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Hawkins County budget panel rejects 9 cent tax increase

Jeff Bobo • Sep 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission’s Budget Committee put a 9 cent property tax hike proposal to a vote twice Monday afternoon, and it failed both times.

An 11.5 cent property tax increase failed by a vote of 6-13 during a special called commission meeting Friday evening.

With the Budget Committee’s inability Monday to agree upon a new budget proposal recommendation, the 11.5 cent proposal is what will be presented to the full commission when it meets in regular session next Monday evening.

Budget Committee members were convinced during Monday’s meeting that the 11.5 cent proposal won’t pass. The additional revenue would be used to pay for 20 new jailers for the new 232-bed jail, as well as two new custodians and a new maintenance worker to help care for the Justice Center.

The janitor and maintenance positions may be what’s costing the budget proposal several votes. Some commissioners have expressed concern that with the imminent closure of the old Hawkins County Courthouse for a renovation, those three new positions would be excessive.

The 9 cent proposal would have eliminated those three positions and also left Sheriff Roger Christian a reported $18,000 short in funding his 20 new jailers.

Still, Budget Committee Vice Chairman Virgil Mallett said he believes the 9 cent option would garner some additional votes next Monday.

“Then you’ll lose some of the six votes that were in favor of 11.5 cents,” Commissioner Larry Frost noted.

The second vote on the 9 cent option tied 3-3 with committee Chairman Claude Parrott, Frost and Charlie Thacker opposed. The tie might have been broken by Budget Committee member Kenneth Long, but Long is not allowed to vote on the budget because he is employed as full-time county parks director.

In its regular August meeting, the full commission voted down a 22 cent property tax hike by a vote of 4-16. That proposal included four new deputies and a secretary for the sheriff.

Since then the Budget Committee cut about $250,000 from various county departments, eliminated the four deputies and secretary, cut back the appropriation for the new jailers from 12 to nine months, and reduced its proposed 2009-10 ending reserve fund balance from about $500,000 to a dangerously low $250,000.

That proposal failed before the full commission last Friday night by a vote of 6-13, with 11 votes needed for approval.

The main purpose of building the new $15 million jail and Justice Center was in answer to a federal lawsuit filed by former jail inmates complaining of overcrowding and inhumane conditions. The county was ordered to build a new facility and faces jail decertification if it fails to open it fully staffed.

Budget Committee member Boyd Goodson favors fully funding the jail staff at 11.5 cents. He told his fellow committee members Monday if 11.5 cents fails next Monday, the commission should cut out all the sheriff’s new jailer funding and approve a budget without a tax increase.

“I say shoot for 11.5 cents again, and if it don’t go through just leave it to the federal judge,” Goodson said. “Let him do what he wants to do. Let him take care of it, but I guarantee you it will be more like 18 cents if we do (leave it to the judge). Then when the judge does it, I can say ‘I told you so.’”

A penny on the tax rate generates approximately $77,000 in revenue for the county. An 11.5 cent property tax hike would increase the annual property tax rate for a $100,000 home by $28.75.

If the commission fails to approve a budget next Monday, it will have 10 days to approve a budget before the state begins withholding state funding.

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