JASPER, Tenn. - Marion County commissioners this week approved a new budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year that includes heavy cuts and a 50 cent property tax increase.
Officials said the moves had to be made to overcome a $1.5 million budget shortfall and a county government shutdown.
"We are at a critical point right now," commission Chairman Gene Hargis told the audience in a packed meeting room late Monday. "We're basically broke. We've had to make cuts [in the budget] that are not good, including the monies we give to nonprofit organizations like our fire departments."
In the past, the county distributed about $193,000 to its rural volunteer fire departments to help offset insurance and workmen's compensation costs, officials said, but now all of that money has been cut.
"If we don't [pass this budget], the state is going to pass one for us, and it's not going to be very acceptable to anybody," Hargis said.
The board voted 9-6 to approve the new budget.
The tax increase is 50 cents for every $100 in assessed property value. The new rate will be $2.11 and take effect immediately, officials said.
Hargis said the county immediately will begin working on implementing a wheel tax next year.
"The money that is generated from that wheel tax next year will be deducted from the property tax rate to reduce that burden," he said. "Our intention is to take some of the burden off the property owners in Marion County."
"We're going to have to try to spread that tax burden over 80 percent of the people rather than 40 percent," County Mayor John Graham said. "We're going to have to take some of this burden that we're putting on people tonight to pass this budget and take it back off of them as soon as we can."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.