The growth of spending in Trousdale County government has become an issue in the hotly contested mayoral race between Carroll Carman and Stephen Chambers.
The county has increased its spending over the last four years, as seen in the proposed budgets from 2014-15 vs. that of 2018-19.
The 2014-15 proposed county budget, which was the last under then-mayor Jakie West, estimated $4,490,575 in spending utilizing the county’s general fund and $816,685 by the Urban Services District.
Actual figures as reported by the annual audit from the state comptroller’s office for 2014-15 were $4,850,428 in general fund and $656,429 in Urban Services.
By comparison, the budget for 2018-19 passed by the County Commission in June calls for $5,963,453 in spending from the general fund and $1,248,486 by the general fund – increases of roughly $1.5 million and $430,000 respectively.
County tax revenues have also increased over that same four years. The 2014-15 budget projected revenues of $3,794,750 and $705,280 in the two funds. The 2018-19 budget has those numbers at $5,269,628 and $1,008,828 – increases of roughly $1.5 million and $300,000.
Carman noted the increase in spending under his administration but defended it, saying that increased revenue and the needs of the county justified added expenditures.
“There hasn’t been a direct impact on residential and commercial taxpayers,” the mayor said. “The uptick has been through receipts through the prison coming here. We’ve tried to use those.”
Chambers said that while the numbers were strong, he felt taxpayers were concerned about what the future holds for Trousdale County.
“People in the county, especially the seniors, are concerned their property taxes are going to go up,” Chambers told The Vidette. “My concern is right now, all of Middle Tennessee is in a boom. Booms are followed by busts and eventually, that’s going to stop.
“If you get ahead of yourself in your spending… the proposed (2018-19) budget had a deficit of $693,825. People are concerned that they’re seeing a lot of debt increase and they’re afraid their property taxes are going to raise.”
CoreCivic’s Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, which opened in 2016, receives a property tax bill of over $1.5 million annually. The company has twice taken advantage of the 2 percent discount for paying in October, lessening the amount by just over $30,000, but its impact on the county’s tax rolls remains a substantial one.
Carman noted that when he took office in 2014, there were county employees with five to 10 years of experience making under $10 per hour. The county has since instituted a minimum wage of $10 per hour for its employees and in the current budget provided $2,000 raises for full-time staff and $1,000 raises for part-timers.
Carman also talked on efforts to revitalize Hartsville itself over the last four years.
“If you drove through Hartsville, this town was going away,” he said. “We have been in decline in town for 30, 40 years… When the old tobacco warehouse fell to the ground and sat there for seven years, I could not believe leadership allowed that.”
He cited the community center and new justice center, the fire hall and administration building as improvements to downtown Hartsville.
Trousdale County’s general tax rate has dropped from $3.10 to $2.93 over the last four years and the urban tax rate has fallen from $1.11 to $1.08. However, Carman said cutting $1.5 million of property tax instead of utilizing those funds to help the county would be “a mistake.”
“We lowered taxes some, but we used those monies to correct a tremendous amount of stuff that had been left dormant for years,” Carman said. “I have tried to make good decisions for the community.”
“I think when we’re looking at our spending, we need to fund our core services: police, roads, those kinds of things,” Chambers said. “Any spending above that: is it something we should be doing and can we afford it?
“Even though we are experiencing tremendous growth, we still have huge amount of our revenue relying on residential taxes. We need to try to recruit businesses and support people in the community to start their own businesses.”
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or email@example.com.