By Sabrina Bates
For the first time in 18 years, City of Martin residents are looking at an increase in their property taxes. During a monthly board meeting held last week, the Martin Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved, on its first reading, a property tax increase from $1.4044 per $100 of assessed value of property to $1.7544 per $100 of assessed property value.
One alderman voted against the proposed property tax increase — alderman Scott Robbins.
Martin Mayor Randy Brundige told board members the increase was proposed by the city’s finance committee, after cutting $1 million from the Fiscal Year 2020-21 proposed budget.
The mayor noted the impact of losing several thousand students when UT Martin made the switch to online classes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a significant loss in sales tax revenues, was a big factor in the decision to raise property taxes.
As a result of the proposed property tax increase, those with property valued at around $50,000 would see a little more than $3 per month increase; property valued around $100,000 would see a little more than $7 per month increase and those with property valued around $250,000 would see a little more $18 increase per month.
Robbins said he was concerned about the impact to small businesses, after just coming out of a 6-8-week shutdown.
He requested the board consider making cutbacks and potential layoffs and furloughs of employees.
Brundige said without the tax increase, certain departments would lose employees, such as the police and fire departments, thus impacting emergency services throughout the city. He explained the federal government has granted stimulus money for businesses and individuals, but anticipates there would be no stimulus funding for municipalities.
“It has been 18 years since we have had a (property) tax increase. We are one of the largest cities in Northwest Tennessee with one of the lowest tax rates,” Brundige noted. The mayor said department heads were asked to cut 10 percent out of their proposed budgets for the upcoming year.
“We haven’t seen the full effects of COVID yet,” Brundige noted. City hall’s lobby has remained closed since the coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses and forced social distancing and gathering guidelines from the Center for Diseases Control. Brundige said residents who need to make an appointment to handle business at city hall are encouraged to do so, although many of the services can be handled through the building’s drive-through window.
He added plexiglass would have to be installed at work stations before city hall reopens to the public.
Brundige also announced the city budget was impacted by about $60-$70,000 as a result of the local hospital now designated as a non-profit entity. He said the city would not see the new library payments start coming due for another two years.
The board also cut out all non-profit giving for the upcoming operating budget. Board members passed the proposed budget ordinance and property tax increase on its first reading last week.
A public hearing and final reading of the upcoming budget and property tax hike will take place via Zoom at 12 p.m. June 30. The budget breakdown and meeting instructions for the public are available on Page 5 of today’s edition of The Press.
In other city board news, Brundige reported Republic Services is behind on brush pick-up, which has resulted in “stern conversations” with the waste disposal business. Members of the city’s public works department have been busy helping with brush pick-up, averaging about two roll-offs of debris per day.
Brundige told the board there were a series of peaceful protests that were on-going with the city and asked the community to be mindful and be respectful of the protests. Organizers have followed the appropriate process in notifying city hall and the local police department for the planned solidarity demonstrations.
In budget news, board members approved an ordinance amending the current Fiscal Year budget for the city. Line items showing an impact to their budgets include a loss of $102,500 from the Martin Recreation Complex concession stands sales; $35,000 dropped from city court fines; and an $800,000 loss from the Natural Gas Revenue line item.
Brundige said the losses are a direct impact from the coronavirus pandemic. The EMS fees line item suffered the biggest hit, with a reported loss of $1,283,000 from the projected $1,783,000. After the shutdown in March, Brundige said there were very few transfers and emergency services saw a decline for need.
Editor’s note: Sabrina Bates is the news producer for the Weakley County Press. She may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.