In a contentious meeting, Metro Council compromises and passes budget first reading

The Metro Budget Committee met last Thursday to hammer out the final details of the 2021-22 budget. Over the past several months, the committee met eight times to discuss the budget. Last Thursday’s meeting was the first to have an audience. (Lynchburg Times Photo).

LOCAL NEWS — There were two distinct camps at Monday night’s special session Metro Budget meeting: those who thought Metro Moore County had an “out of control” spending problem and those who thought the budget felt “as lean as it could be” to maintain existing citizen services.

In the end, Metro Council member Shane Taylor suggested a compromise — a tax rate of 2.40 for fiscal year 2021-22. Wayne Hawkins seconded. During the roll call vote, the compromise passed by a vote of 12-2 with Tommy Brown and Keith Moses voting against.

Interestingly, Metro Budget Committee member Gordon Millsaps was absent from the meeting after voting to present the budget to the council in last Thursday’s Metro Budget Committee meeting.

A contentious public meeting

The two plus hours long meeting felt contentious at times. During one exchange, Bradley Dye attempted to address Peggy Blackburn’s concerns about the property tax increase on low income elderly.

“I spoke to a guy today who told me that his grandma, who is on a fixed income of $20,000, doesn’t pay property tax,” he said.

“That’s not true,” Blackburn countered.

“Then you are telling me this gentleman lied to me?” Dye asked. “I don’t think this gentleman would lie to me.”

“I respect you and I’m sorry that the guy told you that but it doesn’t work that way in Moore County,” Blackburn responded.

It does work that way in Moore County. The State Comptroller’s office administers the Tennessee Property Tax Relief Program for both low income elderly and disabled homeowners as well as disabled veterans and their surviving spouses. According to the state’s website, amounts vary based on a citizen’s assessment and Metro’s tax rate. Applications are available in the Metro Trustee’s office. To learn more about the program, click here.

According to the Metro Budget Committee, at their proposed rate of 2.43, a local homeowner living in a $100,000 or less home would pay less than $10 additional dollars a month under the new rate. For example a property valued at $95,700 would see their yearly tax increased by $99.17 or $8.26 a month.

New budget will likely eat into fund balance

The compromise means that the approximate $100,000 deficit created by the compromise will likely come out of the fund balance — or monies left over from the previous budget. The state requires Metro to maintain five percent of expenditures in the fund balance and according to Mayor Lewis the new rate of 2.40 meets that test.

In the May regular session meeting, Metro Council member Tommy Brown specifically stated that he did not think the Council should use the fund balance to balance the budget. “Using fund balance is dumb,” he told the Council then.

At one point, Blackburn argued that “Metro is not in this to make a profit.” Budget Committee member John Taylor answered her concern.

“The worksheet the Budget Committee showed you, shows there’s no profit. That’s a tool we use to determine where we’re going to end up next year without cutting public safety or other programs.”

“Just cut them all,” Blackburn retorted with a laugh.

“I don’t find that funny at all,” Shane Taylor said.

“We could cut the library out, I guess,” Blackburn said.

That remark got met with a quick rebuttal from Moore County Public Library employee Cheryl Eason who happened to be in the audience. She stood up to give an impassioned speech about the hundreds of citizens, mostly children, the library serves each year.

“Before you throw out, ‘let’s cut the library,” let’s come visit the library please,” she told Blackburn.

At the vote, Budget Committee member Gerald Burnett told his fellow members his reasons for voting yes.

“I don’t want to pay more taxes either. I’ll just tell you that up front,” he said. “I’ve got no kids in school. There’s nothing in this for me. I’ve got no ulterior motives. I just believe that the Ambulance Service and other public services that we provide are as lean as they can be already. We need to keep those going for some of the people you’ve mentioned like the elderly and those in wheelchairs. There were 46 times this past year that if they had called, they would not have gotten help. That’s my point. That’s the reason I support a tax increase because I think it helps the people in our community.”

The reduced tax rate means the budget will contain around a $100,000 less revenue. After the budget special session, the Budget Committee decide to spread that reduced funding across three budgets: debt services, county general, and capital projects.

The 2021-22 Metro Budget requires two more separate readings before it’s sent to the state for approval. By law, those readings must take place before the end of the fiscal year or June 30. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}