ELIZABETHTON — After months of meetings and disagreements, the Elizabethton City Council was able to reach an agreement Thursday night on how high the first increase in the property tax rate in 19 years should be. The majority agreed upon a 25-cent increase from the current certified rate, bringing the rate from $1.5681 to $1.82 per $100 of assessed value.
The proposed rate is a compromise that does not please everyone. Some such as Mayor Curt Alexander had hoped for little or no increase, while others such as Councilwoman Nancy Alsup hoped for additional funds in order to give employees a pay raise. Several supporters of a new athletic complex at Elizabethton High School did not convince the council to fund it this year. The council proposed forming a committee to make short-term and long-term recommendations for current and future stadiums.
After being passed on first reading Thursday night, the new property tax rate will be the subject of a public hearing during the next City Council meeting. After the public hearing there will be a second and final reading.
The rate was approved with the help of a suggestion by Councilman Charles LaPorte that the rate should be adopted in pieces rather than as a whole. LaPorte made the suggestions after the council tried several alternatives last month and could never reach a consensus.
His suggestion quickly bore fruit. The agenda was amended to take the tax rate in sections. The first item considered was the recommendation of the city staff for a 22.19-cent increase to fund a “status quo” General Fund budget for next year.
That increase, which brought the property tax rate to $1.79 was quickly approved with only Alexander voting against it. Alexander had previously said that a new garbage tax fee that would free up more than $600,000 for other expenses in the General Fund and a water fee increase should be a sufficient amount of new revenue.
The next step was proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley to add an additional 3 cents to the rate in order to begin to reverse the trend of the past several years of a declining balance in the undesignated reserves to the point where there is only about $1.5 million left. The three additional cents would add $72,600 to the undesignated reserves this year.
Shipley’s motion was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Alexander, Richard Tester and Bill Carter voting against it.
Alsup attempted to obtain a pay increase for city employees. Her proposal, 25 cents to the tax rate, failed with only Richard Sammons joining her.
“I apologize the other employees of the city of Elizabethton that they don’t have more support on City Council,” Alsup said following the defeat.
Earlier, the council had approved a new fee on garbage collection of $10 per month per residence and increasing the Water Capital Improvement Fee from $4 to $10 per month.
The garbage collection fee was passed by a 4-3 vote, with Alsup, Carter and Alexander voting against it. The water fee was passed by a 6-1 vote with Alsup being the only one against it.
The garbage fee is dedicated to solid waste collection and disposal and will generate about $660,000 this fiscal year. As Tester said during the meeting, the water fee increase “is to work on our failing infrastructure and cut down our water losses, which we are mandated to do.”
For the second time in two months, the council voted down a $5-per-month fee increase for the Elizabethton Electric Department. The fees would have helped maintain adequate cash flow for the purchase of electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority. The council did provide authorization to establish a $3.5 million letter of credit to cover cash flow and provide emergency funding in case of a major storm.