By CHRIS MENEES
Obion County’s budget committee is studying a possible $5 wheel tax increase for use strictly on resurfacing and repairing county roads.
The suggestion was discussed Tuesday night when the committee held a lengthy two-hour budget hearing for the county’s 2013-14 budget.
The second round of budget hearings was held in the courthouse’s chancery courtroom to receive proposed budgets from county departments. Various non-profit agencies and organizations had already presented their budget requests during a first hearing last month.
A couple of the proposed budgets from county departments sparked considerable discussion among the eight county commissioners who comprise the budget committee, but it was the county highway department’s budget which generated the most talk.
Commissioner Danny Jowers expressed concerns about the condition of Obion County’s roads and the relatively small number of miles which can be paved or repaired each year with the limited funds actually available in the highway budget.
Jowers made a motion to increase the wheel tax by $5 strictly for the use of blacktopping and paving county roads — a move which would generate roughly $150,000 in additional funds — but he later withdrew his motion and emphasized he wants the matter studied more in depth.
The county’s wheel tax is currently $40 per vehicle.
Budget committee chairman Jerry Grady said there needs to be more research on the wheel tax rate, specifically the fairness of the same amount being paid by an automobile or motorcycle and an 18-wheeler.
Commissioners also said additional study needs to be done on the county having its own asphalt plant, with commissioner Richard Arnold adding he’d “hate to see us jump the gun” on a $5 increase.
Commissioner Donnie Braswell said the county cannot keep up with sufficient road repairs at the pace it is currently going, and Jowers said county leaders must take a closer look at how to fund the roads “or we’re going to be in trouble.”
Jowers said he knows a lot of people will criticize his recommendation for a $5 wheel tax increase for road repairs, but he said it will be much worse in the long run for motorists who hit potholes and are faced with repair costs of $90 or more for their vehicles.
After lengthy discussion with highway superintendent Gary Lofton about actual funds available and cash flow, the budget committee approved the highway department budget with the understanding that the possible wheel tax increase will be studied further. Jowers reiterated he would vote for a wheel tax on the condition it is only for paving purposes.
As work continues on the county’s 2013-14 budget, the Obion County Budget Committee will hold another session next Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the courthouse.
Among the budgets approved by the budget committee during Tuesday evening’s two-hour session were those presented for Everett-Stewart Regional Airport, county register of deeds, chancery court, juvenile court, the county health department, the county extension office, county trustee, county assessor and the board of equalization, county mayor’s office, circuit court, general sessions court, juvenile court clerk, emergency management, the highway department, court security, the sheriff’s department, the county jail, the sheriff’s drug fund and the highway litter grant.
Many of the budgets were the same or very similar to the current year’s budgets, with the exception of the addition of a state-mandated pay increase for county elected officials.
Grady also noted after presentation of the assessor’s budget that Obion County is paying all the appraisal fees for the county’s municipalities this year.
The committee deferred action on approving the proposed budget from the county’s solid waste department. In explaining an increase in his proposed budget, Obion County Solid Waste director Mike Cary said he under-budgeted this year and needs to elevate two part-time workers to full-time employees to help handle the recycle center’s significant work load.
The solid waste department has successfully utilized college students and community service workers for some labor, but there is still a shortage on labor, according to Cary.
Later in the meeting, Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder offered a possible solution to funding Cary’s need for additional labor by explaining the highway litter grant funds can go through other departments besides the sheriff’s department as long as a highway litter pickup program is maintained. He said jail inmates would continue litter pickup, but he explained Cary could possibly fund a position from the moneys.
Cary said he will research the matter and review the figures and then bring it back before the committee.
The committee approved the sheriff’s five budgets — which include those for court security, the sheriff’s department, the jail, the sheriff’s drug fund and the highway litter grant — with the stipulation of there being possible amendments depending what can be worked out with solid waste on the litter grant.
Among the increases in the jail budget were items pertaining to repairs of the heating and air units and the roof, as well as much-needed replacement of the heating and air units.
After hearing the sheriff’s budgets, commissioners commended Vastbinder for his efforts in generating funds through the jail and in keeping costs as low as possible. The county jail houses state and federal prisoners and Obion County is one of only three West Tennessee counties which houses federal inmates.
“You’re doing a good job, sheriff,” commissioner Ralph Puckett said.
During Tuesday night’s marathon session, the budget committee tabled action on the budgets for drug court and county buildings, as well as agreed to take under advisement a request from Hornbeak Mayor Dennis Dozier for a one-time appropriation of $5,000 for a general aviation helipad for use by medical transport helicopters.
Dozier said Hornbeak is seeing an increase in first responder calls that result in patients being airlifted, also noting the town’s population is now older and increased. He said emergency personnel need a facility for Hornbeak’s isolated area of the county to have safe touchdown and lift-off for medical helicopters, including a walkway from the ambulance to the helicopter and lighting for night emergencies.
“Hornbeak has sponsored good ideas in the past, such as fire protection solutions. We hope you can find one-time funding to help in this needed addition,” Dozier told budget committee members before excusing himself in time to make it to Hornbeak’s board meeting, which began while the budget session was still under way.
He said the town will also be seeking donations from others for the helipad project, which he said will result in lives being saved.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 5.15.13