ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission will vote next week on yet another proposed resolution exempting county residents 70 and older from last year's $40 wheel tax increase, but without a recommendation from the Budget Committee.
There were two main differences between the new resolution and its predecessors.
While the previous resolutions were intended to start upon final approval and would impact 2017-18 revenue, the new resolution calls for the exemption to be included in the 2018-19 fiscal year budget.
The new proposal would also limit the exemption to one per household.
Following a lengthy discussion, the Budget Committee took no action on the resolution, which was proposed by commissioners Mike Herrell and Fred Castle in its various forms for the past three months.
Neither Herrell nor Castle were able to attend Monday's committee meeting to defend their resolution due to their work schedules.
But Committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan said he anticipates that there will be a lengthy debate when the resolution comes before the full commission for a vote at its meeting on Monday.
Budget Committee members are opposed to the exemption
Budget Committee member Darrell Gilliam spoke at length about the resolution, stating he can't support it because he has observed that there are many needy people under the age of 70 and many prosperous people above the age of 70.
The most recent census indicated that 12 percent of Hawkins County residents 65 and older live under the poverty line, but the overall county poverty rate is slightly over 19 percent.
Gilliam said he believes if the commission considers an exemption program, it should be based on household income and people living in poverty, not on age.
There was also a general consensus among Budget Committee members that there's still not enough information to consider cutting revenue in any amount.
Why was the wheel tax approved?
In June, the commission gave final approval for a $40 wheel tax increase that is projected to generate about $2.1 million in a full 12 months. It was intended to address a $2 million revenue deficit that has existed in the budget for the past three fiscal years and eliminated all savings in the county's general fund.
That deficit can be traced mainly to the sheriff's office, which hired new jailers to be in compliance with a federal lawsuit; greatly enhanced its SRO program after the Sandy Hook school massacre; increased patrol and detective personnel as recommended in a C-STAS study; and replenished its patrol car fleet.
How much revenue has is generated so far?
The big concern with regards to the upcoming 2018-19 budget is the fact that the new wheel tax didn't go into effect until October, which means zero new revenue in the first quarter of the fiscal year.
Committee member Eugene Christian noted that it takes $532,500 per quarter, or $177,500 per month, to meet wheel tax revenue projections in the current budget.
In October, November, and December, Hawkins County missed its target for the second quarter by $141,670. And for January, the county missed its wheel tax revenue target by $37,550.
That's a total of $712,000 that wheel tax revenue is short for the first seven months of 2017-18.
What’s their argument against the exemption?
Christian: "We really don't have any money to give somebody. What we're going to have to do is wait until the end of the (fiscal) year ... so we see where we're at, and what we can and can't do."
Vaughan said he agreed with comments made by Commissioner John Metz at the January commission meeting that they need to further develop revenue generating programs such as industrial recruitment and commercial development and begin "weaning" the county budget off of that $40 wheel tax increase a little bit at a time.
"If we're going to do something, it needs to be researched further, and it needs to be done by poverty level," Vaughan said. "The resolution is gambling with funds we don't even have yet. We don't even know what we're going to have."