GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Three Greene County commissioners are leading a push to change the county’s just-passed budget and slice 10% off the property tax rate.
The proposal, which would cut about $3.5 million from revenues for the fiscal year that began July 1, lowers the property tax rate from $1.65 to $1.48. Commissioners voted 12-9 in July to increase taxes from $1.27 per $100 of assessed value to $1.65 — a raise of 30%.
For the owner of a house appraised at $200,000, that increase would hike annual property taxes from $635 to $825.
“Myself and the co-sponsors, we just feel like that was too big of an increase … to put on our taxpayers all at once,” first-term commissioner Larkin Clemmer told News Channel 11. Chase Murray and Lyle Parton are the other sponsors.
County Mayor Kevin Morrison said the move would throw a monkey wrench into the already passed budget. The State of Tennessee has accepted the $101 million budget on both the revenue and expense sides.
Morrison said when commissioners were presented the budget and proposed 38-cent increase, the general tenor was “that 38 cents is a big number. And it is. There’s no one including myself and the County Commission that wasn’t sort of shocked by that figure.”
But Morrison said the $6.3 million in additional revenue that the tax increase brings in was going toward what he called three main “pillars” — staff pay increases averaging $3 to $4 an hour, funding unfilled positions and operational cost increases related to inflation. The starting salary for emergency medical technicians, for instance, increased 25% from $12.75 an hour to $15.92.
“That was meant to bring wages as close to market value as we could get,” Morrison said, adding that low salaries were contributing to difficulty filling positions. The county had about 25 open highway department positions, 10 or more at EMS and about 60 overall.
Morrison said the county’s budget and finance committees approved the current budget and that department heads have signed salary agreements. He said the sponsoring commissioners weren’t in department head or budget meetings.
“This is very audacious coming out of the blue to say ‘we don’t like the original number so we’re going to throw this number up against the wall because we like it better; without knowing any of the consequences,” Morrison said.
Clemmer, though, said he wants the employee pay increases to stay in the budget.
“Only 18 or 19 cents (of the increase) was going to that expense,” Clemmer said. A penny on the property tax yields about $210,000 in annual revenue.
“Our goal is simply to try to lower the tax rate back some in order to still fund the employee pay increases and at least give the property owners in Greene County a bit of relief,” Clemmer said.
Clemmer said there are several non-recurring items that could be cut from the budget and that the sponsors will propose the use of fund balance to cover the employee raises. He estimated they would recommend a mix of fund balance along with around $2 million in cuts.
Morrison said the county’s attorney reached out to the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office about the propriety of changing the tax rate and the budget and using fund balance for recurring expenses.
“They strongly recommend that we do not do that,” Morrison said.
The County Commission meets Monday at 6 p.m.