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Surprise — county passes fuzzy budget

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By Damon Lawrence

Roane County Commission passed a $129 million budget resolution Monday night with no debate.

That came as a shock to some of the commissioners who voted to do so.

“I guess I went to sleep at the wheel, but that’s certainly not what I had in mind,” Commissioner Ron Berry said.

Commissioners met in the special-called meeting to adopt the budget.

They had a lengthy discussion about a budget amendment to reduce the salaries of emergency management director Howie Rose and assistant director Scott Stout.

The amendment passed 8-7.

Afterward, Commissioner Bobby Collier called for the question.

“All right,” Commission Chairman James Brummett said. “Call for the question, which means we end debate and vote.”

“I think you have to vote on the question first,” County Attorney Tom McFarland said. “If the question passes, then you vote on the resolution.”

The vote to call for the question passed 15-0.

“Now we’ll vote on the resolution itself,” Brummett said. “Since this is a budget resolution I’d also like to have a roll call.”

That vote was also 15-0.

Some commissioners later expressed dismay when they realized what they had done.        

“I was not voting to call for the question and end debate,” Commissioner Nick Forrester said. “I was calling the question for the budget amendment.”

Brummett said it was clear to him that the commission was voting on the budget resolution.

“I went and verified with the clerk what we were doing,” he said. “She said I did it exactly right. I’m sorry there’s a misunderstanding.”

The commission recessed the special-called meeting until Tuesday, when they planned to adopt the certified tax rate.

County Executive Ron Woody said the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office gave the county its certified tax rate on Monday.

“As we started working through the certified tax rate, however, we discovered some, it appears some errors in calculations,” Woody told commissioners. “We do not want to submit a tax rate before you all that taxes our citizens too much, nor does not put enough money in the county budget to support our services.”      

According to the calculation forms, the common rate dropped from $2.72 to $2.20.

However, the county has other tax rates for various funds, such as education debt, rural debt service, sanitation service and urban services.

The urban services category is funded through revenue raised by 5 cents of the property tax rate.   

“Their calculation reflected that the 5 cents would go down to about a half of one penny and it would generate $48,000,” Woody said. “We said, ‘Hey, if you set the tax rate that low, we have to shut the fund down because there’s no money there.’”

Woody said county officials had lengthy phone conversations with the state about the calculations prior to the meeting.   

“After we discussed it with them, they did recognize that they had a problem on their end,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”

The issue might not be resolved by Tuesday.

“We are rechecking our calculations, but don’t know yet whether there was an error,” comptroller spokesman Blake Fontenay said in an e-mail. “We hope to know more by the end of this week or early next week.”

The state also supplied the county with the certified tax rates for Harriman, Kingston and Rockwood.

According to the calculations, Harriman’s dropped from $1.47 to $1.19. Kingston’s dropped from $1.35 to $1.08.

Rockwood’s went from 85 cents to 75 cents.  

Woody said he wasn’t sure if the rates for the cities were correct.

In other business, the commission chose Marjorie Earick to fill the vacancy on the Roane County Board of Education.