Metro Compromise: Budget passes second reading at $2.29 tax rate

LOCAL NEWS — Though many council members seem staunchly divided into two camps – those who believe Metro has a revenue problem and those who believe there is a spending problem – they managed to compromise on Monday and pass the second reading of the Metro Budget.

It is compromise several months in the making. In the May meeting, the Metro Budget Committee proposed a rate of $2.43 after a lengthy presentation. That motion failed by a vote of 5-8. Peggy Sue Blackburn, Shane Taylor, Tommy Brown, Sunny Rae Moorehead, and Wayne Hawkins voted against the motion. Houston Lindsey, John Taylor, Meghan Bailey, Gordon Millsaps, Denning Harder, Amy Cashion, Gerald Burnett, and Arvis Bobo voted yes. Keith Moses abstained and Bradley Dye was absent.

Then on June 14, the Mayor called a special session meeting to revisit the budget issue. Again, the Metro Budget Committee asked for a tax levy of $2.43. Shane Taylor countered and made a motion to drop the rate to $2.40. Wayne Hawkins seconded the motion and the new rate passed by a 12-2 margin. {Click here for our full coverage of that meeting.}

Then a week later, the Metro Council met again in regular session. This time, the same $2.40 tax rate that passed a week earlier failed by a vote of 7-5 meaning Metro Moore County would end it’s fiscal year without a new budget. {Click here for our full coverage of that meeting.}

Metro Budget Committee proposes $2.295 on Monday

On Monday, the members of the Budget Committee reduced their proposed tax rate from the previous $2.43 to $2.295. According to Mayor Lewis, they reduced the rate after actuals for 2020-21 created a higher than anticipated fund balance. In the budget presented last night the fund balance line reflected $1,327,904. The previous fund balance estimate was $796,264.

They also followed a CTAS recommendation to expand the value of the penny one decimal point, which created a little wiggle room.

“CTAS recommend the penny value being $31,730 instead of the $31,700,” Mayor Lewis explained after the July 19 meeting. “The total amount of property tax revenues were down from what we projected.  Other revenues were up, and we adjusted those accordingly.”

Mayor Lewis stated the Budget Committee also made some adjustments to expenses for reduced insurance premiums and reduced contracts for fiscal 2021-22 rather than cutting essential line items like funding for increased EMS staff, a program to reduce vehicle maintenance, and adding part time hours to several Metro offices. This is a line item increase and not an increase in personnel.

Brown counters with certified rate

After a discussion about the new proposed rate of $2.295, Tommy Brown countered with the original certified rate of $2.16. His motion was seconded by Blackburn.

Brown said he re-introduced the certified tax rate because of impending inflation and with those homeowners who live on a fixed income in mind.

Metro Budget Committee member Gerald Burnett stated that the $2.16 did not consider property tax delinquencies or consider the state mandated raises for government employees.

“What do you plan to take away?” Burnett asked.

At the roll call vote, Blackburn, Brown, and Moses voted in favor of the $2.16 rate and Shane Taylor, Bailey, Bobo, Dye, Harder, Burnett, Cashion, John Taylor, Moorehead, Lindsey, and Millsaps voted against the $2.16 rate. The motion failed.

After the meeting, The Times asked Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis if Brown’s $2.16 rate would have passed the fund balance test or the various maintenance of efforts tests for the school system and public library budgets.

“No, it would not have passed any of those tests, even at a $2.21 rate,” Mayor Lewis explained. “The Metro Charter also contains several additional checks and balance that would not have been met like the 75 percent rule for the County General budget and the rules relating to debt services.”

In addition to Metro’s checks and balances, Mayor Lewis stated that any final budget will also go a cash flow analysis by CTAS to make sure it’s sustainable.

Since $2.16 failed, Council votes again on $2.295 rate

Based on procedure, the Council then needed to vote again, this time on the originally proposed $2.295 rate.

This time Shane Taylor, Bailey, Bobo, Dye, Harder, Burnett, Cashion, John Taylor, Lindsey, and Millsaps voted in favor of the rate and Moses, Moorehead, Brown, and Blackburn voted against. The $2.295 rate passed 10-4.

Wayne Hawkins was absent from the meeting due to a family illness.

The Metro Council will meet in Special Session on Monday, August 2 to consider the third reading of the 2021-22 Metro Budget at the proposed $2.295 rate. There will be a Public Hearing at 6:15 p.m. to heat public comments for and against the new proposed rate. All Metro Council meetings are open to the general public.

Questions? Contact your district’s Metro Council member. A full list of contact information can be found at the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) website for Moore County. •

{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.}