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BMA opts to delay property tax action

A proposed 19-cent property tax increase was quickly sidelined last week as the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to approve on first reading last year’s property tax rate, thereby providing members more time to research the town’s options in meeting an anticipated shortfall.
“We’re not going to rush this process,” Mayor Kelly Wolfe told the board at the beginning of the June 18 budget meeting. “We’re going to make sure you feel comfortable, that you have the time to discuss, deliberate, seek input to make a good decision, because if you’re rushed and you don’t feel you’ve been able to operate to the best of your abilities, that is not good for the Town of Jonesborough.”
The June 18 vote still leaves the proposed budget nearly $250,000 in the red, with departmental needs and expenses adding up to $6,588,052.
The proposed 19-cent property tax increase would bring the current rate of $1.3105 per each $100 of assessed value to $1.50 per each $100 of assessed value to make up the shortfall.
A budget workshop is scheduled for Monday, June 29, at 6 p.m. to provide aldermen an opportunity to study the issue, but as of last week’s meeting, several were already voicing resistance to the increase.
“Sometimes I think it’s too easy to increase taxes to solve a problem” Alderman Chuck Vest said. “We need to dig a lot harder at what we are spending.”
Alderman David Sell agreed. “I’m definitely not for a tax increase; nobody is. And I know what it’s like to have to budget,” he said. “We need to look at all of it.”
Alderman Terry Countermine pointed out, however, that great amenities often come with a price.
“I think it’s important we realize the quality of life we have here in Jonesborough. . . There is a cost there. And there is a balance.”
“A low tax rate can improve the quality of life as well,” Vest countered.
After the meeting, Wolfe stressed again the importance of the board taking its time when deciding the budget.
If a budget is not set by July 1, the board will pass a resolution to continue the current budget until a new one is adopted.
As for the reason for the apparent shortfall, the mayor cited several factors.
The original start-up funds for the McKinney Center are coming to an end, so the town will need to fund all of its salary needs — though the center’s past year’s performance indicates that it may be on its way to becoming self-sufficient, Wolfe said.
“You’re seeing a pretty strong increase in health insurance costs this year,” the mayor added. The town is also looking to include its final year of a 5 percent pay increase for employees in the new budget.
“We’re having to consider re-establishing the town radio system for our police department,” Wolfe said, adding that Johnson City’s current upgrades may become too expensive for the town’s department.
The proposed budget also includes more funds allocated to Wetlands Water Park.
“All indications are that (situation) is better now, but we’re still dealing with, from a budgetary position, the results of that shortfall, he said.
“We’re not projecting as much profit so as not to be caught short again.”
Asked if the town would see a 19-cent tax increase this year, Wolfe responded with an unequivocal “no.”
“But we have to have a serious discussion and we have to be open and honest about priorities,” he said.
“And if there is a need, we have to be prepared to address the need.”