County Commission Set To Adopt Budget & Tax Increase

September 25, 2006
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County Commission is expected to set the property tax rate and adopt a new budget for the 2006-2007 fiscal year tonight (Monday).

The new fiscal year officially started July 1st, but the county has delayed passage of a new budget, partly because of the sales tax referendum, which was put before the voters and was defeated in the August General Election.

The commission must pass a budget by October 1st, or risk losing state funds or having the state set a budget and tax rate for the county.

County Mayor Mike Foster says county government needs a tax increase to operate this year and had the sales tax referendum passed in August, the size of any proposed property tax increase would not be as large as it is now.

The Budget Committee has met several times over the summer trying to whittle down the size of the proposed tax increase and has finally settled on 39 cents, down four cents from the previous proposal of 43 cents.

Foster says the budget committee will request that the county commission adopt a property tax rate of $1.90, a 39 cent increase over last year.

Here's how the proposed tax rate would break down:

County General- 67 cents, a six cent increase
Schools- 73 cents, an eleven cent increase (plus $950,000 from the special school sinking/sales tax fund)
Debt Service- 29 cents, a nineteen cent increase (includes $771,000 to service the Northside School Debt and funds to service debt on the jail and landfill)
Highways- 3 cents (to recoup $216,000 in lost state funds and to purchase a loader at rock crusher)
Solid Waste- 18 cents

Even with some growth this year and a 39 cent tax increase, Foster says the county may still have to dip into the reserves to make it through the year. \" The 39 cents will actually impact the reserves just a little. The 43 cents is really what we needed to balance and that's what the budget committee was trying to do. We had really good growth this year. The appraisals grew by $72-million which will generate about $260,000 in new money which is a big impact on our county. Hopefully, we will get that kind of growth again next year. If we do, that will about get us back to where we need to be.\"

Foster says the school system will get more money than last year, with an eleven cent tax increase, but not as much as the 13 cent tax increase the school board had requested. \"The school budget is about $15.8 million dollars and of that, there was about $70,000 in monies cut from it, a little bit here and a little bit there, but there are no jobs at risk. It was a cut in the amount of money they requested. There is ample money in there to cover maintenance of effort and then some.\"

Foster says efforts have been made to make cuts from every department. \"It's really a complex thing. I'm fairly conservative and most of the commission is fairly conservative, but there are legal things you've got to do such as meeting maintenance of effort with the schools (not spending less than last year) and maintenance of effort with the sheriff's department in that you can't cut any employee position or salary without the sheriff's permission. We did cut one position this year with the sheriff's permission. Actually, we've got one less employee there (sheriff's department) than we had last year.\"

\"There are so many federal and state guidelines that we absolutely have to meet. For example, it (state/federal government) says you must pick up and dispose of garbage. It doesn't say how you do it. Of course, traditionally DeKalb County has had a solid waste disposal/landfill and now there has to be a new cell built. We're in the process of building it and a big part of it (project) will come this year because the one (cell) that's there now will be full by Christmas. That's a necessity. There were no extra funds put in this year. The landfill operation is basically the same as it was six years ago. The big deal is the new cell.\"

In addition to meeting the maintenance of effort requirements, Foster says county government has to account for other expenditures that are on the rise. \" School maintenance of effort requires that you spend no less money that you did last year. Then the state gives some raises with state money but they also about double the contributions that we must make to retirement. Our workers comp, liability, and all those insurance costs went up as well as the cost of fuel and the health care program.\"

Foster says the county has also budgeted small pay raises for county employees, both full time and part time.\" They still, on average, make a little less than ten dollars an hour and some of them, the part-timers, make maybe $6.50 an hour.\"

A public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. followed by the county commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Monday) at the courthouse. WJLE will broadcast the meeting LIVE.

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