FAVORS TAX HIKE

Commission addresses priorities

FINANCE COMMITTEE members Erica Davis, from left, County Commission Chairman Johnny Mull, Finance Committee members Mike Hughes and Louie Alford, and Finance Committee Chairman Milan Blake double-check budget numbers during Thursday’s meeting.
FINANCE COMMITTEE members Erica Davis, from left, County Commission Chairman Johnny Mull, Finance Committee members Mike Hughes and Louie Alford, and Finance Committee Chairman Milan Blake double-check budget numbers during Thursday’s meeting.
Banner photo, AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted

After a second review and round of changes to the 2019-20 budget, Bradley County leaders are looking at proposed property tax increases of 10 cents for some residents and 15 cents for others. How much your tax bill could increase depends on where you own property.

Bradley County residents who own property in the county’s fire district would see an increase of 14.648 cents per $100 of valuation, while property not inside the fire district would see an increase of 10.648 cents.

Here's how the additional pennies in the proposed tax rate stack up:

• 5.652 pennies would go to Fund 151 Debt Service.

• 2.426 pennies would go to Fund 189 Other Capital Projects for an additional $450,000 for education (added to $300,000 in County Mayor D. Gary Davis’ proposed budget to fund additional classroom space at Black Fox and North Lee elementary schools, bringing the total to $750,000); $8,000 for computer equipment for the Bradley County Election Commission; and $100,000 for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office to purchase additional vehicles. These items, totaling $558,000, were discussed during last week's "mega meeting."

• 4 pennies to Bradley County Fire Department.

• 1.570 pennies to Fund 101 General Fund for an additional $2,578 to give the County Commission's executive administrative assistant a pay raise; $32,871 for an additional employee, including benefits, for the Bradley County Circuit Court Clerk's office; $50,740 for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office (fuel, data processing and vehicles); and $25,000 for the Justice Center.

• 1 penny for the Bradley County Road Department.

Each penny of Bradley County’s property tax rate brings in approximately $230,000. 

While the proposed addition of those pennies will bring in more revenue, the Finance Committee also moved funds already in the budget from one line item to another. Those measures include:

• Moving $125,000 from Other Capital Projects to Fund 101 General Fund for Juvenile Services to provide additional pay for salaries and additional cascading line items related to pay increases.

Commissioner Erica Davis made the motion, noting current starting pay for juvenile detention corrections officers is $20,800, which is about $10 per hour. With the mayor's budget proposal, starting pay would increase to $22,256.

"That's about a 70-cent (per hour) raise," she said.

With the additional $125,000, the starting salary would be $27,340, which is $13.14 per hour, she added.

"I think that's a little bit better," Davis said, noting it's "still well below" the pay for juvenile detention officers in surrounding counties. She added it goes toward the goal of employee retention.

Mayor Davis said he understands what the motion is intended to do, but they can't move money from Other Capital Projects to the General Fund, but can change the number of pennies allocated to the funds. Finance Committee Chairman Milan Blake said at the end of the discussion they could make the pennies "fall in line."

The measure was approved 5-0.

• Moving $125,000 from Capital Projects to General Fund for EMS to provide additional pay for EMS and cascading line items. EMS has 72 employees currently and plans to fill two open slots.

EMS Director Shawn Fairbanks estimated that will give employees 60 cents more per hour with those cascading line items.

The motion by Commissioner Davis was approved 5-0.

Commissioner Thomas Crye said both motions were "just moving money" and not affecting any tax rate.

• Adding $31,000 to the Circuit Court Clerk's Office.

"This is for a new hire," Circuit Court Clerk Gayla Miller said, adding the employee will be deputy clerk for a state-mandated volunteer mental health court. She said Bradley County will receive no money from the state to operate the court, and noted, "Tennova is making a bundle off this," as are the hospital’s attorneys.

"In my 13 years I've never had the luxury of hiring anybody," Miller said, adding she was only able to replace employees when they left.

The motion by Commissioner Davis was approved 5-0.

• Moving up to $80,000 in funding for a feasibility study for expanding water and wastewater service throughout the county from the 2020-21 budget year into the 2019-20 budget year. The motion was made by Crye.

Blake said the full County Commission voted to move funding for the feasibility study to 2020-21, so the full County Commission would need to vote on this. He added the funding would be earmarked for the study that would look at a plan for the best places to implement infrastructure improvements.

Commissioner Mike Hughes said he understands the study is needed before Bradley County can begin working on improvements, and that the County Commission’s third top priority is infrastructure.

“I truly believe this is the first step toward it,” Hughes said.

However, Hughes said he could not vote in favor of funding the feasibility study in the 2019-20 budget because it would cause a raise in taxes, which he does not support.

The measure was approved 4-1, with Hughes voting against it.

• Allocated $15,000 in the County Commission’s 599 line item to pay for demolition of the old McDonald School. The dilapidated condition of the former school has been a recurring topic of discussion among commissioners, with money to pay for demolition earmarked to come from the sale of the house currently used by the Road Department for its office. The office is slated to be moved into the Road Department’s garage location, but the timeline isn’t set.

The motion, made by Hughes, was approved 4-1, with Alford voting no.

Bradley County Fire Tax

In discussing Bradley County’s fire tax, Alford made a motion to combine the county’s two fire tax rate districts and set the new rate to .44. Crye seconded the motion.

Bradley County currently has two fire tax rates — .39 for Fire District 1 (Outside Fringe) and .41 for Fire District 2 (Fire Fringe). A local penny of Outside Fringe rate generates $43,767, and a penny of Fire Frings rate generates $61,043.

“I feel like that would give the fire department some extra money,” Alford said during last week’s “mega meeting” when the Finance Committee reviewed the budget for the first time.

Alford said Thursday he believes this will help alleviate some of the problems with funding and personnel needs — especially in the rural areas — and also make it easier to figure taxes for the fire department. Blake said the change will bring in approximately $435,000.

Commissioner Davis asked about the benefit of combining the fire districts. Blake said about 95% of Bradley County residents outside the city of Cleveland have the same Insurance Services Office rating, so the justification for having two rates “is no longer there.” ISO ratings are used in figuring insurance costs.

Hughes said he agrees with the move, but has a “hard time voting in favor of it … (because) on top of all the other taxes we’re bringing in, it’s starting to stack up.”

The motion to combine the fire district rates and set the rate to .44 passed 4-1, with Hughes voting against it.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak, who is not a member of the Finance Committee but attended Thursday’s meeting, shared a list of needs she sees in Bradley County, including paving, stormwater issues, animal control, the sewer feasibility study, and overall infrastructure improvements.

After all committee members had been given the opportunity to speak, Blake asked, "Is there anything else that needs to be funded?"

"I think we touched all of them (priorities set by commissioners) … the four top ones," Alford said. "I think it's very important we tell people where we're putting their money."

"There's a lot going in there," Blake said of the proposed budget, adding there is additional funding for education, employee salaries and infrastructure.

"We took care of our first responders," County Commission Chairman Johnny Mull said, adding this proposed budget has also begun to address infrastructure, referring to roads, and the water and sewer feasibility study.

The next step in the budget process is budget appeals at Monday's County Commission voting session.

Blake said it's safe to say not everybody got what they wanted in the budget, but got a large portion of what they wanted. He added he believes commissioners are being responsible with the proposed tax increase and doing what they said they would do with increased revenue.

On Monday, commissioners will consider the Finance Committee's proposed budget. That meeting is at noon in the County Commission Courtroom of the Courthouse.


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