published Monday, October 7th, 2013

Grundy County, Tenn., passes property tax hike

PROPERTY TAX HIKE AND YOU

• $2.0954: Original property tax rate

• $523.85: Annual tax bill on $100,000 home, old rate

• $2.5054: New property tax rate

• $626.35: New annual tax bill on $100,000 home

• $102.50: Annual increase on a $100,000 home

Source: Grundy County government, Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Division of Property Assessments

REGION RATES

• Bledsoe: $2.2162

• Bradley: $1.7920

• Coffee : $2.9728

• Cumberland: $1.4975

• Franklin: $2.6736

• Grundy: $2.5054

• Hamilton: $2.7652

• Marion: $2.1686

• McMinn; $1.5553

• Meigs: $1.8726

• Polk: $2.1800

• Rhea: $1.7496

• Sequatchie: $2.1386

• Van Buren: $1.6704

• Warren: $1.9955

Source: Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Division of Property Assessments county property tax rate list for 2012

Grundy County commissioners split a vote passing a property tax resolution that hikes the rate by 41 cents -- a 19.6 percent increase -- to pay for increases in the cost of living, minimum wage, state-mandated salaries and the coming costs of operating and maintaining a planned multimillion-dollar jail.

County Mayor Lonnie Cleek, who doesn't vote on commission business but supports the increase, said all nine commissioners worked down to the wire trying to trim a budget that hasn't included a tax increase in about 18 years. Tennessee law requires counties to submit a budget to the state by Oct. 1.

"It's been almost 20 years since we've had a property tax increase," Cleek said. "Look at the prices 20 years ago and the price today of what it costs to provide services. It was inevitable."

Officials say rising costs whittled away the county's fund balance over the years, dropping it to just more than $100,000 in October 2012 because of delays that caused property tax bills to be sent out late. After taxes started coming in, the fund balance rebounded to about $341,000 by February, records show.

Meanwhile, commissioners continue planning a $7 million to $10 million jail that officials agree can be financed through the county's debt service without impacting property taxes, but funding operations and maintenance are issues for the future.

"Over the past 18 years, we've been losing ground to everything going up in price," Cleek said on Thursday. "But I don't like it [the increase] any more than anybody else."

"No" votes were cast by Commissioners Michael Brady, Kelly Gibbs, Dennis Jones and Charles Rollins, while Commissioners David Griswold, Wayne Harris, David Lockhart, Emily Partin and Carl Prater cast votes in favor.

Hike opponent Brady said alternative cost-cutting and revenue-generating ideas could have staved off a tax hike but commissioners were feeling the pressure of a Sept. 30 deadline to get a budget passed.

"We had an option to do some cuts," he said, noting four ideas he believes could have eliminated or at least reduced the tax increase. "It would've been awful close."

Partin said the increase was a "hard pill to swallow, but it was necessary, in my opinion, to balance the budget and to begin anticipating some new expenditures in the future."

She said the budget is "lean" and counters a looming $900,000 potential shortfall.

"The increase we just passed was to balance the budget," she said, noting she felt no pressure from a ticking clock.

Revenue-generating ideas need more study but could offer some options, Partin said.

For now, "it would help us a lot if people from all over would come to the mountain this October to see the trees," she said. "Buy your gas while you're here and a Coke and a MoonPie; we'd appreciate it."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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