published Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Increased tax revenues forecast for Bradley County

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- A projected increase in tax revenues, expected to occur within a few years, generated cautious optimism from Bradley County officials Monday.

Trustee Mike Smith told county commissioners that several industrial development projects will yield nearly $20 million in revenues between 2014 and 2016. The expected funds are the result of multiple payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements involving Wacker, Amazon, P&G-Duracell and other companies.

"This commission now has the ability to look out a few years and do some things that no other commission in the history of Bradley County has been able to do," Smith said.

Smith said the funding bump could allow the county to address some existing challenges, including providing for school system needs and reducing its debt.

Known as PILOTs, the deals often are given to new businesses to lure them to an area. Under the agreements, instead of paying full property tax rates on land owned by the government, businesses agree to make payments for a certain number of years. However, the businesses usually must pay the share of property tax that goes to schools.

Louie Alford, chairman of the Bradley County Commission, said he is "thinking that in the future we need to really sit down and plan where we want to spend this extra money or where we're going to put it. I think that's a critical situation that we need to address, not just start spending it."

Several commissioners said Smith's current financial projections would have changed the nature of a yearlong struggle to fund more than $20 million in capital school projects had they known about it.

A number of them questioned whether the Bradley County Commission would have considered placing a $32 wheel tax referendum on the Aug. 2 ballot as a means of funding renovations to Lake Forest Middle School, classroom additions for Walker Valley High School and a new elementary school in southern Bradley County. Voters rejected the proposed tax.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock defended comments he had made previously in regard to any expected increases in tax revenue streams. According to financial projections he had at the time, Morelock had said he could not see how payment-in-lieu-of-taxes funds from Wacker, Amazon and others would provide anything close to a windfall opportunity.

Smith agreed with commissioners, stating that there is no way they could have had the data his office had been compiling right up until Friday evening.

In the meantime, the county commission should expect relatively flat revenues for the next year to 18 months, said Smith, who compared the county's recent budgeting limitations to negotiating "a minefield." A recurring factor in relatively flat revenue streams in recent years has been the downturn in residential building, he said.

In other business, Bradley County has received its seventh annual Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis presented the plaque to Lynn Burns, the county's financial director.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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