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Public hearing, not speaking: Carter Budget Committee puts kibosh on unscheduled comment

John Thompson • Jul 15, 2014 at 9:14 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission held a public hearing Monday afternoon, but did not allow anyone from the public to speak.

The committee normally holds a public hearing at the end of its two-month long budget-making process for the new fiscal year. Citizens often speak at these hearings to ask that property taxes not be raised and government spending be held in check.

This year, the committee scheduled the public hearing for Monday, but Committee Chairman Harry Sisk said the legal advertisement providing notice of the hearing included a requirement that anyone wishing to speak at the hearing would have to submit a written request in advance of the meeting. He asked if any written requests had been submitted and was told none were received. Sisk then ruled the public hearing closed.

Committee member Nancy Brown said the requirement should be disregarded and anyone should be allowed to speak.

Only a small audience of about 30 was in attendance at the hearing and many of those did not appear to be there to speak. There was a group of about five people who had come to speak and they angrily got up and left the meeting at that point, saying “that was a waste of time.”

For the new fiscal year, the Budget Committee proposes a budget that will raise the property tax by 14 cents per $100 of assessed value. That would mean the property tax rate would go from $2.33 to $2.47. Most of that increase (12 cents) would go to debt service, which has seen a sharp reduction in funding over the past three years, causing its reserves to decline from $8 million to $3 million. The remaining 1.75 cents would go to the school fund to allow the county to meet state-mandated maintenance of effort requirements. The committee proposes to divide the $2.47tax rate as follows: schools $1.06; $1.01.5 to general fund; 26.5 cents for debt service and 13 cents for the Highway Department.

The new budget and property tax recommendation will now go to the County Commission for its July 21 meeting. The public will once again have an opportunity to speak on the property tax rate and budget proposal at that time.

The committee then went on to its normal business, but because the budget for the fiscal year has not yet been approved by the County Commission, its work was limited to a few recommended amendments when the budget is approved. It also approved an amendment to the agreement between city and county that will require the county to include the shelter building to its insurance coverage.

At the end of the meeting, Sisk again asked if there were any public comments. No one wanted to speak at that time.

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