County budget debate taking its toll

Possible tax hike getting emotional

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 6/11/19

The emotional, real-life aspects of budget preparation came to the forefront during Monday’s Bradley County Commission work session, along with the economic impact.

This item is available in full to subscribers

County budget debate taking its toll

Possible tax hike getting emotional

Posted

The emotional, real-life aspects of budget preparation came to the forefront during Monday’s Bradley County Commission work session, along with the economic impact.

With a proposed property tax increase already on the table, several commissioners spoke of the impact preparing for Bradley County’s 2019-20 is having on them and their constituents.

The emotional impact

During her district report, Commissioner Erica Davis read from a prepared statement about this year’s budget process.

“From my first meeting back in September to this one today, there are two things that I consistently leave here reflecting on,” Davis said. “First — I am here to represent the people of the 6th District. Not just a few loud voices, but all of them. Many of them I may never speak to, but young and old, I am here to represent their voice, and to do what is right by all of them.

“Second — As I sit here and look at the faces of my fellow commissioners I see individuals with: Vision for the future,” among them planners, people with expertise; property owners, educators, developers, law enforcement officials, business men and women, mothers and fathers and grandparents. I see fellow citizens and taxpayers.

“Most importantly I see good people, who want the best for Bradley County. Who are here, giving their time and energy to make the future of Bradley County bright!

“What I don’t see are people who are desperate to raise taxes and waste taxpayer money,” Davis said. “In fact, I know each of us up here struggles with the decision ahead. But we were elected to make tough decisions, and here we are.

“It is our job to listen, consider the overwhelming needs facing our county, and decide what must be done. That discussion has begun,” she added.

“I am deeply disappointed in any commissioner who refuses to even consider the conversation at hand. It shows a lack of vision, and the inability to lead with an open mind. Both of which are desperately needed as we make these difficult decisions …”

Davis said the conversation has only just begun and she is hopeful “that we can address the significant needs in our county. I am hopeful that the vision we have for the future of Bradley County can begin to take shape. I am hopeful that we will avoid kicking the can down the street.”

She added the county’s needs aren’t going away, but “are only getting worse. We must address them at some point. This year when it’s tough, or down the road when it will be even more painful.

“I for one, am unwilling to saddle my children with an even greater burden than we face today,” Davis said. “We will not all agree at the end of the day, and I recognize that my ultimate decision will upset people on both sides of this issue. We must each do what we think is best.

“I am hopeful that we can continue this conversation and work together toward a compromise that puts us on the path toward a better future that we all want and know we need,” Davis concluded.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak reiterated Davis' comments and added while she respects her constituents' opinions, she doesn't appreciate messages of intimidation delivered at all hours. Peak said she will be available to talk with constituents until 9 p.m., "but I will not be harassed or intimidated."

Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber said they have some difficult decisions to make, adding commissioners have discussed raising the fire tax and the need for more employees. Yarber added he has mentioned the county's retirement plan before, adding they need to do something or they won't get "seasoned employees."

Also, Yarber said if commissioners are looking at a potential property tax increase, he asked the Finance Committee to look again at the budget "and at least give us two pennies to play with" to help juvenile services and EMS.

The Finance Committee will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday, in the County Commission conference room.

The Finance Committee met for nearly six hours Thursday, reviewing the budget and recommending changes to the mayor’s budget proposal.

Commissioner Milan Blake said the Finance Committee met Thursday and discussed several items that need to be added to next Monday's agenda, including:

• A recommendation to lower the reserve fund policy for Fund 115 Public Library from 5% to zero percent.

• A recommendation to amend the budget calendar.

Blake said there was a lot of discussion during that meeting and he wanted to address one thing that was said, noting he has respect and admiration for the BCSO deputies. Blade added Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting began with a moment of silence in observance of the anniversary of D-Day.

During an emotionally-charged exchange during the Finance Committee, Commissioner Mike Hughes said it was "spitting in their face" of Bradley County Sheriff's Office sergeants and detectives, whose pay Sheriff Steve Lawson plans to raise to $42,000 per year, to consider raising pay for the County Commission’s executive administrative assistant to $44,000, which is more than the 2% most county employees are receiving.

"The county can't fund everybody at what their life is worth," Hughes said.

Monday, Blake said he does not spit in the face of anyone, noting he tried to give more money to the BCSO for employee pay raises, but the motion died for lack of a second. Blake asked Lawson to tell BCSO employees he respects and appreciates them.

Commissioner Thomas Crye said he wanted to reinforce what Blake said, adding Blake went to the trouble to add funding for BCSO vehicles to the budget.

"We respect our public servants and all our county employees," Crye said.

Hughes said he was "owning up" to making the statement, adding it was not meant to be hurtful.

"It was actually in the heat of the moment and I apologize for that," Hughes said.

Chairman Johnny Mull said any time there are tough decisions, it gets emotional. He asked the commissioners to treat each other with respect and be willing to listen to others.

Delivering his district report, Hughes said some of his district is in the city of Cleveland and he received a call from a single female homeowner who said Cleveland residents went through a "huge tax increase" a few years ago and she is concerned if Bradley County increases property taxes she will be unable to afford it and will have to move. He reminded commissioners their decision "affects real people."

"We're not dealing with numbers, we're dealing with people and their lives," Hughes said.

Commissioner Tim Mason said last week he heard comments that he won't even listen to property tax increase and he opposes education by not supporting it, but Mason said he is not against the school system.

"The people put me here and that's who I listen to," Mason said.

As for suggestions he is opposing a property tax increase because he's thinking of re-election, Mason said, "the people will decide that."

The economic impact

Commissioner Bill Winters advised taxpayers to look at what a property tax increase of 10 or 15 cents would actually cost on their annual tax bill.

A 10-cent increase would result in a proposed tax rate of $1.8084. Taxes on a $100,000 home would go up $25 per year, or $2.08 per month; taxes on a $150,000 house would go up $37.50 per year, or $3.14 per month; taxes on a $200,000 house would go up $50 per year, or $4.17 per month; taxes on a $250,000 house would go up $62.50 per year, or $5.21 per month; taxes on a $300,000 home would go up $75 per year, or $6.25 per month; taxes on a $350,000 home would go up $87.50 per year, or $7.29 per month; and taxes on a $400,000 home would go up $100 per year, or $8.33 per month.

A 15-cent tax increase would result in a proposed tax rate of $1.8584. Taxes on a $100,000 home would go up $37.50 per year, or $3.313 per month; taxes on a $150,000 house would go up $56.26 per year, or $4.69 per month; taxes on a $200,000 house would go up $75 per year, or $6.25 per month; taxes on a $250,000 house would go up $93.75 per year, or $7.81 per month; taxes on a $300,000 home would go up $112.50 per year, or $9.38 per month; taxes on a $350,000 home would go up $131.25 per year, or $10.94 per month; and taxes on a $400,000 home would go up $150 per year, or $12.50 per month.

"None of us up here are trying to blow anybody's budget," Winters said. "None of us want to get into the hysteria of huge, huge taxes, by the way."

Winters added he believes commissioners need to tell people where the revenue from the proposed tax increase is going.

Also, Winters thanked the Finance Committee and mayor for working hard on the budget.

"I applaud both entities here today," he said.

Commissioner Howard Thompson said the discussion is not just about people who are well off and own expensive homes, but it is also about people on low and fixed incomes.

"That's the people you've got to deal with, too," Thompson said, adding he deals with these people every day and they tell him their concerns. "I'm for the poor people, too."

Teasing Peak, his fellow 4th District commissioner, Thompson added he is willing to take constituent phone calls after 9 p.m.

"I'm here to do the service," Thompson said, adding he has served 24 years and will continue to unless "they put me out."

Thompson also referred to a previous 40-cent tax increase — he voted for it and was "chewed" for it.

Crye said he agrees with Winters, adding the average home price in Bradley County is $196,000, and a property tax increase of 10 to 15 cents will cost $4 to $5 per month in additional property taxes.

"Let's put these things in perspective," Crye said.

County Mayor D. Gary Davis gave commissioners a copy of the Finance Committee's proposed budget, asking them to "please study it carefully." 


Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

X

Print subscribers have FREE access to clevelandbanner.com by registering HERE

Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE

We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.

If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.

Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE