Tennessee county drooling over higher property taxes hasn’t produced a balanced budget in 10 years

Tennessee county drooling over higher property taxes hasn’t produced a balanced budget in 10 years

While Wilson County officials plot to raise property taxes, one commissioner complains the county hasn’t produced a balanced budget in at least a decade, and it’s high time to rein in expenses.

As reported, county commissioners may vote Monday to raise property taxes an additional 44 cents for new schools, among other things.

Several commissioners told Tennessee Watchdog no cuts are planned to offset the large property tax increase, part of the fiscal 2016-17 budget.

Cuts are needed, Commissioner Frank Bush says.

Diane Weathers (photo courtesy of Wilson County's official website)

Diane Weathers (photo courtesy of Wilson County’s official website)

“I’ve been on the Board of County Commissioners for 10 years, and I make the argument every single year that instead of starting at a status quo budget, which is the same amount of money they were given last year, they ought to start with the money that they spent and justify what increases they need. But it’s never been done, and we have never published a balanced budget,” Bush said.

“When we publish a budget that says we will bring in $229 million in revenue and we will spend $246 million in revenue, I say, ‘Wait a minute. That’s insane. How can we publish that?’ We know it’s wrong going into it, and it doesn’t make any sense.”

Commissioner Diane Weathers, who said the county school system has many cost overruns, agrees cuts to the budget are needed.

But Commissioner Jeff Joines said the biggest share of the county budget pays for county employees. Joines and his colleagues are unwilling to cut expenses when so many new people are moving to the county.

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The county’s population is expected to double in the next 15 years, said Commissioner Terry Muncher.

But Bush said higher property taxes would hurt people on fixed incomes, if not the county economy.

County resident Bill Haupt said last month Wilson officials gave him the shaft when he complained they appraised his home too high. He said this week the proposed property tax increase would hurt small business owners.

Bill Haupt (photo courtesy of Facebook)

Bill Haupt (photo courtesy of Facebook)

“If the owner of a business owns his building or even rents the building from someone else, the rent will go up, and so will his pricing,” Haupt said.

Tennessee Watchdog asked Commissioner Sara Patton whether higher property taxes could hurt the economy.

“That is always a possibility, but the more you have to pay out that is the way life is,” Patton said.

Commissioner Gary Keith, meanwhile, said higher property taxes would have little effect.

Weathers suggested the county instead pay for new growth by raising impact fees on people who build new houses in the county. They currently pay $3,000 for every new house, Weathers said.

Bush said county officials could also raise the wheel tax, which is a vehicle registration fee.

But Haupt thinks everything will work out.

“If you have all these people moving in who are going to be paying property taxes, it’s got to pay for most or a good portion of this,” Haupt said.

“Don’t forget you have the retail sales tax and the beer tax. Those are all taxes they are going to collect. I can’t conceive of the majority of the growth not paying for itself.”

Patton, Joines and Keith, though, say the growth won’t pay for itself.

Commissioners will likely vote on the matter at a meeting scheduled for 7 Monday night. A public hearing, which will give taxpayers an opportunity to speak for or against the increase, is scheduled for 6.

The address is 228 East Main St. in Lebanon.

Thirteen or more of the county’s 25 commissioners must vote in favor of the increase for it to pass.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org 

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