By Bob Robinson
Carter County commissioners are facing a dilemma. They must decide Monday, July 16, whether or not to increase property taxes by six cents, from $2.1528 to $2.210 per $100 of property assessments on approximately 33,000 parcels of taxable property in Carter County. The 2011 estimated population of Carter County is 57,185, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The tax increase is designed to raise $17,515,492 over the next 12 months to operate county government in the next fiscal year. A portion will go to the City of Elizabethton for education based on attendance of county students in city schools.
It is not an easy job to balance one’s checkbook, as most Carter County taxpayers know. Both taxpayers and public officials are faced with the same issue of meeting basic necessities in the face of rising costs.
The Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission has held numerous meetings and a public hearing to explore options to reduce budget requests and consider the opinion of taxpayers.
Local sales tax revenue for both Carter County and the City of Elizabethton has increased in recent years. In November 2008, Carter County voters increased the local option sales tax rate from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent to benefit schools. The vote was 9,595 for and 6,393 against. The Carter County Commission earmarked revenue from the referendum for capital improvement projects for Carter County schools.
The new rate applies to all taxable sales of tangible personal property and taxable services made on or after Jan. 1, 2009, by sellers located in all areas of Carter County, Tennessee, including the cities of Elizabethton, Watauga, and Johnson City. The City of Elizabethton had previously increased the local sales tax rate to 2.75 percent effective Oct. 1, 2008. The corresponding local consumer use tax rate for persons in Carter County also increases to 2.75 percent. Source: http://state.tn.us/revenue/notices/ sales/sales08-23.pdf.
How much money has been raised by the increase in local option sales tax to benefit schools? According to Ingrid Deloach, Carter County director of finance, during fiscal year 2010-2011, Carter County collected $172,246 and the Schools $680,918. Through May 2012, Carter County collected $169,491 and the Schools $621,497 for fiscal year 2011-2012 (again only thru May as June’s numbers are not yet available). “We usually anticipate approximately $950,000 per year to come from the referendum,” Deloach said.
Therefore, all proceeds/collections from this referendum are designated for Educational Capital Improvements. Examples of this would be re-roofing of schools, window replacements in schools, and other major construction projects within the school system. “These funds cannot be nor have they been used to fund daily operational costs. They are specifically reserved for Educational Capital Improvements,” Deloach said.
In published newspaper reports on April 21, 2011, four elementary schools and two high schools in Carter County received capital improvement funds from the local option sales tax referendum. Among the projects approved by the Carter County Board of Education were renovation of restrooms at Happy Valley, Hunter, Keenburg and Little Milligan Elementary Schools and window renovations at Happy Valley and Hampton High Schools.
The total cost of the projects was $1,293,540. That includes $628,970 for replacing the windows at the high schools; $297,130 for the bathroom renovations at Happy Valley Elementary; $119,600 for the bathrooms at Little Milligan; $109,718 for the bathrooms at Hunter and $75,047 for the bathrooms at Keenburg. The architect fees for all projects totaled $63,075.
In April 2011, Kevin Ward, assistant director of schools at the time, said the expenditures left a balance in the sales tax referendum account of $106,460.
The bottom line, capital improvements and operational expenses are an ongoing process to serve the needs of students. Elected and appointed government officials, in addition to Carter County taxpayers, have a daunting task, “where never is heard a discouraging word,” while balancing their checkbook in these economic times.
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