Despite temperatures in the low-90’s, nearly two dozen county residents gathered outside the Carter County Courthouse Monday afternoon in advance of a public hearing on the county commission’s proposed budget and property tax increase for fiscal year 2013. The tax protest, which was sponsored by members of the Carter County Citizens in Action organization, featured signs and posters denoting the group’s disapproval of the tax hike.
Citizens in Action President Scott Snell told the Elizabethton STAR that the gathering outside the front of the county courthouse was part of the group’s ongoing bid to raise awareness regarding the local government’s “inability to be financially responsible and to provide services in an efficient manner. We’re here to display our opposition to a budget proposal that is not fair to the taxpayers of Carter County.”
Snell said he agrees with Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey’s proposal calling for a one percent, across-the-board budget reduction to every county office. He noted if the county officeholders and department heads would cut their budget per the mayor’s suggestion, the six-cent property tax increase would be unnecessary.
In regards to the six-cent property tax increase, Snell said members of Citizens in Action question the financial responsibility of giving additional funding to Carter County Schools. The tax hike, which includes an increase of three cents for the school system, is far less than the board of education’s request of 7.8 cents. Following three rounds of cuts totaling $1.7 million, the school board has asked the county commission for an additional $336,702 in new funding for 2013.
Snell noted, “The thing we are questioning is the lack of oversight for the school system. When you look at the fact our school system is near the bottom of the state for test scores and our schools are far above the state’s Basic Education Program requirements for the number of teachers, we could save a great deal of money for our taxpayers.
Last month, the budget committee approved a certified property tax rate of $2.21 per $100 of assessed value for the upcoming year. In August of 2011, the county commission set the property tax rate at an amount of $2.152 per $100.
Many motorists traveling by the courthouse Monday afternoon greeted the protestors by honking their car horns, along with other cheers of support. Over the last few weeks, CIA members have attended local gatherings, such as the Saturday Night Cruise-In in Downtown Elizabethton, to foster support for their cause.
Snell said Citizens in Action is also planning to conduct a follow-up tax protest prior to the July 16 gathering of the Carter County Commission. A final vote to approve the FY 2013 budget is expected to take place at that meeting.