The Rutherford County Commission last Wednesday voted 14-6-1 to raise the property tax rate by 12 cents during a meeting that some commissioners say left them confused and voting the wrong way.
The 5.7 percent increase will raise the tax rate from $2.0994 per $100 assessed value to $2.2194 per $100 assessed value.
For a house valued at $200,000, multiply that by 25 percent, which would be $50,000. Multiply that amount by 2.2194 for a total of $110,970. Divide that total by 100 for the new tax bill of $1,109.70.
The county’s increase follows a City of Murfreesboro property tax hike of 34 cents per $100 assessed value, or 35.8 percent.
The final tax vote was cast after two amendments were offered.
The first amendment was offered by Jeff Phillips, who succeeded in amending the Budget Committee’s recommendation for no tax increase. His amendment was to instead raise the rate by 12 cents. His amendment, which passed 12-9, set the tax rate at $2.2194 cents. He further specified his amendment would allocate 5 cents to the county general fund; 4.2 cents to the general purpose schools fund; and 2.8 cents to the debt service, according to the commission’s voting records.
Voting for Phillips’ amendment, which was the first vote on raising the property tax rate, were: David Gammon; Robert Peay Jr.; Carol Cook; Joe Frank Jernigan; Mike Kusch; Pettus Read; Joe Gourley; Wayne Blair; Paul Johnson; Virgil Gammon; Jeff Phillips; and Steve Ervin, according to voting documents.
Voting against Phillips’ amendment were: Steve Pearcy; Michael Wrather; Rhonda Allen; Robert Stevens; Craig Harris; Phil Dodd; Allen McAdoo; Trey Gooch; and Chantho Sourinho.
Another amendment, by Allen to allocate the money in a slightly different way, failed 8-13.
Final tax vote
The final tax levy passed by 14-6-1.
Voting for the final tax levy, as amended, according to the voting records, were: David Gammon; Robert Peay Jr.; Carol Cook; Joe Frank Jernigan; Mike Kusch; Pettus Read; Joe Gourley; Wayne Blair; Rhonda Allen; Craig Harris; Phil Dodd; Jeff Phillips; Steve Ervin; and Chantho Sourinho.
Voting against the final tax levy, as amended, according to the voting records, were: Steve Pearcy; Robert Stevens; Paul Johnson; Virgil Gammon; Allen McAdoo; and Trey Gooch. Michael Wrather abstained.
However, Johnson and Gammon later announced from the floor that they had meant to vote in favor of the tax increase.
Also, Harris contacted the Murfreesboro Post later to say he had voted against the tax increase. The Murfreesboro Post contacted the Rutherford County Clerk’s Office for the vote totals. Voting records show Harris voted in favor of the final levy and voted against the two amendments, including the amendment to go from no tax increase to a 12-cent increase.
The commissioners said they made a mistake in the confusion of all the amendments. In addition to the amendments to the tax rate, there was an amendment to the budget which placed a $7,500 cap on raises for most personnel earning over $85,000. IT and engineering personnel were excluded from the cap.
“We got confused,” Harris said, and insisted he meant to vote against the tax increase. He said he thought he was voting on the cap.
Rick Spence of the clerk’s office said no one requested the chairman to make any changes to their votes once the voting was over. Also, during voting, commissioners are reminded they have an opportunity to change their votes before they are finalized.
Harris said he believes the commission will amend the vote totals as an amendment to the minutes during the next meeting.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, Susan Allen of the Rutherford Neighborhood Alliance said the county remains “between a rock and a hard place” with the current budget. She added that as more people move to the county, money needs to be added to fund their needs.
County Mayor Bill Ketron said that “We have not become one of the fastest growing counties in the country by accident.”
Ketron also said he believes the county still has issues that need to be addressed. These issues, in his opinion, could be addressed by the upcoming budget.
Multiple commissioners then addressed what they said were some of those issues. One of the biggest issues addressed was an increase in job openings in the county because of low pay.
According to Harris, “right now we have 21 job openings in Rutherford County. We can’t get them filled. I have been no-taxes from day one,” Harris said. “But how can we ask the deputies to protect us when they can’t even live here (because of low salary).”
Johnson discussed a need for the property tax increase because of projects that have been voted on and need funding, including a new radio communications system and new schools.
“You’re talking $64 million dollars in debt,” Johnson said.
Not all commissioners wanted the tax that passed as written. Phillips said that he felt amending the tax increase would be a better option.
Not everyone in the commission was in favor of the tax, regardless of how it was written, including Gooch and Pearcy.
According to Gooch, a zero percent tax increase would still fund schools, garbage trucks, help aggressively pay off debts, and include raises for county employees.
Pearcy echoed this statement, and added that if the commission decided against a tax increase, it could give them an incentive to find other alternatives.
Phillips said that although Gooch and Pearcy were not wrong, it wasn’t the right thing to do.
Peay, head of the Budget and Finance Committee, said that although he doesn’t want to raise taxes, he felt like now was the time to do it.
Paying for debt
Peay said the schools are asking for $90 million a year for the next five years.
“If I’m gonna create this debt, I’m gonna pay for it,” Peay said. “If you don’t, it’s gonna end up costing more.”
Read compared the growing Rutherford County to Fentress County, where he said people are leaving because of a lack of jobs.
“Fentress County would love to have our problem of growth,” Read said. “Sometimes, you just need to be thankful for the problems that you have.”
The next county commission meeting is Aug. 6.