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OC budget motion met with silence; passes later

OC budget motion met with silence; passes later
By CHRIS MENEES
Staff Reporter
It’s a long way from the basement budget committee meeting to the upstairs county commission meeting.
The Obion County Budget Committee has been through numerous rounds of budget hearings over several months to prepare the county’s budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Those meetings have yielded a proposed budget — which the seven-member budget committee seemed poised to recommend to the full Obion County Commission for a vote at its Aug. 20 meeting.
But that was until Monday morning’s budget committee meeting.
A meeting with a relatively short and fairly routine agenda dragged into a 90-minute session when budget committee members expressed some mixed concerns over the proposed budget.
When committee chairman Danny Jowers asked for a motion to send the county’s budget to the 21-member county commission for consideration, he was met with silence and no one initially willing to make a motion.
It prompted a visibly frustrated Jowers to ask committee members if they needed to revisit the budget and to question why the members had voted in previous budget hearings to approve the proposed appropriations for the county’s various funds.
Jowers and committee member Ralph Puckett, who currently serves as commission chairman, had a heated exchange over the option of discussing the budget “line by line” once it is presented to the full commission later this month. Commissioners are typically presented a copy of the proposed budget beforehand and then vote on the budget in its entirety, although there can be amendments.
Amid the discussion, budget committee members heard from Union City city manager Kathy Dillon, who urged them to consider options regarding a proposed 6-cent increase on the inside combined property tax rate and the increased burden it will create. The Obion County Finance Committee unanimously voted July 27 to accept a budget committee recommendation to set the inside rate at $1.69 and the outside rate at $2.07.
Based on the recommendation, the proposed tax rate for the 2012-13 fiscal year would remain at $2.07 outside and would increase from $1.63 to $1.69 inside on each $100 of taxable property. The revenue would be divided this way: General Fund, outside rate 40 cents and inside rate 40 cents; Highway Fund, outside rate 7 cents and inside rate 7 cents; School Fund, outside rate $1.18 and inside rate $1.18; and Debt Service Fund, outside rate 42 cents and inside rate 4 cents.
While the General Fund rate would drop 4 cents for both the inside and outside rates and the School Fund would increase 7 cents for both to restore funding, the additional inside increase for Union City would come from the Debt Service Fund rate changing from its current 1 cent to 4 cents.
Ms. Dillon said she understands the county has debt obligations because the city also has them. She explained how the city and the county work “hand in hand” on many endeavors for the good of everyone in the community, specifically citing industrial development and law enforcement efforts.
She said she understands the need but the proposed tax increase is weighing heavy on Union City residents who feel “singled out” with a 6-cent increase. She said they are also obligated to the city’s own debt and the county increase would be an added burden.
Budget committee member Jerry Grady said the 4 cents proposed for the inside tax rate for debt service is for the Cates Landing project, trustee’s commission and courthouse repair. He said it is fair for city residents to pay a fair share of the “general obligation” for services which benefit everyone.
Ms. Dillon reiterated Union City also has city debt and a City Hall which needs repair and Jowers noted that all towns across the county have similar obligations of their own.
From the audience, commissioner Dwayne Hensley said he has heard more feedback on this one issue than any other issue during his 12 years on the commission. He noted Union City contributes to the county library and industrial development and said it is the only city to do so.
Commissioner Donnie Braswell, also in the audience, said residents of South Fulton, Troy, Hornbeak and other towns are questioning why they pay and another city gets a break, adding there must be fairness. He said he is not voting to raise taxes on Union City, but he said the commission needs to do what is fair for everyone and “share equally.”
Jowers said the rates grew apart over the years and 2 cents had to be put back on this year in order to restore school funding. He said it is the 4 cents for debt service for Union City residents which is in question.
Grady said the outside rate should actually be 36 cents for debt service and the inside rate should be 12 cents.
Budget committee vice chairman Sam Sinclair Jr. asked for figures to explain the need for the inside rate tax increase for debt service. He said he also wants to be able to explain that it is proposed at 4 cents for debt service rather than the 12 cents noted by Grady.
By the numbers
After a 20-minute recess, administrative assistant Kay Calhoun returned with the figures requested by Sinclair. They show a total countywide debt of $209,063 for the year — which includes $150,000 for a capital outlay note; $12,813 for the port authority; $500 for interest on the capital outlay note; $45,000 for trustee’s commission; and $750 for loan fees.
The school debt is $1,146,038 — which combined with the countywide debt brings the total to $1,355,101.
It is estimated that 1 cent on the tax rate generates $17,564 inside Union City and $31,962 outside Union City, according to the figures. If the inside rate was 12 cents, it would generate $210,768; and if the outside rate was 36 cents, it would generate $1,150,632 — for a total of $1,361,400.
However, the inside rate has been proposed at 4 cents rather than 12 cents.
Ms. Calhoun clarified to commissioners that the outside share of the debt service tax rate that is required for countywide debt is added to the outside rate for school purposes. This would make the inside rate 5 cents, rounded off. She noted the rate recommended by Grady is 4 cents inside.
Final votes
After some intense discussion about the committee’s budget concerns, including questions on insurance for elected officials and cost of living raises given on a percentage basis, the committee finally voted to send the proposed budget to the full county commission for consideration.
On a roll call vote to send the tax levy to the full commission for consideration, the vote deadlocked at 3-3 — with Sinclair and commissioners Richard Arnold and Allen Nohsey voting against it, while Puckett, Grady and commissioner Terry Roberts voted in favor.
After the recess, Grady pressed Jowers to cast his vote and break the 3-3 tie. Jowers voted in favor of placing the tax levy on the commission agenda for consideration and it carried by a 4-3 margin.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at cmenees@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 8.7.12

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