Evening crowd is 'no' on tax hike

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 7/9/19

Bradley County residents were given two opportunities to comment about a proposed property tax increase on Monday. An official public hearing was held as part of the Bradley County Commission’s noon meeting, and an unofficial listening session was held Monday night.

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Evening crowd is 'no' on tax hike

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Bradley County residents were given two opportunities to comment about a proposed property tax increase on Monday. An official public hearing was held as part of the Bradley County Commission’s noon meeting, and an unofficial listening session was held Monday night.

While the audience at the noon meeting filled the County Commission Courtroom, the crowd for the evening session was smaller but just as vocal.

Many comments from both meetings were similar, and some residents chose to speak at both sessions.

Chairman Johnny Mull said the second meeting was an opportunity for people to share their opinions, but asked them to do so in an orderly fashion. Speakers were asked to share their name and address, and were given five minutes to speak.

Among them were:

Robert Duncan, a retired firefighter from Cobb County, Ga., who asked commissioners to increase the fire tax “a little bit” every other year to make sure firefighters have the personnel and equipment they need.

“The more money you have, the better fire-rescue you’re going to have,” he said. “You’ve got some outstanding people.”

Mel Griffith, who said as long as the county’s tax base is increasing there should be no tax increase.

“The county needs to live within its means,” he said, adding it is “irresponsible” to raise taxes when County Mayor D. Gary Davis presented a budget with no tax increase.

Doug LeConte, who suggested using half of the training funds for police and fire toward raises and putting hiring on hold.

LuAnn Carey, who said she is from a farming family and they struggle every year to pay property taxes.

“I don’t disagree with what it’s going for,” she said of the proposed tax increase. However, she doesn’t understand why funding for those items is being put on property taxes.

Steve Nichols, who said his parents own a farm on Benton Pike and they are having a hard time paying taxes now on 30 acres. He added he understands police and fire personnel risk their lives for him and other Bradley County residents.

“I pay your salary, I pay all of you all’s salary because I’m a taxpayer,” he said, gesturing to the first responders in the audience and the commissioners. “I believe you can do a better job than what you’re doing now.”

Nichols added he doesn’t think a tax increase is necessary and that commissioners are lying to people in Bradley County.

Alex Fallin, with Bradley County Fire-Rescue, said he was not representing the department with his comments.

“I pay your salary, too,” Fallin said, repeating Nichols’ gesture toward his coworkers. “I’m a taxpayer, too.

“Thank you for what you’ve done and what you’re working to do,” he said to commissioners and Mayor Davis.

Milton Humberd, who expressed concern about the fire tax increase. He added he understands there are close to 1,000 signatures on petitions opposing the property tax increase.

Donald Caywood, who said his tax bill goes up every year, and is opposed to a tax increase.

Dan Rawls, who asked about volunteer firefighters. He also said Cleveland residents are looking at their third tax increase in less than six years.

“What are they getting out of this?” he asked.

Dr. John Stanbery, who has spoken before the County Commission multiple times over the past several weeks. He said the proposed tax increase “is a done deal” and will burden taxpayers.

“Do what you’re going to do … I’m disgusted this is our county,” he said.

John Humberd, who said residents are indebted to the people who put their lives on the line to keep everybody safe. However, he said Bradley County should be able to give employee pay raises and achieve its other goals “with ever-increasing” tax revenue already coming in. He also questioned the county leaders’ ability to manage funds.

Commissioner Mike Hughes said not all of the proposed tax increase revenue will go to salaries, although the county is adding extra personnel and equipment for some departments.

“Don’t be blinded,” Hughes said, adding most county employees aren’t receiving a major pay raise.

During the session, County Mayor D. Gary Davis was asked to review what his budget proposal with no tax increase provides.

"I was only asked to increase four departments," Davis said of the $163 million budget, noting the person who signs other county employees' paychecks is getting only a 2% pay increase, as is the employee who administers payroll.

He started with a 2% percent pay increase for all employees, then he doubled — and in some cases more than doubled — pay increases for four departments: Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, Juvenile Court, Circuit Court Clerk and emergency medical services.

"These four got all we could afford within the revenue we had," Davis said. He said the BCSO gets six employees and pay raises.

Also, without a tax increase, the mayor's budget proposal included funds to put a new roof on the Bradley County EMS station on Paul Huff Parkway; the third payment for Taylor Spring Park; the second payment for a $250,000 commitment to Cleveland State Community College; and increases starting pay for BCSO employees, paramedics and firefighters.

Davis said funding for North Lee and Black Fox elementary schools, and the Partnerships in Industry & Education Center, or PIE Center, are in both his and the Finance Committee’s proposals.

Davis added he believes there are nine County Commission votes "hard set" on a tax increase, and nothing he says will change that.

"It does meet the priorities this Commission set," Davis said of his proposed budget, adding it does not include a tax increase.

In addition, Davis said he understands some commissioners have been telling their constituents they can apply for a tax freeze with the Trustee's Office. However, any tax freeze will be at the new property tax rate because the freeze goes into effect in October.


Inset Quote:

“I pay your salary, I pay all of you all’s salary because I’m a taxpayer. I believe you can do a better job than what you’re doing now.” — Steve Nichols

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