published Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Property tax rate hot topic in Marion County

JASPER, Tenn. — The push to reduce Marion County's property tax rate for the 2014-15 fiscal year has begun.

At last week's Marion County Commission meeting, Commissioner Jodi Rollins made a motion to decrease the county's tax rate by 15 cents.

Marion's tax rate has been a hot topic since the board voted to raise it 50 cents in August 2011 to overcome a $1.5 million budget shortfall and avoid a county government shutdown.

The tax rate has remained at $2.1686 per $100 ever since.

"I amen what [Rollins] said," Commissioner Tommy Thompson said. "But I would recommend that it [the decrease] be 20 cents."

Thompson has voted against the current tax rate every year since the 2011 increase, citing the county's robust fund balance and the "hard times" property owners are having coming up with the extra money.

Discussions about the property tax rate have to be a part of the budgeting process, Commission Chairman Les Price said, and they should be debated, at least initially, in the board's Finance Committee meetings.

"I think that's where it needs to be brought up," he said.

County Attorney Billy Gouger agreed that the tax rate has to be set as part of the budget-making process.

"You can't increase or decrease your tax rate [at any time]," he said. "Not to be disrespectful to Mr. Rollins, but the appropriate time for such a motion would be through the 2014-15 budget-making process."

Even after Gouger's explanation, Commissioner Ralph Pickett motioned to accept Thompson's suggestion of a 20 cent reduction.

"Our attorney just said that wasn't the way this was done," Price said. "So, I don't see us suspending those rules."

"That would actually be state law," Gouger said. "The adoption of your budget and the setting of your tax rate is done through the actual budget resolution at the appropriate time."

Commissioner Gene Hargis asked Commissioner Don Adkins, chairman of the Finance Committee, to notify all of the board members when the property tax rate would be on the committee's agenda.

Hargis is not a member of the committee, but he said he wants to be at the meetings to "see what's going on."

"I think [the property tax rate] is something that's been on all of our minds," he said. "We all need to see what we can afford to cut, and I would like to be a part of that."

Budget issues, like the county's property tax rate, typically are deliberated in the Finance Committee, officials said.

That panel will bring a recommendation back to the entire board for consideration, and those discussions are expected to begin this month.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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