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The Bledsoe County Courthouse is in Pikeville, Tenn.

WHAT IT MEANS

Bledsoe County’s new property tax rate of $2.3860 per $100 of assessed value means the annual tax bill on a $100,000 home will now be $596.50. Before the 18-cent rate increase, that annual tax bill was $551.50, or $45 less per year.

Commissioners in Bledsoe County, Tennessee, last week approved their second shortfall budget for the coming fiscal year, but this one includes an 18-cent property tax increase.

Commissioners hope that some revenues will increase over the next year to cover the gap.

On Aug. 6 in a reconvened meeting, Bledsoe commissioners approved a budget resolution in an 8-4-1 vote that includes the 18-cent property tax hike but still has about $167,000 more spending than revenue. That move follows Bledsoe County Mayor Gregg Ridley's July veto of a $500,000-plus shortfall budget after the county commission shot down a proposed 18-cent property tax hike, then adopted the budget that still contained the additional spending.

"We'll probably do OK with 18 cents. If we don't, next year we can pick it up, and it won't be as bad a tax increase if we have to do another one next year," commission chairman Craig Mercer said Tuesday.

Ridley's veto was necessary to make officials work toward a solution, Mercer said, noting county department heads since the veto had trimmed a combined $30,000 from their budgets to help.

Commissioners Mercer, Matt Colvard, Brent Griffith, Tanya Roberson, Ronald Sapp, Roger Simmons, Johnny Mack Swafford and Perry Swafford voted in favor of the budget resolution on Aug. 6, while commissioners Tim Campbell, Junior Lee Hankins, Robert Reece and Robert "Rooster" Worthington voted against it. Commissioner Ruth Burton was absent.

Ridley was in out-of-town meetings on Tuesday and was not available for comment. Hankins, Reece and Worthington could not be reached for comment, and Campbell declined.

REGION TAX RATES

Southeast Tennessee property tax rates per $100 of assessed value.

Bledsoe: $2.386

Bradley: $1.7084

Coffee: $2.93240

Franklin: $2.67360

Grundy: $2.53830

Marion: $2.16860

Meigs: $1.98130

McMinn: $1.54690

Polk: $2.51200

Rhea: $2.19660

Sequatchie: $2.44220

Source: Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, 2018

Bledsoe commissioners have struggled with declining revenues and major cost increases in areas such as employee health insurance that soared from $35,000 a year in 2013 to more than $240,000 a year in 2018, officials said. Last year, the jail collected almost $1 million for housing state inmates through state fees, but this year as local inmates took up more beds that figure dropped to $705,000. Other factors included a state law change in the way rural telephone cooperatives were taxed that dropped revenues by about $68,000 and state-mandated $19,000 in raises for county department heads that boosted spending.

The situation has been simmering for a couple of budget cycles.

Bledsoe's 2018-19 budget contained a deficit because county leaders felt a $2 million fund balance was a little high for a county of Bledsoe's size and they wanted to reduce it and avoid a tax increase at the same time, Mercer said. The fund balance took a nearly $700,000 hit and fell below the most-desired $1 million mark, the amount needed for the county to safely cover its payroll and associated taxes.

If revenues don't make up the estimated $167,000 difference by the next fiscal year's budget cycle, another dip into the fund balance could spell real trouble for the county and force property taxes up again, Mercer said.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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