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Washington County property tax increase to be presented to the full county commission

Not everyone is in favor of a tax increase. Above, Andy Davenport makes his feelings known in front of the downtown courthouse.
Not everyone is in favor of a tax increase. Above, Andy Davenport makes his feelings known in front of the downtown courthouse.

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

After lengthy discussion by the Washington County Budget Committee, the official tax levy was set on Monday morning, as the budget committee passed a $0.40 increase in property tax for the full commission to vote on.

However, that entire amount will not go towards capital projects as initially thought, as the budget committee decided to put $0.32 towards those projects and $0.08 toward operations. Five of those pennies will go toward the general fund, while three of the pennies will go toward operations for the school system.

The three items in the capital project plans that will receive less funding to make up that 8 cents are general government, which was supposed to get eight pennies and will now get four. The capital school projects and technology fund was combined and reduced from 9 cents to 4.


“We are in the top 15 of ability to pay and we are in the bottom 15 of willingness to pay. That says something about the value our populous is putting in investing in Washington County.”

Todd Hensley

Washington County Commissioner


The committee talked about adding the additional 8 cents onto the $0.40 in order to provide the money for the operations but multiple members felt like making the tax increase that high would doom it.

One of those included commissioner Mark Larkey who said, “I think we need to work within our 40-cent limit.”

However, Commissioner Todd Hensley mentioned that cutting the pennies from the capital projects would put them right back where they started.

“That is a hefty increase and they may all throw tomatoes at us when we walk out the front door,” Henlsey said. “I think if we sacrifice pennies out of the identified capital projects we are just backing up.

“We are in the top 15 of ability to pay and we are in the bottom 15 of willingness to pay. That says something about the value our populous is putting in investing in Washington County.”

Washington County Finance Director Mitch Meredith agreed.

“If you start running those pennies too far down, than you are still playing catchup,” Meredith said.

But when it came time to vote on multiple options to the full commission, none of the committee members made a motion for a higher tax increase than the $0.40.

That $0.40 was voted on during a full commission meeting last month, but multiple times it was also said during that meeting that more money might be needed for general operations. At the time, commissioners were saying it could be another $0.02-$0.04.

The three additional pennies that will be added to the school’s general budget will have to be shared with Johnson City and will allocate almost $400,000 more for their budget, according to Meredith.

The $0.40 property tax increases the total for Washington County to $2.38, up from $1.98, which isn’t uncharted water for the county. The last tax increase done by the commission came between 2005 and 2006, when the property tax increase jumped from $1.87 to $2.00. But another $0.45 was added ($0.35 in 2007 and $0.10 in 2008) before a reappraisal made the property rate $1.9139 in 2009.

Another reappraisal delivered actually raised the property tax to the current 1.9798 in 2014. That was not initiated by the county commission, but was forced to be adopted as a state-recommended “certified tax rate” due to the devaluation of the property tax base.

Eldridge mentioned that the county funded their departments $2 million below what they had requested and that was echoed by Meredith who said he felt like the departments have “very tight and lean budgets for fiscal year 2017.”

But a two percent raise for all county employees, which came in close to $350,000, was given for the department heads to dispense. Many department heads had been asking for five percent raises.

“Clearly we are at a point, with this year’s budget, where we are feeling the full impact of no growth in the tax base,” said Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge on Friday, who abstained from voting on Monday because of his intense involvement with the budget. “For five years now we have experienced less than one percent growth in the tax base and we just broke through that one percent barrier with this proposed budget. And obviously the growth in expenses every year have outpaced the growth of the revenue and we have done things every year to compensate. We have cut expenses and deferred projects, I don’t know how many times we have used the term ‘We’ve pulled another rabbit out of the hat,’”.

That was echoed by a comment from Hensley who mentioned that the low hanging fruit was gone.

“That’s gone and we are at the top of the ladder,” Eldridge said. “We are reaching as far as we can reach, there is just no fruit there.”

Eldridge mentioned that the tax increase will provide a mechanism to pay cash for some of their investments, which over the long term is going to save taxpayers money.

“There was a tax increase in 2006 and 2008 but there were some very important investments made and we are receiving the benefit of some of those investments today,” Eldridge said.

“This proposed tax increase — that is being discussed at this point — is intended to fund the capital needs of this county, not this year, not next year, but from now on.

“If this is properly managed, there just isn’t a prospect for a tax increase — for capital needs — in Washington County on the horizon, at all. I mean we literally could solve this problem for a generation.”