Property tax hike in Kenton never OK’d by aldermen
Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2010 9:05 pm
By: Donna Ryder, Associate Editor
By DONNA RYDER
Property tax notices, which are to be mailed Friday for the town of Kenton, are printed, but they include an increased property tax rate the board never approved.
At a called meeting Wednesday at 5 p.m. at City Hall, the board met to consider the third and final reading of an ordinance that would increase the $1.15 property tax rate in Gibson County and the $1.13 property tax rate in Obion County by 25 cents. But even the number of readings was in question.
Apparently, officials at City Hall sent the State of Tennessee the increased tax rate assuming the board would approve the new rate in three readings before the property tax notices were mailed.
According to minutes, as kept by city recorder Camelia Cunningham, the board approved a motion at its regularly scheduled meeting in August to borrow $45,000 from the bank and to raise the property tax rate by 25 cents. It’s a motion and vote that did not take place, according to alderman Shirley Clark, who stated when she voted, she understood it to be a motion for the loan only and that no vote would be made on the property tax rate increase until the board had seen a copy of the budget. In fact, she said she has yet to see a copy of the budget. Plus, she said, she’s not the only alderman who understood the vote to be taken only on the subject of the loan.
“I don’t remember voting to raise taxes. I know there was discussion and, when I was going to ask a question, I was told to drop it,” she said.
Alderman Tim Johns agreed, saying he also did not vote for a property tax increase.
According to the August minutes, alderman Tracy Griggs, who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, researched property tax rates of towns which compare to Kenton and found they have property tax rates of $1.55-$1.70. It was Griggs who apparently made the initial motion in August to increase the property tax rate by 25 cents.
But was the initial motion, which was said to include the loan and the property tax rate, even legal?
“I was told that night that we could not pass it as a package deal,” Ms. Clark said.
Former mayor Virginia Davidson, who was in the audience and is running for the mayor’s office in November, said the two items could not be voted on in the same motion.
Johns said the board also met in called session Monday, with only four aldermen present. He said that, yes, there was a quorum but, with the vote being 3-1 for the increase, it did not pass because it was not a 50 percent vote of the entire board, which he said is called for in the town’s charter.
“This is all after the fact,” he said, stating the increase has already been sent to the counties and to the state.
“I’m not about to go to jail for anybody,” he said.
Alderman Peggy Ray asked Johns if he knew this before Monday’s meeting and, when he said he did, she stated, “Why didn’t you say so. I don’t want to go to jail, either.”
Alderman Scott Reeves then interjected, saying, “This is not set in stone — that it has passed. If this fails, we can call by Friday.”
“This has to pass by Friday or this town will go under,” Mayor John Maughan said.
Ms. Clark repeated she was told the loan and tax increase could not pass as a package deal and Johns repeated he had not voted on a tax increase.
“I would not have voted on taxes until I saw a budget. I don’t even know how much we are in a hole,” Johns said.
Maughan said the town is about $160,000 in the hole and there has been a freeze placed on all spending and purchases.
Kenton resident Danny Jowers, who is the chairman of the county’s budget committee and the director of the Obion County Emergency Management Agency, appeared before the Kenton mayor and board and said the point of the board’s discussion was moot because the tax rate cards are already printed and will be mailed out by Friday.
Jowers said he knows the town needs money, but all he is asking is that all the cuts that can be made have been made.
“We won’t know until we’ve seen a budget,” Ms. Clark told him.
Jowers said Kenton may need to change the way it does business. “I’m not here to berate and I’m not here to preach, but it has to be done the right way or someone could file a class action lawsuit,” he said.
Ms. Clark said she has not, but does intend to listen to the tape from the meeting. “I’m not blaming Camelia, but I did not vote to do both. I thought it was to borrow money (only).”
“The fact is you have a tax rate already with a 25 cent increase,” Jowers said.
“Well it’s illegal,” Ms. Clark replied.
Johns made a motion to table the tax rate increase and to call the counties and state. Ms. Clark seconded the motion for discussion. After discussion on what cuts had been made and comments from the audience, Johns repeated his motion several times. The motion was neither voted on nor rescinded.
“I don’t know how to vote. Everything is in such a mess,” Ms. Clark said.
Reeves said he wanted to know how to correct it.
Jowers said the cards are already printed with the increased rate. He said the incorrect cards can be mailed and the corrected cards can be printed and mailed. “You can put a notice in the paper saying they’re wrong and new cards will be sent.”
Johns then made another motion to drop the third reading. The vote was three “yes” (Ms. Clark, Johns and Ms. Ray) and two abstensions (Reeves and Sarah Skinner). No reason was given by either alderman as to why they abstained.
According to the town’s charter, the mayor is to submit an annual budget “not later than 45 days prior to the beginning of each fiscal year.” It further states that a copy of the budget in full “shall be filed with the city recorder for public inspection and a copy shall be furnished to each alderman.”
In reference to the tax levy, the town’s charter states, “the board shall make a tax levy, expressed as a fixed rate per $100 of assessed valuation, not later than 90 days prior to the tax due date. In event of board’s failure to do so, the prior year’s rate shall continue in effect.”
Associate Editor Donna Ryder can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com. Published in The Messenger 9.30.10