ERWIN — For the fourth consecutive year, Unicoi County’s property tax rate will see an increase.
At its regular meeting held Monday evening, the Unicoi County Commission voted to approve both the county’s estimated budget and fixture of the property tax rate for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The tax rate approved by the commission is $2.6838 per $100 on real property, which is a 22-cent increase over the state-certified tax rate of $2.4638 previously approved by the commission. The rate approved Monday also represents an approximate increase of 13 cents over last fiscal year’s rate of $2.5537.
Commissioner Sue Jean Wilson made the motion that the resolution to fix the tax levy be approved for the 2012-13 fiscal year. This motion was seconded by Commissioner Loren Thomas.
“In the future, all of us who sit on this commission needs to be very careful in what and how we place our votes when it comes to financial situations in the next two years,” Wilson said.
Commissioner Doug Bowman described preparation of the county’s budget as a “long” and “painful” process, but said county services would have to be suspended without the property tax increase.
Eight of the nine county commissioners were present for Monday’s meeting. Mickey Hatcher, who was appointed commission chairman Monday, was not present. Consideration of setting the tax rate initially led to a stalemate, as commissioners James Howell, Gene Wilson, Dwight Bennett and Kenneth Garland voted against the measure.
“Just so everybody knows, the school system will have to quit paying teachers if the budget ain’t passed by October,” Bowman said. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch added that the tax rate would need to be fixed before tax bills could be mailed out.
“We’ve had more than enough time for everybody to work out, suggest all the things they wanted to see cut out of the budgets,” Thomas said. “We’ve had dozens of meetings and hours and hours and hours sitting there working on this stuff, and there’s been ample for everybody to speak their peace. There’s been disagreements, but I think we need to vote and pass this budget.”
Sue Jean Wilson said items, such as bonds to pay for the new middle school and the settlement of the 911 overtime lawsuit, would have to be paid.
“Whatever it is, we have to pay it and there’s no other way to go about it than this way at the present time,” she said.
New Commission Vice Chairman Bill Hensley asked if any commissioners who initially voted against the proposed tax rate would be willing to reconsider his vote to break the 4-4 tie. Gene Wilson said he would be willing to reconsider his vote and made a motion to again consider fixture of the tax rate.
The measure was approved 5-3 on the second consideration, with Howell, Bennett and Garland voting against. Following the meeting, Wilson said while he feels cuts need to be made, he reconsidered because the school system could suffer due to a potential loss of BEP funding if the rate and budget were not passed Monday.
The measure to approve the county’s estimated budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year was also approved by a 5-3 vote, with Howell, Bennett and Garland voting against. A total revenue of $6,750,226 is estimated in the budget, against a $6,638,815 in projected expenditures.
Bennett said he voted against both the tax rate and budget measures because he felt further cuts could have been made.
“It would have been hard on the officeholders, and maybe employees or whatever, but it’s hard on the taxpayers,” he said. “So you just have to kind of weigh where your heart is, I guess.”
In other business, the commission approved taking out bonds on Sheriff Mike Hensley and Assessor of Property Patsy Bennett, both of whom were elected in the August general election.