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Commissioners pass 4¢ property tax increase for Johnson County

Johnson County’s pressing budgetary questions came to an end last Thursday night at a specially scheduled recessed July meeting that was held immediately before the regular August meeting at 7 p.m. The county’s board of commissioners had already conducted a budget workshop earlier in the week after failing to pass a $.04 property tax increase the week before. This time around, the majority of the county’s elected officials were present to address whether or not further cuts in their own budgets could be made.
Regrettably, solutions were few and far between. Most officials expressed that they would be willing to work with the commission but did not see any other areas where reductions would be possible. This led County Mayor Larry Potter to conclude that if further changes were made they would likely have to be within personnel. Speaking to many of the complaints and concerns that he had heard, Vice-Chairman John Brookshire specifically questioned County Clerk Tammy Fenner if there would be any way that she could reduce one employee.
Fenner explained that her office is currently operating at capacity with one deputy, two clerks’ assistants, and one part-time employee. Of those two assistants, Fenner indicated that one was hired as a requirement for the county to offer drivers license services which include renewals, duplicates, name changes, address changes, and upgrade of all non-commercial licenses. According to Fenner, if a position is cut it would mean she would be forced to end drivers licenses services and the significant revenue it generates. The loss of this funding source would likely outweigh any benefits the county might have in cutting the position and would force residents to drive to Elizabethton as the nearest license center.
Once again the commission was left with little room to make changes, leaving doubts about whether the budget would actually pass Thursday night. The vote was split seven-six the last time a motion was made, but according to County Attorney Bill Cockett, eight votes are required to constitute a simple majority. However, as the commissioners filed into the courtroom once again, it was soon found that positions on the issue had changed.
Mayor Larry Potter began the reconvened meeting by handing out a sheet showing approximately how much the $.04 would change a property owner’s taxes. At $100,000 assessed value there would be an extra $10 added with an extra $5 for every additional $50,000 thereafter. With that in mind, Commissioner Mike Taylor once again made the motion to accept the budget as presented by the county budget committee. Taylor went on to note that if the budget were not passed the state would step in to set the rate, which would likely be much higher.
Commissioner Huey Long seconded Taylor’s effort and this time the motion passed eight to five. Commissioners John Brookshire, Lester Dunn, Jerry Gentry, Huey Long, Gina Meade, Freddy Phipps, Jack Proffit, and Mike Taylor voted to approve the motion while commissioners Bill Adams, Jerry Grindstaff, Jimmy Lowe, Jonathan Pleasant, and Rick Snyder voted against.
With the budget and its consequential increase approved, the commission next voted to set the tax rate from $1.77 to $1.81 with the entire $.04 going into the county general fund. Long made the motion this time around with Brookshire seconding. Only Bill Adams and Jonathan Pleasant opposed, and the motion carried 11 to 2. Opposition had diminished completely with the last requirement to send the state official resolutions detailing the commission’s final decision concerning the county’s finances.
Although a contested and lengthy ordeal, the passing of this year’s budget did not leave several members of the commission to sit silent on a number of issues during the regular meeting. Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff was one of the first to speak up, indicating his desire to see the county send an official letter of disapproval to the state considering the significant burdens and unfunded mandates that have been issued, including nearly $30,000 to provide elected officials a raise.
Mayor Potter stated that he had been in touch with Representative Timothy Hill with similar concerns and agreed that some type of action should be taken to try to help with this problem in the future. Most board members seemed to show their support as well, with one suggestion that Johnson County try to generate support among the other counties in the state, possibly through similar resolutions. While agreeing that this would be a good idea, Grindstaff made a motion to send a letter of protest for the time being, including copies to the Governor and Lieutenant. Governor.

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