Both the property and fire tax rates remain the same as last fiscal year.
The budget was passed 13-1 with 1st District Commissioner Ed Elkins the only dissenting vote. Elkins expressed concern about not funding the capital project fund beyond just accruing interest, and using it to fund police cars and ambulance chassis. Elkins said these items should be funded within the department budgets, not general capital projects fund.
Before the vote, 3rd District Commissioner Jeff Morelock had proposed postponing setting the property tax rate until after the wheel tax referendum. This motion was defeated and the property tax rate continues to be $1.79 per $100 of assessed value.
“This Commission, in my opinion, has a responsibility to fund the schools, as the funds are needed. In my opinion, we are shirking our responsibility, when we put a load like this off on the public. It’s our responsibility. I’m for the wheel tax 100 percent; I don’t care if it’s a wheel tax or a property tax, if it gets the schools what they need,” Morelock said.
Delaying the vote would have given the Commission the opportunity to change the tax rate at a later date. Several commissioners said this undermines what the Commission is trying to do with the wheel tax — give Bradley County residents a chance to decide what happens.
“If we’re saying, ‘If you don’t approve this (the wheel tax), we reserve the right to come back and increase the property tax rate to fund the schools,’ why are we even having the wheel tax [discussion]?” Elkins said. “Why didn’t we just raise the property tax to begin with?”
Raising property taxes was never officially proposed in a voting session to fund the current capital project needs of Bradley County Schools. These include a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School, an eight classroom addition at Walker Valley High School and an elementary school in the Blue Springs community.
“We have an opportunity with this wheel tax to create a revenue stream in perpetuity more than any other revenue stream,” 4th District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said. “Bumping property tax increases does not do anything ... in the long run for schools like a wheel tax would.”
Initially the wheel tax, if passed, would create the revenue needed to borrow the money for current capital project needs, then go toward paying off this debt. Lowe said the wheel tax would remain dedicated to education, whereas a property tax increase could be reallocated.
The wheel tax is the only option for funding the capital projects, 5th District Commissioner Jeff Yarber said.
“I believe the wheel tax has merit,” 7th District Commissioner Bill Winters said.
He said residents need only to visit the schools to know funding is needed.
Property taxes can only be increased at budget time each year.
Also during the meeting:
- A rezoning request to change a lot at the corner of Cherokee Drive and Waterlevel Highway from Residential to Rural/Commercial was passed Monday. The Broadway Group of Huntsville, Ala., plans to put a 9,100 square foot retail store on the site.
A resident asked if Cherokee Drive would be widened to accommodate increased traffic. County planner Corey Divel said this would be addressed in the site plan.
- A motion to request nonprofit organizations that receive funding from the county to come to a work session and present how the money is used was passed.
- Lowe asked the finance committee to consider taking the proposed raise for commissioners and use it to give the legislative assistant a raise. Lowe said this would be done as an amendment to the newly passed budget.
“Ms. Moore does a fantastic job for us,” Lowe said.
Winters also expressed his appreciation for legislative assistant Amy Moore.