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Wheel tax increase passes; insurance cap vote is null and void

As was expected, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners approved the second and final reading of a proposed $10 increase to the county wheel tax at last Thursday night’s meeting. Faced with budgetary shortfalls from dwindling interest rates, the county has lost more than $800,000 in revenue over the last four years. When the budget committee initially began work on the budget, a five-cent increase to the property tax was proposed to generate the required funds, but many of the commissioners felt that the wheel tax was a more fair method of securing the necessary funding.
As a result, County Attorney Bill Cockett drew up a resolution for the wheel tax increase, which passed its first reading unanimously at last month’s meeting. Unlike the property tax, the wheel tax requires two separate votes, and both must pass by a two-thirds majority. Of the total $10 increase, $8 will go into the county general fund and $2 will be utilized under capital projects to help with more than a dozen bridges across the county that are in serious need of repair.
For the second reading this month, Cockett went over the full resolution to ensure that the commissioners understood all the details of what they were voting on. With no serious changes or alterations presenting themselves, Commissioner Mike Taylor made the motion to approve the second reading of the increase with Commissioner Gina Meade seconding. The motion passed unanimously, and the new wheel tax will likely take effect at the end of this year.
With the passing of the budget at the last meeting, there were no budget amendments this month, making exception for an unusual motion by Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff at the very end of the meeting. Having debated over the last couple of months concerning the placement of a cap on employee insurance, the commission came to a compromise last month which grandfathered in 10 employees with family, children, or spouses on their insurance plans and locked in the remaining employees at their current rate.
However, the initial discussion coming from the budget committee was to put all employees under a $5,875 limit on what the county would actually pay. Saving the county tens of thousands of dollars, the cap would also unfortunately mean that employees with family insurance would have to make up the difference above the cap out of their own pocket, in some cases costing them thousands of dollars.
The debate between saving taxpayer dollars and protecting the employees was the main cause to discuss a compromise in the first place, but several commissioners still felt that there was an issue of fairness and inconsistency by paying more for some and less for others. As a result, Grindstaff made the motion to approve a budget amendment which would reinstate the initially proposed limit of $5,875 for all employees.
However, because the amendment had not been through the budget committee, county attorney Cockett informed Grindstaff that there would first need to be a motion to suspend the county’s policy concerning such action. With the passing of this initial motion, the second motion to make the insurance amendment then came to the floor.
Because of the hotly debated nature of the issue the vote was a split with Commissioners Bill Adams, Jerry Gentry, Huey Long, Freddy Phipps, Jack Proffitt, and Mike Taylor voting against, and Commissioners John Brookshire, Lester Dunn, Jerry Grindstaff, Jimmy Lowe, Gina Meade, Jonathan Pleasant, Rick Snyder, and Dean Stout voting for.
At 8-6 the vote passed by simple majority, however Cockett contested whether or not such a motion would require a two-thirds majority. Because of the unprecedented nature of the motion which actually cuts rather than adds to the budget, Cockett informed the commission that he would have to research and determine later whether or not the motion actually passed. On Monday Cockett informed members of the commission that his research confirmed his initial question about the validity of the vote. It would have had to have a two-thirds majority to pass. This stipulation nullifies the action taken last Thursday night.
At this point, the insurance cap issue will go first to the budget committee for vote. If it is passed by the budget committee, they must then present it to the full commission for vote. After it has gone through these steps, a two-thirds majority is not necessary by the commission – only a simple majority.
County Mayor Larry Potter introduced the commission to the state’s Drug Free Workplace Program, which could save the county as much as $6000 off its Workman’s Compensation insurance. Implementing a policy of random drug testing for the county’s employees, questions arose about the specifics of the program, such as whether or not all employees, including those in clerical positions, would have to be tested or just employees that drive county vehicles.
Currently the transfer station and highway department are already engaging in random testing, but other high risk departments, such as the sheriff’s department, do not. Many cities and counties across the state are already participating and Mayor Potter went on to say that Marc Fogarty with the county’s insurance company would be present at the September 5th county safety meeting to answer questions and provide details about the program.
The Commission also approved the reappointment of Odell Johnson to the county Planning Commission, where he currently holds the position of chairman, and also discussed the appointment of Cynthia Cretsinger to fill in the position currently held by Mike Tavillario. With no opposition to the appointments, Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff made the motion to approve and was seconded by Commissioner Jonathan Pleasant. The motion passed unanimously.

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