COMMISSION VOTES 20 CENT TAX HIKE
...BUT "WE MAY NEED IT FOR A JAIL" ...
BY: PAT HUNTER
"We really don't know what Phase 1 will cost" said Commissioner Don Miller, a Budget Committee member, nonetheless with no firm number of the cost for Phase 1 School Building program, Loudon County Commissioners voted for a 20 cent tax hike by a 6 to 4 vote margin with Commissioner Miller casting the deciding vote.
Prior to the start of the 6:00 P.M. Special Called Commission meeting, Mayor Estelle Herron sat in the air conditioned Annex basement room while people outside were lined outside in the hot sun. Two police guarded the doors. At least half of the crowd included county employees and school personnel, which banded together in support of the tax hike. The Tea Party supporters wore light blue shirts, and displayed their no tax hike bright yellow signs; and other concerned taxpayers wore No Tax Hike stickers.
At about 5:30 P.M. a police officer started doling out a limited number of stickers and within 10 minutes the maximum seating reached 123 and then the door was locked and the public and press were barred from entering the public meeting. Outside, stood the Knoxville News Sentinel and TV-8 reporters and citizens as the small side room designed for extra seating remained closed while the county mayor sat directly in front of it. At some point, the mayor was informed that the News Sentinel reporter was asking to enter the room to cover the meeting, but the mayor appeared to motion in a back and forth "No" motion. After a series of little meetings between Mayor Herron, Director Bradshaw, and county attorney Bob Bowman, the side meeting room was opened and the Knoxville News Sentinel reporter, TV -8, and a stream of people were allowed to come in and sit.
As the meeting commenced, Commission Chairman Roy Bledsoe sat nearby county attorney Bob Bowman as he advised his client, jotted down notes, and a Robert's Rule of Order (Parliamentary Book) sat nearby.
Chairman Bledsoe read from the Commission Procedural Rules and he placed time constraints of about 45 or 50 minutes for the public speak. He asked Commissioners if they had an objection to that and none responded. Chairman Bledsoe asked Mayor Herron to serve as the time-keeper; and whenever someone exceeded 2-time limits, she wrapped her knuckles on the table. But at least one Villager exceeded her time limit with her pro tax posturing.
But when it came to approving the tax rate resolution and setting the property tax rate, Commissioner Austin Shaver asked if it would be ok to take each tax rate for each fund separately, which Shaver motioned and Harold Duff seconded, which was unanimously approved. With no objection from Commission, Finance Director Tracy Blair spoke about each proposed tax rate but when it came time to vote on the Rural Fund Debt .3421 pennies, some discussion took place.
Harrelson offered an amendment and motioned that 16 pennies go for Phase 1, and 4 pennies for Phase 2, which was seconded by Commissioner Harold Duff. Commissioner Yarbrough asked Harrelson to withdraw his motion and leave 20 cents in Phase 1 so "We are not cut tight" and what is left from this money be kept in the educational capital projects for school planning. Commissioner Franke said that Commissioner Miller had put together a chart distributed (at the Budget Committee meeting) that showed there would be a surplus of tax money to convert to Phase 2 and if kept in Fund 156 that would give the option of "controlling" what goes out. "Mr. Chairman, I think that limits are flexibility" said Commissioner Don Miller. We don't really know what Phase 2 will really cost. We have seen nothing on it. "We may need it for the jail, who knows." And then in another breath he explained other future possible uses, "We may need it for the jail". I think to lock ourselves in and say we are going to spend it on this I think that it limits our flexibility and we need to stay "flexible". We really don't know what Phase 1 costs until the bids come in, concluded Miller.
Oddly enough, at a recent Budget Committee meeting, Commissioner Don Miller had spoken how tax money going into that fund could be "pilfered."
I'm behind it 110%... I'm an advocate of the school system said Commissioner Steve Harrelson, Lenoir City employee, and former Loudon County Board of Education school board member. Harrelson wanted to lock in 4 pennies for the future schools in the north-end including his district. But when all the votes were counted Harrelson's motion failed by a 8 no to 2 yes votes (Harrelson and Harold Duff).
Chairman Bledsoe said, back to the original motion, which was made by Greenback Commissioner Franke to put 20 pennies into the Rural Fund Debt and seconded by Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough. The Rural Fund Debt would increase from 14.21 plus the 20 pennies cent hike to a total of 34.21 cents. As Commissioner Don Miller gave his little speech before casting his "Yes" vote, the room erupted in a thundering applause and boos as the police officers quickly moved to the front to guard the county officials.
Voting Aye: Brian Jenkins, Bob Franke, Harold Duff, Steve Harrelson, Sharon Yarbrough (wife of Vice-Chairman Gary Ubben), and Don Miller. Voting No: Earlena Maples, Austin Shaver, Roy Bledsoe, and David Meers. The motion was approved by a Six Ayes, Four No vote margin.
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