Sullivan budget seeks 20 cent hike in property tax

J. H. Osborne • Jul 12, 2012 at 11:19 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A proposed $163.6 million budget for Sullivan County’s fiscal year that began July 1, including a 20 cent property tax increase, made its public debut Thursday.

The document will be distributed to the full Sullivan County Commission on Monday, marking the first of two required readings of the budget by that group, said Eddie Williams, chairman of the commission’s Budget Committee.

Williams said a called commission meeting will be scheduled for July 30 to allow for a second reading and vote on the proposed budget.

Any of the commission’s 24 members may suggest changes to the budget proposal prior to that vote.

Williams said the commission has not, traditionally, discussed the budget at first reading. But he went on to clarify that if anyone wants to discuss it on Monday, they will be welcome to do so.

The proposed budget includes a reduction of about $800,000 in general fund spending, compared to what was appropriated for the budget cycle that ended June 30. Most of that amount — about $611,000 — is due to the county’s decision last fall to close its children’s dental clinic.

Actual cuts in the proposed budget include most capital outlay for county departments and reduction or elimination of county funding for several nonprofit concerns.

Some of those include: $12,500 from Bristol Parks and Recreation; $15,000 from Bays Mountain Park; $5,000 from Bluff City Park; $3,500 from the State Street Farmers Market; $5,760 from the Dawn of Hope; $10,000 from Kingsport Tomorrow; $10,000 from the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority; $10,000 from the Bristol Housing and Redevelopment Authority; and $5,000 from the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association.

Also cut: $3,000 each from the American Red Cross of Bristol and Kingsport.

Sullivan’s property tax rate , paid by all property owners countywide — including those within the cities — has been $2.1307 (per $100 of assessed value) for several years.

The proposed budget is based on a 20 cent tax increase that would raise the county property tax rate to $2.3307, designated to be split:

•66.88 cents for the general fund.

•2.02 cents for solid waste.

•7.96 cents for the Sullivan County Highway Department, which does not work inside the cities.

•$1.3858 for schools (city and county).

•6.74 cents for school capital and renovation projects (city and county).

•10.89 cents for debt service.

According to the proposed budget document, the $1.3858 for schools will generate $47.39 million — which will be split (based on average daily attendance in each school system): $24.42 million for the Sullivan County school system; $14.18 million for Kingsport City Schools; and $8.79 million for Bristol, Tenn., schools.

The 6.74 cents for school capital and renovations projects is projected to generate $2.3 million — split (also based on ADA): $1.19 million for Sullivan County Schools; $689,605 for Kingsport City Schools; and $427,315 for Bristol City Schools.

Property tax revenue projections are based on each penny of the tax rate generating $341,963 — a figure, in turn, based on a projected tax payment rate of 95.6 percent on time.

The last time the tax rate increased was 2004, when the tax rate went from $2.35 to $2.67.

But 2005 was a reappraisal year (which happens every four years) and the growth in valuation of properties countywide led to a certified tax rate of $2.53.

The “certified tax rate” is calculated in reappraisal years to prevent a local government from reaping a windfall without a tax increase.

In the next reappraisal year, 2009, growth again allowed for a lower certified tax rate, and the $2.1307 was put in place.

Since 2009, the appraisal has shown relatively little growth, actually dropping slightly in 2010.

The proposed budget was distributed as the Budget Committee met Thursday evening. Before the group adjourned, Steve Hogan, of Piney Flats, asked to comment.

Hogan said after 30 years in construction, an injury left him unable to work, and he struggles to make ends meet on about $10,000 per year in Social Security Disability income.

The income of his 90-year-old mother, Hogan said, is even less — so he helps her when he can.

“Who is looking out for us?” Hogan asked. “My money is limited. The government tells me ‘Here, this is what you get. Pay your bills. Put food on your table.’ How are we supposed to live? How many more meals are you going to take off my table? I hear nobody speaking for the little people ... for the old, the sick. I am just concerned. What am I supposed to do? I don’t have more money to pay. I can’t pay my bills now.”

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

Also on the agenda for “first reading” is a resolution calling to put a wheel tax proposal on the ballot for voters in November.

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