However, one business owner said part of the blame belongs to residents who don’t spend their money at city businesses.
Mack Fletcher, who owns the Blimpie restaurant, said he was able to compile a list of 25 Mount Carmel businesses that have closed in the past 15 years.
Fletcher spoke during a public hearing Thursday evening prior to the final BMA vote on the 2018-19 budget. He said he’ll be closing down his Mount Carmel store, and he suggested that some other local businesses are on their way out as well.
Fletcher: Support your local businesses
“Where’s all your (sales tax) money going? It’s going to Kingsport and it’s going to Rogersville,” Fletcher said. “Don’t tell me it’s not, because I’ve watched you drive back and forth. Mitchell’s is watching you drive back and forth. G&M (Insulation Co.) watches you drive back and forth. M&M Insurance watches you drive back and forth. The daycare center has watched you go to Kingsport and drop your kids off.”
Fletcher added, “And then everybody wants to come to these meetings and complain. Yeah, I'm complaining with you. But what are you doing to stop it?”
He said Rogersville and Church Hill are able to keep businesses because residents spend their money in their hometown. Fletcher said Mount Carmel’s empty business parking lots aren’t enticing to other potential customers who just drive on past, and that’s where locals can make a difference.
“If you people want your taxes to be low, you better get on the stick and start supporting the people who are going to keep your taxes lower,” Fletcher said. “That’s me. That’s Subway. I don’t eat at Subway, but you should. If it’s going to help your taxes stay low, you need to support it.”
Fletcher said the bickering at city meetings between board members and audience members has made Mount Carmel a laughingstock in the business community, and no one wants to invest in the town. He said board members and citizens need to work together for the betterment of the community.
“All you’re doing is cutting your own throat. Instead of going to Kingsport to eat, find somewhere to eat in Mount Carmel, because that dollar stays right here. ... How do you keep up with inflation? You support the businesses you’ve got so the money will keep coming in. But you people have done the complete opposite of that. You took your money somewhere else and your businesses left. ... If you want to do something about property taxes, quit pointing fingers up there (at the BMA) and turn that mirror around and look at yourself.”
City approves 29 cent property tax hike
Mount Carmel’s 2018-19 budget includes a 29 cent property increase (from $1.38 to $1.67) and uses $60,000 in savings to balance.
Last year, Mount Carmel balanced its budget by using about $500,000 in savings, and the city is projected to end the 2017-18 fiscal year with about $3 million in savings.
For a residential property valued at $100,000, the proposed 29 cent property tax increase will raise the annual property tax bill by $72.50.
The only no vote on the budget was cast by Vice Mayor Carl Wolfe. When presented with the proposed cuts to services that it would take to balance the budget without a tax increase, Wolfe stated that he couldn’t support that. When presented Thursday with the tax increase needed to maintain those services, Wolfe wouldn’t vote for that either.
Why is the tax increase needed?
The public has blamed some recent one-time expenditures, such as the two residential properties purchased last year to expand the park and the new emergency sirens, which have yet to be installed, for the tax hike.
City Manager Mike Housewright, however, has repeatedly stated that Mount Carmel’s current financial crisis can be blamed partly on the fact that the town’s revenue has been stagnant for the past decade.
Mount Carmel’s property tax revenue increased only $7,000 over the past year.
In 2007, the city brought in $2.23 million. In the current fiscal year, it is projected to bring in $2.39 million.
Meanwhile, the cost of everything has continued to rise, especially health insurance. Employees have received step raises and cost of living bumps.
That lack of growth is partly due to very little housing being constructed in Mount Carmel, combined with no growth in retail sales tax.
With only one side of Main Street available for commercial growth, and that growth hampered by the proximity of the railroad tracks, there’s almost nowhere in town for new sales-tax-generating businesses to locate.