UNICOI, Tenn. (WJHL) – Property taxes in Unicoi County will take a hike in this next fiscal year following commissioners approving a 17-cent increase on Monday night. That increase amounts to about a 6% hike.
Currently, the county’s property tax rate is $2.68 but with this change will now be $2.85.
“Anytime there’s a tax increase, there are going to be people that are upset. The commission doesn’t take that lightly. We do everything that we possibly can to run county government as efficient as we possibly can,” said Unicoi County Mayor, Garland Evely.
Evely said they’ve been working on their budget for the past three to four months. Work began in early March and the decision to raise property taxes by 17 cents was not easy. Evely told News Channel 11 it was a necessary step to make up for deficits in the past years.
“We’ve managed to cut expenses for all those years and basically survive on what little growth we did have and the increase in the property values for that long a time, but eventually, that catches up with you,” he said.
Evely went on to say that there’s only so much you can cut back on before you start feeling the impacts in your local departments and government offices. Seeing as there hasn’t been a countywide property tax increase in the past 7 years, he said an increase was needed in order to make up for deficits in the year’s past.
While the county hasn’t raised the property tax in years, that’s not the same story for the towns of Erwin and Unicoi that reside within the county. Businesses and homeowners say they will feel a double hit this year when their bills arrive.
“We are in both the city and the county so we have to pay both taxes and it will impact us,” said Owner of Plant Palace Florist, Harry Lewis Jr.
Lewis said their business has been hurting since COVID-19, like many across the region. He said he’s seen an increase in property taxes every year from the town of Erwin since becoming a business owner in the town, so being hit with a county increase on top of that is less than ideal.
However, while unhappy with the tax hike, he understands it needs to be done to replenish the deficit. “We haven’t had one in 7 years and I know there are things we have to have. All of us want these things, but we don’t want to pay for them so I’m afraid that’s about how it is,” said Lewis.
Business owners like Tony Baker, who learned of the news right after it was passed said he doesn’t really have an opinion on the increase. “I don’t think they’re going to do anything that’s going to be bad for us downtown so I trust their judgment. I hate to see it go up, but I trust their judgment,” said Owner of Baker’s Shoe Repair, Tony Baker.
Evely attributes the increase in to the lack of growth in revenue sources over the past few years. As for the 17 cents the commission arrived at, it’s no random number. He said this amount will help the county replenish the deficit and get back on track.
“That’s the amount we’re actually short is 15 and the 2 cents in the 17 cents will help us replace where we are short here in the current budget and keep us from being short in the next budget,” he said.
This new increase along with the 2021 fiscal budget that was also approved on Monday will take effect on July 1st.