Hawkins has three hurdles in way of budget vote, including proposed wheel tax exemption

Jeff Bobo • Jul 10, 2018 at 10:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — There are three hurdles the Hawkins County Commission will have to surpass before it is ready to vote on the proposed 2018-19 budget, including another option for providing a wheel tax exemption for the elderly.

The commission had hoped to vote on the budget at its July 23 meeting, but in light of the discussion that took place at Friday’s workshop, the vote won’t come earlier than Aug. 27.

On Friday, the full county commission reviewed the third draft of the proposed 2018-19 budget.

Aside from discussing a wheel tax exemption, commissioners also agreed that the issue of a new county employee salary scale as well as a new employee at the recycling center must be resolved in the budget. 

The Budget Committee will meet Friday at 9 a.m. to discuss the salary scale.

The Solid Waste Committee will meet Monday at 1 p.m. to come up with a recommendation for the new recycling center employee.

As for the wheel tax exemption, a new proposal is on the agenda for the commission’s July 23 meeting.

The proposed wheel tax exemption

For months, Commissioners Mike Herrell and Fred Castle have championed the idea of offering an exemption from last year’s $40 wheel tax increase to older residents.

Last month, a proposal to give vehicle owners 70 and older one $40 exemption per household was rejected by the full commission.

The main argument against that option was the fact that many 70-plus county residents are doing well financially and don’t need a break.

The suggestion was to make the exemption available to those most in need.

On Monday, Herrell and Castle introduced a resolution to exclude property owners 65 and older (or qualified disabled property owners), who are actively on the state tax relief program.

Eligibile residents would receive one exemption per household per year from the 2017 $40 wheel tax increase.

This proposed wheel tax exemption would use the same poverty guidelines used by the county trustee’s office to determine eligibility for property tax relief.

The overall cost of the exemptions proposed by Herrell and Castle is estimated at $68,000 for a full fiscal year.

A new salary scale

Commissioners also hope to come up with a fair salary scale for county employees who aren’t already eligible for annual step pay increases.

County school, highway, and sheriff employees receive annual step increases up to a point where their salaries max out.

Employees in the offices of county clerk, clerk of courts, trustee, register of deeds, property assessor, election commission, county mayor and probably others receive a raise only when the county commission approves a cost of living increase, which is usually 2 percent, and in recent years that has become a rarity.

Some commissioners have called to put those employees on a salary scale to receive step increases as well, although the cost hasn’t been calculated or factored into the proposed budget.

Including the current wheel tax exemption proposal, but not including the additional cost of a new salary scale, the current 2018-19 county general fund budget proposal is about $100,000 in the red.

A new recycling center employee

Last month, a proposal to hire a new employee for the recycling center to oversee the inmate work program was delayed because one commissioner voted against hearing it as an out-of-order resolution.

Until that new employee is hired. the county Solid Waste Department cannot resume plastics recycling, which was suspended after an inmate walked away from the recycling center in March.

Similar to the county schools budget and the Highway Department budget, the Solid Waste Department budget is separate from the county general fund.

The proposed 2018-19 Solid Waste budget is already $88,000 in the red, not including the new position, which will be discussed at Monday’s meeting.

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