County approves 2-cent property tax increase, sets rate at $2.47

Published 11:09 pm Monday, July 17, 2017

After Much debate and several votes on multiple tax rates, members of the Carter County Commission approved setting the tax rate for the coming year at $2.47 in a split vote.

In addition to increasing the property tax by 2 cents, the motion that approved the tax rate also directed the county to recognize $160,000 the county expects to receive in interest on CDs invested through the County Trustee’s Office.

Even with the tax increase and recognized interest, Carter County Finance Director Christa Byrd cautioned the Commission that the budget was still not balanced and will tap into the county’s fund balance by an estimated $443,000. Even if the proposed tax increase of 4 cents had been approved, Byrd said that would also not have been enough to balance the county’s budget.

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This is the second year in a row the Commission has voted to take a large chunk of money out of fund balance to cover expenses. Last year the Commission allocated around $472,000 from the fund balance to cover expenditures, not counting money taken from the fund balance to cover unforeseen expenditures after the budget was set.

“We’ve got the hole we dug the year before,” Byrd said. “We are continuing to dig and dig into our fund balances.”

“One day you are going to run out of fund balance, and then you will be faced with a massive tax increase, and that’s not fair to the citizens,” she added.

During the evening, several different motions were made to set the property tax rate. Twice the Commission voted on the proposed tax rate of $2.49 and twice it failed. One of those failures was a tie vote of 12-12 in which Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey cast the tie-breaker vote to defeat the motion. Proposals to leave the tax rate at the current level of $2.45 also failed twice. Two motions to set the tax rate at $2.48 were also unsuccessful.

In the end, it was a proposal by County Commissioner Buford Peters to set the rate at $2.47 and recognize the interest revenue that finally garnered enough votes to pass by a margin of 13-10, with 13 being the bare minimum number of votes needed to pass.

Commissioners voting in favor of the $2.47 tax rate were Peters, Willie Campbell, Dr. Robert Acuff, Al Meehan, Bradley Johnson, Isaiah Grindstaff, Ross Garland, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, Sonja Culler, Scott Simerly, and Kelly Collins. Those opposing the tax rate were Commissioners Nancy Brown, Mike HIll, Ronnie Trivett, Charles Von Cannon, Danny Ward, John Lewis, Larry Miller, Ray Lyons, Robert Carroll, and Cody McQueen. Commissioner L.C. Tester had been in attendance at the meeting but left prior to this vote being taken.

After the tax rate was set, the Commission approved resolutions setting the funds for the various departments, approving allocations to outside agencies which provided services in the county, and to increase the amount of tax relief provided by the County to low-income, disabled, and disabled veteran property owners.

The previous level of tax relief provided by the county was $20 for qualifying homeowners. This year, the Commission unanimously a motion to double the amount and set the tax relief at $40.