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Washington County commissioners to vote on TIF changes

Robert Houk • May 17, 2020 at 8:00 PM

Washington County commissioners are expected to vote tonight on a change to the formula that calculates the county’s contribution to the tax increment financing district in downtown Johnson City.

The current method is based on assessed property value. The resolution would change that to the amount of property taxes actually paid in the district, which would decrease the county’s contributions over the next nine years of the TIF agreement with the city of Johnson City and the Johnson City Development Authority.

Uniform Resolutions

The county’s Budget Committee is also asking commissioners to approve a separate resolution to change the debt ceiling in the TIF district from a fixed amount of $11 million to “an excess of 10% of the value of real property“ in the district.

Commissioner Freddie Malone, who serves as the County Commission’s representative on the JCDA, said the amendments to the agreement have already been approved by the development authority.

Malone said the resolutions would bring the downtown revitalization district into “uniformity” with upgrades made to the state’s TIF law in 2012.

A vote on similar revisions stalled in a 7-7 vote by county commissioners in February 2019. Had the changes been approved, Malone said the county would have kept $95,000 in property tax collections, and not owe $82,592 to the JCDA in the current fiscal year.

Malone said the JCDA has indicated it might forgive the shortfall in the county’s TIF payment this year if the county adopts the changes.

Forensics Contract

Commissioners are also scheduled to vote tonight on a new contract with East Tennessee State University’s William L. Jenkins Forensic Center that sees costs grow by 2% annually over the next four years to cover death investigations and autopsies.

Under the new proposal, Washington County would see its cost for the contract increase from the current $279,902 to $285,500 in the new fiscal year. Washington County is among eight counties in Northeast Tennessee that contract with ETSU at a per capita rate for those services.

County Mayor Joe Grandy said earlier this month that the number of autopsies coming from Washington County has decreased since the ETSU program began in 2014. He said the forensic center investigated 266 Washington County deaths in 2016. Of that number, 178 involved autopsies.

In 2019, the forensics center investigated 293 deaths in Washington County, of which 138 included an autopsy.

Officials with the forensic center say the facility is seeing more cases that don’t require autopsies. Laura Parsons, the forensic center’s director of operations, said many of these cases are closed by the medical examiner after conducting an eternal exam, or following a thorough review of the deceased person’s medical records.

Grandy also reminded members of the Public Safety Committee that Washington County is also receiving the services of a medical examiner through its contract with ETSU. He said Sullivan County is paying extra for its own medical examiner in addition to its contract with the forensic center.

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