“The first thing you need to write is this,” he said as he walked out of the Council chambers Monday afternoon. “This raises the property tax rate back to what it was 10 years ago.”
In spite of Poe’s commitment, he insisted that City Manager Janice Casteel continue to refine the budget to limit the tax increase as much as possible.
Other Council members committing to the hike were Councilman Bill Estes, 2nd District; Vice Mayor Avery Johnson, 3rd District; David May, 4th District; Dale Hughes, 5th District; and At-Large Councilman Richard Banks.
Councilman Charlie McKenzie, 1st District, was noncommittal.
Casteel requested 5.3 cents just to maintain the current level of services. She acquiesced after Estes pointed out the city should save $85,000 a year by refinancing some of its debt. He suggested reducing the 5.3 cents by .8 to arrive at 4.3 cents.
Council members arrived at 18.51 cents after going line by line through a list of needs that would have required 28.6 cents to fund. Staff based the list on past discussion by Council members.
Approved items included a 3.5 percent increase in the Cost of Living Allowance in the amount of $612,500 (6.12 cents); Cleveland Bradley County Public Library budget request, $40,000 (.4 cents) and one property maintenance official, $65,100 (.65). The list also includes two firefighters, $92,984 (.93); retaining six grant police officers, $334,955 (3.35); hiring six new police officers, $392,478 (3.92); and one Motor Equipment Operator, $41,900 (.42).
The Council passed on a 911 budget request in the amount of $142,000 (1.4); surveyor, $55,100 (.55); two firefighters, $92,984 (.93); deputy fire chief, $101,407, (1.01); parks and recreation program director, $47,355 (.47); six police cars, $242,850 (2.43); detective, $119,528 (1.19); and one crime scene technician, 115,021, (1.15).
An administrative hearing officer will be paid from the general fund on an as-needed basis. The requested amount was $16,000 (.16).
The current property tax rate is $1.49. The additional increase will raise the rate to $1.675 per $100 of assessed value on property. The tax on a home valued at $100,000 will increase from $372 a year to $418.
The new rate is 2 cents higher than it was in fiscal year 2003. The Council approved an 18-cent increase in August 2002 to set the fiscal year 2003 tax rate at $1.65. Johnson, Poe, May and former Councilman Steve Ratterman voted for that tax increase.
The last increase occurred in 2005 when the Council approved 9 cents to maintain the rate at $1.65 after the Bradley County Tax Assessor certified the rate at $1.56. The rate remained steady until fiscal year 2010 when the certified tax rate was set at current level of $1.49.
Even with the increase, the city of Cleveland will keep its distinction of having the lowest property tax rate of five other cities of similar size with a K-12 school system. Johnson City has a $1.72 property tax rate followed by Kingsport, $1.97; Maryville, $2.17; Tullahoma, $2.29; and Oak Ridge, $2.39.