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Property tax increase recommended as partial solution to half-million dollar budget deficit for Johnson County

 By Bonnie Davis Guy

The July 21st 2016 Johnson County Commission meeting came to order following a prayer, pledge and roll call. All commissioners were in attendance as well as other county officials including Mayor Larry Potter, Sheriff Mike Reece, Tammy Fenner, Russell Robinson, and Johnson County Attorney Perry Stout. There were no public comments on the books for July so the agenda moved straight into approving both the June’s minutes and the committee reports unanimously. The commissioners also approved three notaries before moving into budgetary business.
Mayor Potter and C.L. Overman gave an update to the commissioners regarding the progress being made on advanced refunding bonds that would allow the county to refinance at a lower interest rate, saving the county money. Mayor Potter forwarded all appropriate documents to the state comptroller for approval. Approval of the advanced refunding bonds has been received from the state. Once the original jail bonds are refinanced at a lower rate, the county will save some $20,000 per year in interest because of those lower rates. The bonds mature in 2028 so the potential interest savings over these next 13 years is significant for the county.
Mayor Potter then addressed the commissioners regarding the budget deficit of $527,198. Potter reports that although some $93,568 has been cut from the original budget, more decisions have to be made to bring the overall budget into balance. Instead of going into the fund balance again this year, the budget committee recommended raising property tax by 20 cents, making the 2016-2017 property tax $2.05 per hundred. This increase would mean $50 in additional taxes for a property assessed at $100,000, $75 increase for an appraisal of $150,000 and so forth. This proposed increase would bring in $567,829.60 per year. An additional four cents would be shifted from various departments such as solid waste. Potter detailed some of the causes of the budgetary deficit. He reminded the commissioners that in four years the Hall income tax will be gone, leaving the county to make up the loss of over $40,000 received through this tax per year.
Further, Johnson County partners with seven other counties in Upper East Tennessee to fund the Juvenile Justice Center. The costs involved in this partnership have varied over the years from a high of $71,000 in 2014-2015 to this year’s cost of just over $47,000. Another area where costs have actually ballooned is the contract with ETSU Quillen College of Medicine Forensic Pathology who performs autopsies for Johnson County. The cost of autopsies has doubled from the original yearly costs to now running on average $30,000.
Beyond the ever-increasing costs involved in maintaining the county, another area where the county finances have been hard hit is in the loss of investment income. In 2006-2007, investments for the county brought in some $397,830 as compared to only $63,034 this year. This decrease is attributed to a slow investment market.
Other areas that make up the shortfall in next year’s budget include $20,000 in Circuit Court Clerk, $40,000 shortfall in General Sessions Court, $45,000 short on the Hall Tax, and $335,000 short fall at the county jail.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk.