Rhea County leaders consider new tax for courthouse security

Rhea County leaders consider new tax for courthouse security

November 15th, 2012 by Tom Davis in Local Regional News

The Rhea County Courthouse in downtown Dayton is famous for the 1925 Scopes Trial.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

DAYTON, Tenn. - Rhea County commissioners are planning a second litigation tax to help pay for courthouse security, but they delayed action this week on increasing the current litigation tax to clarify how that money can be spent.

The litigation tax is collected in civil cases from plaintiffs when lawsuits are filed, and in criminal cases from defendants if they are convicted and fines and court costs assessed, officials said.

Commissioners at a Tuesday workshop session agreed to put the new tax on the agenda for their Nov. 20 meeting after County Attorney Carol Barron explained the difference between the two taxes.

According to the agenda resolution, the new tax would be used "exclusively for the purpose of funding courthouse security." Barron said the money could be used in the present courthouse or in a new jail or justice center once the commission determines which course to take.

But a second resolution that would increase the current $10 litigation tax to $25 was pulled from consideration after commissioners could not agree on the limits set on uses for the money.

"I don't think we ought to adopt this until we know what we can do with the money," Commissioner Ronnie Raper said.

Barron agreed that the state statute, on which the resolution is drawn, is unclear, and encouraged county officials to seek a ruling from the state comptroller's office to make sure. County Executive George Thacker said he would try to get that opinion before the panel's regular meeting.

In other matters, Commissioner Bill Hollin asked if the commission was going to address the matter of increasing general revenue.

"If we don't raise some kind of tax, we're not going to be able to do nothing," Hollin said. "We don't have any money."

Budget Committee Chairman Ron Masterson added, "We definitely have to look at revenue. We have to have a revenue stream set before we finalize the budget for next year. We don't have the fund balance to use."

Commissioners also agreed to consider supporting a Heartland Anglers fishing tournament next October, similar to the one the community hosted three weeks ago. Dayton City Councilman Gary Louallen asked the commission to contribute half -- $6,000 -- of the cost to bring the 300-boat event back to Chickamauga Lake, with the city paying the other half.

Louallen said fishermen spent an estimated $400,000 in Rhea County during the recent event.