THE HUNTER REPORT
LETS BE OPEN-MINDED
SALES TAX, WHEEL TAX - NO REFERENDUM
VIDEO FRESHMAN COMMISSIONER YARBROUGH
BY: PAT HUNTER
Monday�s 4:00 P.M. (Sept. 20, 2010) Loudon County Budget Committee meeting brought some new faces to the budget table including Mayor Estelle Herron (Budget Chair) Commissioner Austin Shaver (D-2), Sharon Yarbrough (D-5), Don Miller, and Bob Franke (D-3) who was absent to his first budget and workshop meeting.
Do you remember the classic children�s story about the Little Red Engine that could? Just like the Little Red Engine that could, here comes a �Freshman� commissioner that thinks she could. For some time now, BOE Central Office has pitched the idea of a Commission forced Wheel Tax just like Monroe County so it came as no surprise to some when Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough pitched the notion of looking for more tax revenues to pay for the proposed building program. Sharon Yarbrough�s spouse Gary Ubben is the Vice Chairman of the Loudon County Board of Education. Interestingly, Vice Chairman Ubben who normally accompanies Director Honeycutt to meetings was noticeably absent at Monday�s budget and workshop meetings.
Budget Chair Estelle Herron read from the agenda �Consideration of recommendation from Capital Projects Committee: a. BOE funding request for bidding phase if new Fort Loudon Middle School and renovations to Philadelphia School Cafeteria Wayne Honeycutt, Director of Schools.�
Director Honeycutt said that the Capital Projects Committee had met and quickly turned to Purchasing Director Leo Bradshaw to speak about the actions taken by the Capital Projects Committee. According to Bradshaw by a 3/0 margin, the Committee voted to recommended $60,000 to $180,000 for architect fees to take two school building projects to the bid phase. Interestingly, that specific item was not on the Capital Projects Committee (CPC) Agenda but was added at the very last minute at the request of Director Honeycutt just prior to the meeting. Honeycutt showed up with Special Ed Coordinator Sissy Foster, Don Shell architect, and Buddy Heins construction manager in tow. The Capital Projects Committee was short two members David Meers and Roy Bledsoe and it was said that they were on vacation but that didn�t slow Duff and Jenkins who were ready to ok Director Honeycutt�s request. New Commissioner Brian Jenkins made the motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Harold Duff to approve $60,000 to $180,000 for the next phase of architectural/bid fees to take Ft. Loudon Middle School and Philadelphia cafeteria renovation projects to bid although no money had been approved by the Budget Committee or Commission.
Director Honeycutt spoke about once bids came back from the two projects, cost estimates could be used to give more accurate numbers since the basic design and structures would be similar for the new Greenback School. Honeycutt tried to reassure the Budget Committee that taking two projects to bid didn�t mean that that the proposed new Greenback School wasn�t being �eliminated� from Phase 1. The material costs would be applied for the Greenback School since the projects were similar to get a better estimate of the overall cost.
Commissioner Austin Shaver shared his concerns about going out to bids without first securing funding; he felt that the County would not get good prices or bids and he wanted to hear from the architect and construction manager. Architect Don Shell said that he had met with Mr. Bradshaw and agreed that if there was �no intent� on funding the projects immediately, �then we have never said that bidding is a good idea.� The only way that you will know the actual number is until the County bids for it. Shell explained that if the project is bid there would be a 90 day window for Commission to fund that hard number but the County would have to make a commitment. According to Commissioner Miller the County was in a position to borrow only $11 Million presently and the State Comptroller was not recommending Commission approve a partial amount of the project. Commissioner Miller preferred waiting until the next budget cycle and raising the property tax rate for all of Phase 1 using a best estimate rather than going out to bid right now. Construction manager Buddy Heins was asked for his opinion and he agreed with Shell. Purchasing Director Bradshaw also favored waiting until funding was approved so a contract can be signed.
I have a �Freshman question� asked Yarbrough, if we�re not getting real costs now or at budget time how are we going to make real decisions at that time. Miller explained once best estimates were submitted and the budget was put together, enough tax pennies would be calculated to service the debt reserve over the terms and interest of the bond. Miller explained that the budget and the tax rate would be set accordingly but Commission would have to make a commitment for a property tax increase or the� whole thing dies.� But we�re not making a decision by project we just said �tax� not necessarily �property� Commissioner Yarbrough commented. Everything else would have to go to a referendum thought Commissioner Shaver. No, no replied Yarbrough. Commissioner Miller clarified that he was talking about the property tax rate.
Commissioner Yarbrough wanted to explore other revenues sources. Miller responded that to fund $50 Million that it would require more property tax. He explained how Commission could look for ways to reduce that amount but it�s too much money to fund the building program from other sources.
How do we know that asked Yarbrough? We are doing what we don�t want them to do; we�re making estimates off of something that we don�t know and delaying projects replied Yarbrough.
Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough asked that everyone be open-minded when it came to looking for other revenue sources to fund the school building program.
Budget Commissioner Don Miller spoke about how he has been on Commission for 8-years and how he was familiar with the budgeting process and revenue sources. If we�re going to fund $50 Million, we�ll have to do it with a �significant property tax increase� Miller added.
You can't raise sales tax without a referendum said Commissioner Miller but Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough interrupted and argued �You can, you can� (Commission) levy a sales tax and wheel tax without a referendum. That�s not what we were told Miller replied.
Miller spoke how a Wheel Tax could be levied without a referendum but when �we (Commission) talked about doing that, there was such an uproar that we said ok, we'll have a referendum.� Miller said that both referendum measures were soundly defeated and he gave statistics.
Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough argued that Commission has the power to levy a sales tax and wheel tax without a referendum vote.
Commissioner Don Miller agreed with Yarbrough that Commission should look for other revenue sources to lower the impact of a property tax. In 2008 Commission levied an eight (8) cent property tax primarily for schools. Two tax referendums were voted down; a half cent sales tax was soundly defeated by voters by a 65 to 35 percent margin, and by a 80 to 20 percent margin for the $50 Wheel Tax ballot.
Budget Committee Commissioners Austin Shaver and Sharon Yarbrough
September 20, 2010 Budget Committee meeting
Commissioner Austin Shaver asked Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough to identify other sources.
Commissioner Yarbrough responded a Wheel Tax. "Without a referendum" asked Commissioner Shaver? �Yes� replied Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough. After it was defeated 80 to 20 Shaver commented with a look of disbelief.
Miller tried to explain that it would take more than a $25 Wheel Tax to fund the building program. Miller thought that Commission would not be willing to go ahead with a Wheel Tax and both Miller and Shaver said that they would not vote for that but Yarbrough was quick to point out that was their vote and privilege.
After all was said and done, Budget Committee Commissioner Don Miller motioned to recommend not approve going out for bids because we do not have the funds to proceed with the projects. We should wait until closer when we go out to bids. Seconded by Austin Shaver.
Aye: Miller, Shaver, Herron. No: Yarbrough. No abstentions.
The two projects a new Ft. Loudon Middle school and Philadelphia cafeteria renovations are estimated to cost $18.3 Million.
This matter is far from over; this issue will come up for discussion and possible vote at the next Loudon County Commission meeting on Monday, October 4, 6:00 PM Annex meeting room.
Loudon County Budget Committee
Budget Committee members
Budget Chair Mayor Estelle Herron, Phone 458-4664, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Don Miller, Email: email@example.com
Austin Shaver, Email: Austin_shaver@yahoo.com
Commissioner Yarbrough�s campaign website, � �I look forward to serving not only the citizens of Fifth District, but all the citizens of Loudon County.�
Commissioner Bob Franke, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(NOTE: Comm. Franke was absent for 1st Budget Committee meeting)