Hawkins Commission approves budget, postpones vote on $5 wheel tax reduction

Jeff Bobo • Updated Aug 27, 2019 at 9:12 AM

ROGERSVILLE – The Hawkins County Commission approved its 2019-20 budget Monday evening by a vote of 17-3, but a resolution reducing the wheel tax by $5 was delayed due to its sponsor being ill.

The $5 wheel tax reduction was proposed by Commissioner Rick Brewer and approved earlier this month by the Budget Committee by a vote of 4-3.

Commission Chairman Mike Herrell told commissioners on Monday he’d been contacted by Brewer, who asked that the resolution be pulled from Monday’s agenda. Herrell noted that Brewer is currently experiencing health problems.

Assuming the resolution comes back up on the agenda in September, it will require a two-thirds vote of the commission (14 votes), and must be approved in two consecutive monthly meetings.

Cutting tax equals bigger deficit

That proposed wheel tax reduction would lower the overall cost to tag a car in Hawkins County from $96 to $91.

It would also reduce annual county revenue by a little more than $250,000, which wasn't factored into the most recent budget draft presented to the budget committee on Aug. 1.

The proposed 2019-20 budget as presented to the commission on Monday was already $8,000 in the red, and the concern among some commissioners was that reducing revenue at this time only increases the amount of money being drawn from savings to nearly $260,000.

The county begins the 2019-20 fiscal year with $5.9 million in reserve in the general fund. The budget deficit, whether it be $8,000 under the current budget, or $260,000 if the $5 wheel tax reduction is eventually approved, will be drawn from savings.

New salary scale is adopted

Although the wheel tax reduction was pulled from the agenda on Monday, the commission did approve a separate resolution adopting a new salary scale for approximately 100 county employees who are paid from the general fund budget.

Those employees exclude members of the sheriff’s office, highway department and school system, each of which operates under its own salary scale.

The purpose of the new salary scale was to provide the county employees an incentive for future salary growth that wasn't available under the previous salary scale adopted in 2014.

However, the cost of implementing that salary scale is approximately $500,000, which the board agreed to do over the course of three years to the tune of about $167,000 per year. That expenditure was accounted for in the previous budget draft and doesn't increase the $8,000 deficit.

At the request of Commissioner Charles Thacker, the commission also agreed to revisit the new salary scale annually, and only implement the second and third years of new funding if the money is available.

Opposition to the salary scale

There was some opposition to the new salary scale, however, which was approved 17-3, with Herrell and Commissioners Danny Alvis and Syble Vaughan-Trent voting no.

Herrell and Alvis have previously expressed opposition to the new salary scale due to its price tag, although Alvis told the Budget Committee earlier this month he'd support it if the wheel tax reduction is approved.

“The sheriff's department should be included for raises”

Vaughan-Trent told the commission Monday she believes if the general fund employees receive pay increases, the sheriff's office employees should receive increases as well.

“The sheriff's office employees are projected to receive no raise this year,” Vaughan-Trent said. “The only employees on the sheriff's department who will receive a pay raise are the ones who are still receiving step increases. So if you have reached your last step increase you will not receive a raise in 2019-20. … To be fair with raises, I feel the sheriff's department should be included for raises the same as other general fund employees.”

That amounts to 32 employees in the sheriff's office who won't receive a raise this year. 

In the past 22 months, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office has lost 74 employees, mostly to higher-paying jobs in other departments, and in some cases, civilian jobs such as working at Walmart.

Vaughan-Trent added, “(The sheriff) also said he had lost 26 people in six months, and paid out $69,466 in benefits to those people who had left. … If these people do not deserve a raise too, I don't know who does.”

The budget by the numbers

The county's property tax remains at $2.5323 per $100 of taxable property.

The county general fund budget totals $17.871 million, while the solid waste fund is $1.821 million, the highway department fund is $8.198 million, the general purpose school fund is $55.511 million, the school cafeteria fund is $4.241 million, and the school transportation fund is $6.670 million.

The county and school budgets combined total $98.855 million.

Herrell, Vaughan-Trent, and Commissioner Donnie Talley voted against the budget.