Cannon County Commission passed appropriations for the new fiscal year and set a $2.68 tax rate for for 2015-16 during a special meeting Monday (Aug. 31).
The appropriations resolution passed 6 to 4. Voting in favor of the resolution were Commissioners Mark Barker, Todd Hollandsworth, James Holloway,Glenn Steakley, Richie Hunter and Adam Melton.
Voting against the measure were Commissioners Russell Reed, Karen Ashford, Jim Bush and Brent Bush.
The tax rate was approved by an identical 6 to 4 vote. Commissioner Barker moved for acceptance. His motion was seconded by Adam Melton.
"This is not a perfect budget. Far from it. However, it is a bit different from budgets passed in recent years. This proposed budget not only includes spending cuts as requested by the citizens, but for the first time in recent history, your county will have a balanced budget," said Glenn Steakley, a member of the commission's budget committee.
Steakley explained the need for a tax increase.
"While a member of the Cannon County Audit Committee, I began observing the financial woes of our county beginning in 2011. I watched as your county's General Fund was drained from $1.34 million in 2009 to a mere $106,000 at the end of the 2014/15 fiscal year, ending on June 30th," Steakley said.
That represented a 90 + % reduction in the General Fund, he explained.
"The hole that has been dug is deep. But, all is not lost. This term has been quite challenging for this commission. I am confident that, with this new group of commissioners, we can get our financial deficiencies back on track," Steakley said.
"This proposed budget is the result of searching every avenue of cost savings and revenue distribution. I am of the belief that property tax is the most unfair tax that can be levied on a citizen," he continued.
The Budget Committee apparently felt the same and they agreed to first seek revenues from other areas before supplementing with a property tax hike, he said.
This year's budget hearings were more complicated due to restrictions placed on Cannon and other counties by the State of Tennessee Comptroller's office.
"Among those requirements are: Number 1, pass a balanced budget; Number 2, plan to build a $10-million fund balance; Three, eliminate the possibility of borrowing from Debt Service or any other local account to fund county operating cost; Four, prepare a report detailing what the county is going to do to regain control of our finances; and Five, submit that plan to them for approval" Steakley said.
The commissioner called the state's requirements "quite daunting."
"This is a government for the people. This is the people's government. The motion of a 15 cent tax revenue increase includes revenue from wheel tax, sales tax and property tax," he continued.
Steakley said the wheel tax and the sales tax increases will probably be placed on an upcoming referendum.
"I want to tell you that there are citizens that will be campaigning against the wheel and sales taxes. That is their right by our constitution.
"There are, also, people that will be campaigning for the wheel and sales taxes. What I would ask is for all citizens to
go home, discuss with your family, friends and neighbors, and make a decision as to what you feel is best for you and your family. Then, get involved and work hard for what you believe." Steakley said.
"This is not only your right as a citizen, it is also your duty to determine how the budget will be funded. Please know that if the wheel and sales tax do not pass the referendum, the full impact will fall on the property owners. How this tax increase will be distributed is in your hands," he said.
Commissioner Jim Bush criticized the proposal. "We said a 2.7 percent cut across the board." The cuts reflected in the Budget Committee's proposal dealt only with the county's General Budget.
"We were talking about the General Budget," said Budget Chairman Mark Barker. "Solid Waste and the Ambulance Service had already been cut."
"All these expeditures, Jim, you knew we were talking about County General the last three meetings" (of the Budget Committee), Barker said.
Refering to the budget document, Bush said, "There's not anything in here that can't be cut."
Citizen Randall Davis said, "I hear that we haven't done all we can do. There's some more meat that can be cut."
Before the Commission votes on the budget, Davis said, other cuts should be considered. "We have a spending problem in this county."
"You can't keep going to the well," said citizen Paul Alexander.
Many of the questions revolved around plans to expand the county's fund balances said Commissioner Barker.
These fund balances are intended to cover the county's cost of doing business during the first three months of the budget year.
"The state requires you to have a fund balance or they will reject it," Barker explained.
This year, marks the first time in decades all 95 Tennessee counties have adopted their annual budget resolutions by Aug. 31. This means all Tennessee counties are now operating under a locally-adopted budget for the current fiscal year.
In the past, it was not uncommon for some Tennessee counties to operate without a current budget into October.
"This achievement is a result of the tremendous effort by county executives, mayors, commissioners, and school board members to better manage their counties by adopting a budget in a timely manner," said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. "This is a significant step toward making government work better for all Tennesseans."