By Hugh G. Willett
Thursday, June 30, 2011
LOUDON - The Loudon County Commission voted 6-4 Thursday night to approve a 20-cent property tax increase intended for a proposed school building program.
The standing-room-only crowd erupted in applause following the vote that has come after more than five years of stops and starts for the building program.
"I know this was a tough decision for the commission," said school board Chairman Scott Newman. "I'm glad they decided to do what's right for the kids."
Others in the room, many wearing blue tea party T-shirts and carrying signs reading "$43 million loan equals $75 million payback," expressed their disappointment after the vote.
"I'm really concerned about a lack of fiscal responsibility at all levels of government," said Loudon resident Teresa Strang.
Voting to increase the county tax rate from $1.58 to $1.78 per $1,000 assessed value were Bob Franke, Harold Duff, Brian Jenkins, Don Miller, Steve Harrelson and Sharon Yarborough.
Austin Shaver, Dave Meers, Roy Bledsoe and Earlena Maples voted against the measure.
The increase is supposed to fund a $43 million building program that includes a new pre-K through 12 school in Greenback, a new middle school in Loudon and improvements to the cafeteria at Philadelphia Elementary.
A second phase of the building program, targeted at schools in the north end of the county, has yet to be funded.
Commissioner Steve Harrelson, whose district includes the north end of the county, made a motion to put aside 4 cents of the property tax increase toward Phase 2. The motion failed 8-2.
Commissioner Don Miller said he was against allocating any of the increase for projects outside the first phase. He said money might be needed to fund other projects, including a mandated expansion of the county jail.
Loudon resident Pat Hunter said she was disappointed that the commission did not take more steps to ensure that all the money for the tax increase went into the building program.
"They know they don't need all 20 pennies to borrow $40 million," she said. "They're going to use the money for other projects."
The commission passed by a 7-3 vote an amendment that would allow Sheriff's Office deputies to retire early and begin drawing pension. Officers would be allowed to begin drawing benefits after 30 years of service.
The change would allow older officers to retire early before medical problems prevent them from performing certain tasks, according to Dan Raper of the Tennessee Fraternal Order of Police. The extra benefits the officers would draw would be offset by hiring younger officers, who make less, to fill the vacancies, he said.
A new medical insurance benefit plan that would move the county away from the current 92 percent paid to a system where the county pays 70 percent of the cost of insurance was discussed at length. The commission voted to make no changes until the issue could be discussed at greater length.
Hugh G. Willett is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.