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Costs vs. taxes: Town residents debate projects

August 24th, 2011 12:16 am by Heather Richardson

With discussions of a possible property tax increase circulating through the town, several Jonesborough residents came out for a community meeting Tuesday evening to voice their opinions on several projects being considered by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and how those projects might be paid for.
The projects the board has in mind include renovations to the old Booker T. Washington school building, the purchase of what was formerly the Jackson Theatre, a new town garage and a new senior citizens center facility.
Since some grants, private funds and other funding options have been discussed for the Booker T. Washington building, the Jackson Theatre and the new garage much of the evening’s discussion centered around a new senior center and whether property taxes should be increased to pay for it.
The current facility, which was outgrown several years ago, has about 5,000 square feet and a little more than 30 parking spaces. Originally an RV showroom, the building isn’t conducive to many of the activities offered by the senior center and its location doesn’t allow for much expansion.
The proposed two-story building would be constructed on town-owned land on East Main Street and is estimated to carry a $1.7 million to $2 million price tag. The tentative plans for the facility include a lobby, reception area, administration area, a 960-square-foot parlor that opens to a 700-square-foot covered porch, a dining room that can seat about 130 people, a 1,664-square-foot arts and crafts room, a conference room that can seat about 32 people, a classroom/computer lab that can seat about 32 people and a commercial kitchen.
According to Alderman Mary Gearhart, the board is hoping to receive some support from Washington County since about 80 percent of the senior center members are county residents who live outside the town limits.
While much of the crowd sported bright yellow “NEW Senior Center Supporter” stickers on their shirts there were several in the crowd who were concerned about paying for it with a property tax increase.
One senior citizen pointed out that while a new center is needed, many seniors are on fixed incomes and are dealing with rising living expenses.
“I think all these plans that you have are magnificent and wonderful but us being senior citizens, to be honest with you, we cannot afford any more taxes, plain and simple.”
Twenty-six-year-old Brad Bagnus questioned what percentage of Jonesborough’s taxpayers were members of the senior center as well as why the town has decided to build a senior center rather than a community center. Along those same lines, 70-year-old Mary Williams noted that the younger taxpayers wouldn’t be able to use it and that many of the senior citizens who could use it couldn’t afford the tax increase to pay for it.
“We must not overlook our young people who will be paying most of the taxes if they are raised,” Williams said.
Williams told the board she lives on her own on a fixed income and was against raising the property taxes.
“I struggle every year to save up money to pay them and I just can’t see raising our taxes again.”
Jonesborough resident Raymond Marney said he supported the projects but only if the town could afford them without a tax increase.
“I do not want to pay a penny more in property tax,” Marney said. “It seems to me like the senior center, the theater could be revenue producing venues and investments. They could at least partly offset their costs.”
Marney suggested the town consider a loan or an increase in sales tax to more evenly distribute the contribution.
The board meets Monday evening at 7 in a special called meeting at Town Hall to discuss and possibly take action on funding options.

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