Sullivan County leaders may vote on hay bailout, tax freeze

J. H. Osborne • Feb 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission could vote today on a plan to use taxpayer dollars to help local farmers pay for having out-of-state hay delivered.

Commissioners have said since the issue became public last month they’ve received phone calls from folks from all walks of life asking what the county will do to help them pay higher fuel prices — either in business or at home.

A late freeze in early 2007, coupled with a drought throughout the summer and fall, meant local hay crops were off by as much as half their normal levels, according to the resolution being considered.

Commissioners Buddy King, Dwight King and Elliott Kilgore propose spending $50,000 of Sullivan County’s multimillion-dollar surplus to help cattle producers offset the cost of hauling hay into the county.

When that proposal was heard by the full commission on Jan. 22, an amendment authorized County Mayor Steve Godsey to appoint a “temporary committee” consisting of Godsey, Dwight King, Buddy King, Chris Ramsey and Kevin Melvin “to discuss the resolution.”

Ramsey is with the University of Tennessee’s local Agricultural Extension Office, and Melvin is a hay broker.

Dwight King has said most of the hay coming into the area is coming from Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.

Commissioner Eddie Williams said he has personally been able to find hay and have it delivered to his barn door for $60 per ton — and that there’s hay to be found a lot closer than the Midwest, specifically, from Alabama.

Also on today’s commission agenda is a resolution to “freeze” county property taxes for those over 65 with an annual income below $29,700.

That issue, however, in unlikely to come for a vote today.

Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey is a member of a group appointed to look into the proposed tax freeze. He told members of the County Commission’s Budget Committee that the group has met once and expects to meet again sometime next month before formulating any sort of recommendation on the property tax freeze.

Other members of the committee are Godsey, Sullivan County Property Assessor Bobby Icenhour, Sullivan County Trustee Frances Harrell, Commissioner John McKamey and Williams.

In earlier public discussions of the property tax freeze proposal, Bailey has said the program could cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars, not only in lost future property tax revenues, but also in extra administrative costs.

Williams has drawn focus to other options for providing property tax relief to low-income, elderly property owners.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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