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Hawkins County could face tax hike

Jeff Bobo • Jul 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE - Hawkins County leaders now have all the pieces of the puzzle that will constitute the 2007-08 fiscal year budget, and later this week the Budget Committee will begin deciding what stays in and what gets cut out.

It would require a property tax increase of approximately 34 cents to fund all requests made in the proposed county budget. Most of that stems from school funding requests.

The Hawkins County tax rate currently sits at $2.36 per $100 of assessed property value.

The proposed 2007-08 Hawkins County general fund budget is only about $210,000 in the red, which would require a 3 cent property tax increase to balance.

Wednesday afternoon, Hawkins County Director of Schools Charlotte Britton presented the proposed 2007-08 school budget to the Budget Committee, which would require an additional $710,000 to balance. That amounts to almost 11 cents in additional county property tax to fund.

Britton also asked the Budget Committee to fund the entire $38 million phase three school building project in this fiscal year. According to figures presented to the Budget Committee Wednesday morning by Cumberland Securities, financing the entire project over 30 years would require approximately a 20 cent property tax increase to pay for.

Following a full day in session Wednesday, the Budget Committee recessed late in the afternoon. It will reconvene Friday at 1 p.m. to begin discussion of what will be cut and what will stay in the budget proposal.

The item most likely to be whittled down is the phase three building project.

After Wednesday's meeting, Budget Committee member Robert Palmer remembered how hard it was to get a small property tax increase approved last year. The County Commission repeatedly rejected a 5 cent property tax increase until the state began to withhold state funding from the county after Oct. 1.

Finally the commission approved a 3 cent increase the second week of October.

"Right now we just want to look at the whole picture and see whether we think we can get a fully funded phase three passed by the full commission, or whether we need to concentrate on only certain aspects of it," Palmer said following Wednesday's meeting. "Everybody would like to do the total school request - fund the work at all the schools that have been asked for. But can you get that approved when you present it to the full commission? Do we want to pay for those school building projects now, or do we want to wait a few years down the road when we know it's going to cost a lot more money?"

Last week the commission's Budget Committee voted 5-2 to recommend that the committee consider only three of the five aspects of phase three - the Bulls Gap School addition and renovation project and the classroom additions at both main high schools. To be omitted from phase three consideration was the Clinch School project and a new fifth- and sixth-grade school in Church Hill.

The former director of schools, Clayton Armstrong, who has stayed on temporarily as a school budget consultant, told the Budget Committee there is a need for the entire phase three project.

He noted that the overall school population is increasing 150 to 200 per year, and approximately every 20 new students means another classroom needed and another teacher position that must be funded.

The general consensus of Budget Committee members Wednesday's is that Hawkins County's population and demand for services is increasing much faster than its revenue.

"I know it's very difficult for the taxpayers of Hawkins County to even consider raising taxes, but phase three is not going away," Armstrong said. "I think some have considered leaving the fifth- and sixth-grade school out of this program. Already we have 732 students at Church Hill Middle School in three grades, and on the upper end we already have eight classrooms outside in modular units - four at Carters Valley, two at Church Hill Elementary and two at McPheeters Bend. We know the (population) wave is here, and if we broke ground tomorrow we know we'd be leasing more modular units in the next two years just to get the building program completed.

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