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Tax increase battle still not settled
Commissioner Terry Bell insisted a tax increase is not necessary.

Warren County commissioners are scheduled to decide Aug. 21 at 6:30 p.m. if a property tax increase is needed, or if the county can make it 15 years without one.
The debate is ongoing.
During Tuesday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Commissioner Terry Bell insisted a tax increase is not necessary and Commissioner Michael Martin maintained it is.
“Some of you have been complaining that we don’t have any revenue,” said Bell. “It’s this committee’s job to control the revenue. I’ve made a sheet for you. If we need to do something else with the revenue, this is the money you’ve appropriated. You’ve appropriated about $1.7 million more than you did last year.”
Bell said he believes the county has enough money to make ends meet without a tax increase. Commissioner Michael Martin disagrees.
“We don’t have the money for the school system,” said Martin. “They need buildings. We need buildings. We need a roof on the courthouse. We need a roof here.”
Bell replied, “Do you want to take the employee raises out?”
“No, we can raise taxes,” said Martin. “It would be better. Everybody I’ve talked to says we need a tax hike because we ain’t had one. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had one tax hike and I’ve been here almost 24 years.”
Bell replied, “So, $1.7 million isn’t enough for you?”
“You don’t have $1.7, Terry,” said Martin.
Bell replied, “Then how did we spent it then?”
“You don’t have the money to do what we’ve got to do,” said Martin.
Bell replied, “Then why are we spending $1.7 million more this year than we did last year?”
“Terry, we need money,” said Martin.
Bell replied, “The schools got $2 million more than they got last year and they hollered that it wasn’t enough. Everybody told them that they wouldn’t raise taxes for them. Now, we come along and we’re spending $1.7 million more and you’re hollering that it isn’t enough. How much is enough?”
“It’s not enough to do projects,” said Martin.
According to the information presented by Bell, the county has included the following recurring expenses in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2017-18:
• $500,000 for employee raises
• $10,000 for an agriculture department employee
• $5,000 additional for volunteer fire departments
• $180,000 for four guards at the jail
• $7,500 for youth services counseling
• $28,000 for a new youth services employee
• $25,000 in additional building maintenance
The following one-time expenses were also included:
• $160,000 for a sanitation truck
• $229,000 for a land purchase
• $250,000 for ADA compliance
• $350,000 for jail expansion architect
Volunteer Fire Departments actually received an increase of $21,000. However, other donations were cut to make up the majority of that increase, said Bell, so he only included $5,000 as a recurring cost.
“If we’ve done something wrong or you’re not happy with it, we need to go back and rework it,” said Bell. “Those are your expenditures, to the best of my memory, which we increased in the budget.”
The expenses total $755,500 and are considered recurring because they are permanent additions into future budgets. One-time expenses will not be. The one-time expenses total $989,000.
“That $989,000 should return to our budget next year in 2018-19,” said Bell. “You’ll have nearly $1 million to go for the projects that you’re working on. So, to go out and tell the public we don’t have no money, we have the money. We may be doing the wrong thing with it.”
Bell pointed out the county has $8 million in its debt service fund and a projected ending fund balance of $1.5 million for 2017-18.
The state requires the county to maintain a balance of $1.4 million in the General Fund to cover one month of expenses, while the debt service fund covers the county’s debt payments during the fiscal year.
According to County Executive Herschel Wells during a previous meeting, the county’s debt service should be $8.4 million and any money not used in the budget over the next year will be designed toward correcting that shortfall first.
“On these one-time expenses of $989,000 that you say we’ll get back next year, how do you know another truck won’t go down?” asked Commissioner Carlene Brown.
Brown’s question was not answered and she added, “What about the school projects?”
Four projects are being considered by Warren County Schools and the estimates total $12 million: Bobby Ray $3.2 million, West Elementary $1.8 million, Eastside $2.3 million, and WCMS $4.5 million.
Of the four, the school system would like to give priority to Bobby Ray and West Elementary at $5 million.
Bell says the estimated cost for those two schools keeps going up.
“That depends on what they are going to do,” said Bell. “After the last report I had, they went from $5 million to $6 million. The figure just keeps climbing and I suspect when they go to the architect, it will be $7 or $8 million.”
Martin says the county cannot borrow any more money to do those projects.
“The bondsman said he’s not writing any more bonds until we raise taxes,” said Martin. “You heard the same thing I heard, Terry. Didn’t you? He sat there in a meeting and said he can’t do another bond until we raise taxes.”
Bell replied, “I bet he can.”
“I bet he can’t or it will be with high interest,” said Martin.
Bell replied, “It won’t be high interest. Not at all.”
The discussion ended without resolution.
Bell expressed his intention to present the information before the full Warren County Commission on Aug. 21.