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Washington eyes 23 cent property tax hike

BEN INGRAM • May 11, 2007 at 9:12 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Washington County commissioners may have to vote on a 23 cent property tax increase for the 2007-08 fiscal year budget, Pat Wolfe, chairman of County Commission's Budget Committee, said Thursday.

Committee members on Thursday addressed requests from a couple of county departments before taking a look at the county's debt situation. Commissioners must determine how to pay back $138 million in bond issuances earmarked for two new schools, renovations at David Crockett and Daniel Boone high schools, expansion of the Washington County Detention Center in Jonesborough, and a new Justice Center to be constructed next to the detention center.

"Right now, we're looking at 23 cents (on the property tax rate) to settle the county's debt services," Wolfe said.

Commissioners were under the impression 21 cents would cover the debt, but when the cost of handling the bond issuances were factored in, the amount rose.

Should the commission choose, a wheel tax could be enacted to cover the costs. But last month commissioners voted down four wheel tax proposals in amounts of $25, $30, $35 and $50.

Committee members also addressed budget requests from the county's solid waste and highway departments.

Solid Waste Director Charles Baines said he was requesting additional funding for insurance, a new truck costing $120,000 to haul trash, and three compactors. Baines said he also would be looking to increase funding in his insurance line item by $150,000.

Wolfe said that since the solid waste department could balance its budget through its fund balance, the committee probably would not increase its funding.

The highway department's budget is $1.5 million out of balance, said Superintendent Johnny Deakins.

In order to balance it, Deakins told committee members that he would bring back another budget next week reflecting a 50 percent cut in paving by the department.

"If we were funded the $1.5 million, we could still be on our 15-year schedule for paving," Deakins said.

He said the cost of liquid asphalt was the main culprit, along with insurance, for pushing his budget out of balance.

"Which means that we would be paving about 42 miles of county road this year," he said. "What we'll do is bring back a budget where we pave 22 miles of road instead. I'd say this will probably double our schedule to about 30 years."

The committee took no formal action on any of the requests and instead will reconvene Tuesday at 9 a.m. for its regular monthly meeting.

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