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Commission meeting to zero in on possible tax hike

Budget

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

The citizens of Washington County will have a better idea of which path a proposed tax hike might be heading after a specially called June 6 Washington County Commission meeting takes place.

Nine items are set for discussion — with a combined penny requirement of 53 cents. Each will be looked at independently and will either be voted to be pursued or thrown off the table.

That is exactly the reason that Washington County Commission Chairman Greg Matherly said he called the meeting.

“My intent here is to have the entire commission vote on the items that they support or they don’t support,” Matherly said. “It will give the Budget Committee a way forward to develop a budget that we can hopefully vote on by the end of June.”

Those items are a Boones Creek K-8 replacement ($0.14), Jonesborough K-8 replacement ($0.13), school bus replacement ($0.02), Jonesborough remodel/renovations ($0.05), school technology ($0.03), other school capital items ($0.06), public safety communication ($0.01), other general government ($0.08) and highway and bridge infrastructure ($0.01).

According to Matherly, the Boones Creek project will be heard first, followed by a new Jonesborough school and if that failed, then they would move on to the renovations. Depending on which scenario passed, the eight projects would cost $0.48 with a new Jonesborough School — or $0.40 with no new Jonesborough School.

But, all the projects will be up for discussion and will either be voted up or down.


“You can see where these other counties have their tax rates and we simply haven’t risen to that. We have been stagnant and services have suffered, I believe, in all departments. They could be greater in all departments, certainly schools.

Ron Dykes

Washington County Director of Schools


The current property tax rate is $1.98 per $100 of assessed value for the property which is a property tax bill for Washington County citizens of $495 per year for a house worth $100,000.

If you added the $0.53 required for all nine projects, that would put the a property tax at $2.51 per $100 of assessed value and would make a Washington County citizen’s bill $627.50 for a house worth $100,000.

While $0.53 would be a hefty and very unlikely jump, it would still put the property tax of Washington County below surrounding counties of Sullivan ($2.5754), Cocke ($2.5872) and Unicoi ($2.6838).

Currently, Washington County has the 15th lowest property tax in the state, while their per capita income is also 15th. That puts them at two different ends of the spectrum, where residents are making higher income than most, but paying less in property tax.


“If you are going to raise taxes, what is the return for the taxpayers investment, that is the bottom line to me.”

Dan Eldridge

Washington County Mayor


However, that is not a reason to raise taxes, according to Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge.

“What I don’t want to is to say “You know, we’ve got room to raise taxes, if you compare us to the other counties.’ While that’s a true statement, I don’t think that is a legitimate reason to raise taxes,” Eldridge said. “From my perspective, it’s more a matter of how can we invest in a way to very effectively utilize the money — number one — and a big part of that has to be impacting the tax base itself, by doing things that are going to help grow the tax base and stimulate that growth. That is absolutely crucial.

“If you are going to raise taxes, what is the return for the taxpayers investment, that is the bottom line to me.”

Matherly agreed that having room to raise taxes isn’t an ample reason, but when a community needs projects completed, they have to be funded somehow.

“The reason you have a tax increase is because you have projects that you want to complete that are good for the community,” he said. “Each county is different. Each county has it’s own amount of infrastructure. They have their own economic development plans. Just because you look at their tax rate, that doesn’t mean it’s all the money they receive.”

The Washington County school system has voiced their need for more funding and they still feel that way, according to Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes.

“You can see where these other counties have their tax rates and we simply haven’t risen to that,” he said. “We have been stagnant and services have suffered, I believe, in all departments. They could be greater in all departments, certainly schools.

“To the school district, it is irrelevant where the dollar comes from; we need the dollar.”

While most of these projects have to deal with infrastructure improvements — the only non-building item for the schools is funding their technology plan — Eldridge said that putting new buildings shouldn’t be the top priority when it comes to education.

“It takes much more than just bricks and mortar to improve student achievement and outcomes in our school system and that is our priority, student achievement,” Eldridge said. “School outcomes have to be our priority. From that perspective, I am not in any way trying to diminish the need to replace the Boones Creek schools, I am just saying, please let’s not lose sight that we have other priorities.”