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Local News

Likely hike in tax rate brings talk of options

August 30th, 2011 10:04 pm by Brad Hicks

ERWIN — Unicoi County citizens are tentatively looking at a property tax increase of at least 10 cents in the 2011-12 fiscal year, a fact that led county officials to briefly discuss other taxation methods at a Tuesday meeting of the Unicoi County Commission’s Finance Committee.
Members of the committee took a few moments to discuss the enactment of a wheel tax in Unicoi County but took no action on the matter.
A document comparing a wheel tax and property tax was compiled by Commissioner Loren Thomas. Thomas said neighboring counties utilizing the wheel tax have its residents pay in the range of $20 to $30 for their registered vehicles.
Thomas said that as of 2010, Unicoi County had a little more than 20,000 registered vehicles. A tax of around $17 per vehicle in the county would be about the equivalent of a 10-cent county property tax increase, Thomas said.
While Commissioner Gene Wilson said he would favor the enactment of a wheel tax, Commissioner Mickey Hatcher said he would oppose it, adding that he feels property and sales taxes are more “fair” methods.
“I’ve had more people, honestly, who want a wheel tax than they do a property tax,” Wilson said.
Thomas, who is neutral in his stance on a wheel tax, said according to the county attorney, a wheel tax could not be capped at a specific amount and no exclusions to it should be granted. Its enactment could come through a vote by the County Commission or through a referendum.
“There’s pros and cons to it, obviously,” Thomas said. “But it just all boils down to whether you think it’s a fair tax or unfair tax.”
The committee also discussed the county’s waste/sanitation budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Hatcher said he would like to see this budget trimmed by 1 to 1½ cents from last fiscal year. With this proposed cut, the department would make up 16 to 16½ cents of the county’s property tax rate.
It was proposed that the money saved by this cut go toward the county’s fund balance.
Three cents of the proposed increase of at least 10 cents on the county’s property tax rate would also go toward the county’s fund balance. Six cents of this proposed increase would go toward the county’s debt service payments.
More than 1 cent of the proposed increase is to be used toward county employee raises. Members of the committee voted to give a 1.6 percent pay raise county employees working inside the county courthouse and to employees of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. One-half cent will also be provided to the Unicoi County Highway Department for employee raises there. Commissioners voting against the measure were Doug Bowman and Dwight Bennett.
If passed by the full County Commission, this would mark the first raise for county employees in three years. The committee may also discuss the possibility of providing a 1.6 percent raise to school system employees at a future meeting after officials obtain information on costs associated with this.
The finance committee is next set to meet on Sept. 6, when it is set to recommend the county’s budget and set a property tax rate for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The full commission is set to consider approval of the county’s budget at its meeting on Sept. 26.

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