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County approves 9-cent property tax rate hike

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

Commissioner James Harmon continued to voice opposition to a property tax increase at Monday’s county commission meeting.

His motion to send the 2009-10 fiscal budget back to committee for further discussion failed, however.

“To send it back you need to have some suggestions on what to do with it,” Commissioner David Olsen said.

“Well, we need to cut it 10 cents is what we need to do,” Harmon responded, “and we can start by taking out those 10 jailers that the sheriff wants.”

That wasn’t the will of the commission.

Harmon’s motion was voted down, and the commissioners went on to approve a budget that includes a 9-cent property tax rate increase.

The $103.6 million budget passed 10-3. Harmon, Commission Chairman Troy Beets and Commissioner Nadine Jackson voted against the budget. Commissioners Ray Cantrell and Jerry Goddard were absent.

“If we hadn’t passed it tonight, all we would have done was dragged it out,” Commissioner Bobby Collier said. “There would have been more innuendoes and more meetings. We did the right thing.”

A 1-percent raise for county employees was taken out of the budget. Sheriff Jack Stockton’s request for 10 additional jailers was pared by a half. The commission approved nine additional full-time jailers and one part-timer.

With the economy in a recession and many people out of work, Harmon said, now was the worst time possible to raise taxes. With the county opening a new jail soon, other officials countered, it was unavoidable.

Stockton’s request for additional jailers was a hot topic throughout the process, and it continued to be discussed Monday night. The sheriff agreed to the reduction from 10 positions.

“I’ve given all that I can give and still feel comfortable,” Stockton said.

The sheriff also noted the number of positions was far lower than a staffing assessment done by the County Technical Assistance Service, which called for 23 additional positions.

The budget takes 2 cents out of the rural debt service fund and adds it to the urban services fund to hire some county firefighters.

Property owners in Kingston, Oliver Springs and Rockwood pay into the rural debt service fund, but not the urban services fund, so their property tax-rate will only increase 7 cents.

The commissioners also voted to borrow close to $1.8 million.

The money will go toward capital accounts in the general fund, as well as vehicle and school bus purchases.

The county’s wastewater plant is supposed to receive $300,000 of the borrowed money for capital improvements and equipment repairs.