ERWIN — While a second reading must still be approved by the Unicoi County Commission before it becomes official, the commission approved setting the county’s property tax rate at a little more than $2.55 for the 2011-12 fiscal year in a special called meeting held Tuesday.
Assuming the measure is passed on second reading without changes, the county’s exact property tax rate would be $2.5537 per $100 of assessed value. This represents an increase of 12.37 cents over last year’s rate of $2.43.
“There’s a lot of things in here that we’ve discussed and certainly, again, we don’t all agree with everything that’s in here,” Commissioner Mickey Hatcher said of the tax rate prior to the commission’s vote. “At this point in time, I think it’s necessary to move forward and, certainly, we can always fine tune somewhat, but I don’t think we can do much better unless we cut services.”
The measure to set the property tax rate at $2.5537 passed by a vote of 8-1, with Commissioner Kenneth Garland casting the lone dissenting vote.
“Too damn high,” Garland said of the tax rate after casting his vote.
A penny on the county’s tax rate represents approximately $30,000 in revenue. It is proposed that $1 of the tax rate go toward the general fund. Sixteen cents would go toward the waste/sanitation fund, a little more than 5 cents would go toward the highway/public works fund, approximately 85 cents would go toward the general purpose schools fund, and a little more than 49 cents would go toward the general debt service fund.
The commission also approved a motion to recommend the county’s budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Garland again cast the only dissenting vote.
“I’m sure everybody has certain things in here that they would like to see raised and other things they would like to see cut,” Hatcher said of the budget before the vote. “I think that its the best we can do under the circumstances, the best consensus that we can come to.”
Commissioner Bill Hensley said this year has been difficult budget-wise, but he said the county was initially facing a property tax increase of around 21 cents when budget talks began in March. He also said he expects the county to be better off from a property tax standpoint in the 2012-13 fiscal year due to possibly more taxes coming in.
“If we get what I call some extra money, money that is unforeseen coming in ... I’ll be the first person to reduce that tax rate and give those pennies back to the taxpayer,” Hensley said.
Prior to the called meeting of the commission, the County Commission’s Finance Committee met and took several actions that impacted the property tax rate and overall budget approved later in the evening.
The committee first voted to rescind a motion approved at a prior meeting that would have seen Phyllis Bennett, bookkeeper in the county mayor’s office, receive a $2,500 salary increase in the upcoming fiscal year. Those voting against the measure were Gene Wilson and Sue Jean Wilson.
Also approved by the committee was providing teachers in the Unicoi County School System with a 1.6 raise on the county’s portion of their salaries. This would represent a total of about $10,500, and Hatcher said the raise would represent around $2 in additional pay to teachers per pay period. Those voting against this measure were Garland, Hatcher and Sue Jean Wilson.
By a vote of 5-4, the committee also narrowly approved a motion to increase the initially discussed property tax rate increase of 11.37 cents by 1 cent, with this extra cent going to the highway department. Those voting against this motion were Garland, Hatcher, Sue Jean Wilson and Doug Bowman.
The County Commission will meet in regular session on Sept. 26, when it is set to consider final approval of the budget.