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AC Commission backs off pay raise tax increase

The fate of long-awaited pay raises for county employees and educators as well as new revenue for all three of the school systems operating within Anderson County is up in the air after the County Commission rejected a property tax increase during a special called meeting on Thursday night. A 10-cent tax increase was approved in a vote of 9 to 5 with abstention last week but the Commission last night failed to adopt that rate. The measure failed in an 8-5 vote with eight commissioners voting for it, but the proposal needed nine votes to pass. Voting for the 10-cent property tax increase were Commissioners Alderson, Creasey, Fritts, McKamey, Mead, Meredith, Warfield and White with Commissioners Emert, Hitchcock, Isbel, Scott and Wandell voting against it. Three commissioners, including two who voted for the increase last week were absent, and they were Commissioners Bates, Biloski and Iwanski. The increase would have provided funding for 2% pay raises for employees of the school system as well as county general fund employees and provided new revenue to the school systems in Oak Ridge and Clinton. Unless nine commissioners call for another special meeting, the budget will likely not be discussed again until the Commission’s regular August meeting. The budget has already been the subject of three special sessions and two regular meetings. Further discussion will be necessary because the Commission has not passed resolutions to adopt the new tax rate or appropriate funds. The new fiscal year began on July 1st and the county is currently operating under a continuing appropriation resolution that keeps funding levels at their current levels. The county can spend up to 25% of last year’s budget before a new budget is approved. Commissioners did vote 10-3 to accept the new tax-neutral property tax rate recommended by state officials that will bring in the same amount of revenue after the recently-completed property value reappraisals as it did before. The rate went up as property values went down and is $2.6903 per $100 of assessed value in Norris, Oliver Springs, Rocky Top and rural Anderson County; $2.6589 in Clinton and $2.4945 in Oak Ridge. The rates are different based upon varying school debt loads. The increase rejected last night would have added 10 cents on to those new numbers. Commissioners who advocated for the increase said that it has been a long time since the county “stepped up” for school operations and that they wanted to make the school system more than just a training ground for nearby school systems that pay more. Commissioner Steve Mead said that the Commission should “make good on [its] promises” to fund the pay raises, adding that Anderson County is becoming a “retirement community” that does not seem to value its school system. Opponents said that while they support pay raises for all of the people employed by the county, they do not want to raise taxes, instead recommending making further cuts to the budget as presented. County Mayor Terry Frank said that cuts to the general fund budget are complicated by maintenance of effort laws that mandate funding cannot be cut for schools, the Sheriff’s Department, the Highway Department and libraries and that any cuts made to fee offices would be deep and would basically require the budget process to start all over again. Some commissioners brought up the possibility of using one-time money from the undesignated fund balance to fund the raises but that met with little support and County Law Director Jay Yeager cautioned commissioners against doing that. Now, with the resignation of Commissioner Robin Biloski, who is moving to Florida, becoming effective on Monday August 3rd, only eight votes would be needed to constitute a majority. Both Biloski and fellow Oak Ridge Commissioner Myron Iwanski, both of whom supported the tax increase, were absent Thursday, as we pointed out earlier. We will continue to follow the budget process as it drags on into August.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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