In spite of a state mandate to fund the school system with a probable tax increase or wheel tax looming over their heads, county commissioners delayed passing the 2010-'11 budget and postponed addressing the subject again until after the upcoming county general election Aug. 5.
After a couple of property tax increase scenarios were debated, as well as a wheel tax scenario, commissioners voted to adjourn and hold a work session on Aug. 9 with a special-called meeting immediately following the work session.
The move practically guarantees a lame-duck vote by some commissioners who may not be re-elected and a safety net for others, who won't have to vote for a tax increase until after the general election.
The motion made some commissioners upset since the commission meeting was already recessed from a week ago Monday.
"We haven't even been here an hour ... this is ridiculous ... that we not spend more time on this," 2nd District Commissioner Nancy Hyder said.
Hyder told fellow commissioners they "know by law" they have to fund the school system and a property tax is probably the only way to fund it, but they want to wait until after the election to address their responsibility.
"We owe it to our constituents...we know it's got to be done and we need to face it. Instead we're running home. It's crazy," Hyder said.
County Commission Chairman and 9th District Commissioner Carmin Lynch said, "I don't disagree with you, Commissioner Hyder, ... but I also appreciate that this county is made up of a lot of communities spread over 650 square miles that are not in lock-step unison thinking exactly alike ... I have to think these people are really trying to represent the people who sent them here. And that's everybody. My only heartburn is that if there are already six, or eight or nine that are going to vote no - then I agree with you. Why wait until Aug. 9?"
"Really we need direction when we leave here tonight on which way we're going. Right now we haven't decided anything for sure. We've kicked some tires, but we've not drove the car yet. Things are not changing, we're looking at the same issues when we get back. We need to narrow it down and have another meeting so we can get some direction ... some consensus and get some feedback on it," 3rd District Commissioner Lynn Tollett said.
Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner, suggested a $25 wheel tax with a sunset clause after two years in order to give the economy some time to improve, but no vote or action was taken.
Earlier in the meeting, 8th District Commissioner Jeff Brown proposed an 11-cent property tax increase and 9th District Commissioner Clyde Cramer supported that motion. Brown said it would give the general fund two more cents in order to start the fiscal year with a larger fund balance.
However, it failed in a 10-8 vote.
Tollett also proposed the parting thought of a $20 wheel tax and a 2.5 cent property tax increase. The wheel tax would cover the funding for the schools and the property tax increase would cover the funding for the debt service fund increase and sanitation/landfill increase.
Fifth District Commissioner Trey Kerley said, "The people in my district, that I have heard from, do not want a tax increase, a property tax increase. I'm sorry if that offends other commissioners or people in this courtroom. But they do not want a property tax increase."
"That's what I'm hearing, too," Tollett said.
"Well, mine don't either," Hyder replied.
No specific reductions in operating expenses for the county were suggested by any commissioners who previously said they weren't voting for the proposed budget because of unfairness of departmental budget cuts.
A letter from Commissioner of Education Timothy Webb, Tennessee Department of Education, was given to the county commissioners by Commissioner Lynch.
The letter states the county must meet the BEP formula local required match funding, which represents 7 of the 9.5 cent property tax increase that was originally proposed by the budget committee and voted down last Monday.
Although a wheel tax was discussed, that approach would be a big gamble because it would require two thirds approval at two consecutive regularly scheduled meetings.
That means that the county commission would have to vote on it in September and could possibly be rejected by any new commissioners and delay the budget further.
A wheel tax could also be challenged in a referendum by voters and removed. That could also delay the budget.
If the county does not have an approved budget in place by Oct. 2, the state will withhold funding for the school system until a budget is in place.
Commissioner Brown then motioned for a work session and special called-meeting on Monday, Aug. 9, at 5 p.m.
"Let's call it what it is and say we're not voting on the budget until after the election," 2nd District Commissioner Robert Safdie said.
Commissioners who voted in favor of the work session and special called meeting were Harry Sabine and Jim Inman, 1st District; Johnny Presley, 3rd District; David Gibson and Charles Seiber, 4th District; Kerley and Jack Davis, 5th District; Kenneth Carey and Mike Harvel, 7th District; Brown and Greg Maxwell, 8th District; and Cramer and Lynch, 9th District.
Commissioners who voted against the work session and special-called meeting were Hyder, 2nd Dsitrict; Tollett, 3rd District; and Terry Carter and Wendell Wilson, 6th District.
In an emailed statement to the Chronicle, Lynch said, "While it was disappointing that we didn't achieve our objective of setting a tax levy and budget appropriations for the current fiscal year, the meeting was productive in that some new ideas were introduced and debated concerning the commission's very limited options in raising additional revenues. Diverse viewpoints were expressed which may provide food for thought for the commissioners and things that they may wish to discuss with their constituents before the Aug. 9 work session and special-called meeting. I am cautiously optimistic that this board of commissioners will finalize a balanced budget and set a revenue generating tax plan before their current term expires."
Video courtesy of Jim Young.