Citizens raised concerns over spending and the impact of potential tax increase during last Thursday’s open house forum.
The Feb. 6 event was the first of three open house forums to discuss the possibility of Trousdale County continuing its wheel tax after 2022 and/or raising the local option sales tax by a half-cent.
Trousdale County’s wheel tax expires in May 2022 when the high school is paid off and commissioners have talked about putting a successor wheel tax in its place.
“The discussion on the wheel tax goes back to the 2018-19 budget… and earlier this year the sales tax was brought up for discussion,” said County Mayor Stephen Chambers.
The wheel tax brought in $356,832 during the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to figures from the mayor’s office. A half-cent sales tax increase, which would go from 2.25 percent to 2.75, would have raised just over $319,000, according to estimates.
A sales tax increase would have to be passed by referendum. A wheel tax could be voted in by the County Commission or put to the voters by referendum.
Some in the audience were categorically opposed to either option.
“We the people do not and can not afford any newer or higher taxes,” said Brian Crook. “You would think we would see results from the taxes we have paid over the years.”
Crook said he supported helping local education and raises for county employees, but said he felt the tax proposals would be “gift wrapped” for other purposes.
“We are not willing to give our local government an open checkbook to spend our tax dollars on whatever they see fit,” Crook said. “Our government will probably say it’s in the name of progress… but we the people say show us the results.”
“We already have a problem with people shopping locally because the prices are higher here than they are in Lebanon or Gallatin or Lafayette,” added Stephanie Urick. “If this increases, it’s just going to increase our costs.”
Urick also questioned the impact of the prison on the county’s budget, asking about the roughly $1.5 million CoreCivic pays annually in property tax.
“You’re not gaining any confidence with the people of this county when you’re trying to find a way to extend this wheel tax,” she added.
Others spoke in favor of both ideas, saying that while they didn’t want to pay more taxes, they recognized a requirement for more revenue to meet the county’s needs.
“There was never a tax I liked in the first 60 years of my life,” said Carroll Carman, who served as county mayor from 2014-18. “I deem the wheel tax as exceedingly fair for the county…”
“We have been penny pinchers in this county forever… We need to see ways to spread the tax burden fairly; I think these are reasonable ways.”
“Every year, everything goes up 2 percent on average,” said Bryan King. “This is something we cannot fix, we cannot change… If we cut off these initial revenue streams, at some point we ‘re going to come to a precipice where we don’t have a choice but to make a dramatic and painful tax increase.”
“Don’t we deserve the basic human services to protect our homes, our families, our investments?”
Commissioner Jerry Ford noted that the wheel tax proposal was not an additional tax, but would replace the current wheel tax when it expires.
“That school was built and paid by everybody in Trousdale County,” Ford said of the high school funded by the current wheel tax.
Ford also spoke on the potential need for a new jail because of overcrowding, something that has been previously discussed. Mayor Chambers estimated building a new facility could cost as much as $15 million.
“In the near future, Trousdale County’s going to have to do something about the jail,” Ford said. “It’s not just Trousdale; Macon and Smith are fixing to expand their jails.”
Ford also promoted paying off county debt, saying it would save the county in interest costs.
Other needs in the county that were brought up included fire protection on the western end of the county, where much of the population growth is, replacing education funding lost from the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP), an added bus route and work on the football field.
“We’ve worked for years to have one of the top school districts in Tennessee,” said Director of Schools Clint Satterfield. “We’ve done that with long, hard work, by being frugal.”
“If you want to make your county and community stronger, you do it with good schools and a low crime rate,” he added. “It makes a difference for our kids and it’s worth defending.”
Satterfield noted that finding bus drivers and retaining teachers remains a problem, and that the school system’s costs rise as enrollment numbers rise.
Commission Chairman Dwight Jewell spoke in favor of raising the sales tax, saying, “To me that seems a fairer way to get more revenues into the county than having to raise property taxes. We all agree our property owners are overburdened.”
Some commissioners noted that Smith County had to raise property taxes by 59 cents last year and said they would rather put smaller increases in other taxes in place rather than be forced to hike property tax.
“We’re trying to get your input; maybe you’ve got an idea we haven’t thought of,” Jewell added. “We’re trying to hold taxes down and use all the money wisely.”
The second of the three open house forums will be held on Thursday, March 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the courthouse. Video of Thursday’s forum is also available via the county’s Facebook page.
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]