Hawkins $10 wheel tax cut pulled over unknown future expenditures

Jeff Bobo • Sep 24, 2019 at 11:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — By the time a third Hawkins County commissioner began to voice opposition to a proposed $10 wheel tax reduction Monday, the sponsor, Rick Brewer, decided to pull the resolution.

The resolution would have required a two-thirds vote, or 14 out of 21 votes, in two consecutive months to be approved.

Brewer told the Times News last week his motive for proposing a $10 wheel tax reduction was to help Hawkins County residents living in poverty and on a fixed income.

But commissioners who spoke during Monday’s meeting said they weren’t ready to cut revenue while several unknown future expenditures are looming. 

Commissioner Larry Clonce offered a lengthy list of reasons why he felt this isn't a good time for the $10 reduction, which amounts to a $500,000 cut in revenue.

Clonce noted that the county may have to spend money to help maintain Hawkins County EMS; most volunteer fire departments are in need of new equipment; the sheriff's office has lost 74 employees in the past 24 months mostly due to low pay; the cost of a state-mandated jail sewer line project will be well over $300,000; and many county owned buildings are in need of repair — to name a few.

“We have too many unknowns to cut this budget at this time,” Clonce said. “I feel like a no vote tonight is a no vote on a property tax increase two years down the line. However, a couple years down the line I might support tax relief for those who qualify for property tax relief.”

Commissioner Valarie Goins, who sits on the Budget Committee, said Clonce expressed a lot of concerns she had with the proposed $10 reduction.

“We worked on this budget day in and day out,” Goins said. “We felt like we had a good budget. Our deficit at the end was around $8,000, and I think now it actually came out a little better than that. If we take this $10 away, as he (Clonce) said, it's $500,000 we go in the hole.”

Goins added, “I feel that at this point in time we don't know what our revenue is going to be next year. In June our revenue could be less than we've anticipated because we could go into recession. Gas prices have increased over the last week. We don't know what we're headed for.”

Goins suggested looking at a proposed wheel tax cut for the 2020-21 fiscal year if savings have grown enough to support it.

Dr. Blaine Jones, who chairs the commission’s EMS Exploratory Committee spoke to the commission at the beginning of Monday's meeting, offering a sneak peek into the committee's recommendation, which will likely be presented to the commission in detail next month.

That recommendation will include the county entering into a joint venture with Hawkins County EMS, and more than likely the county would be asked to help replace some ambulances that are approaching 300,000 miles

Commissioner Dawson Fields noted that he voted against the $40 wheel tax increase two years ago. But with a number of unknown expenditures looming, Fields said he too is reluctant to cut revenue.

“If it's up to me, we pull this resolution, or table it — whichever you want to do,” Fields said. “Wait until we get some answers on some other stuff. It may be that we can do this after we find out what some of this other stuff is going to cost.”

At the conclusion of Fields' comments, Brewer agreed to pull the resolution.

The proposed $10 wheel tax cut would have lowered the cost of tagging a vehicle in Hawkins County from $96 to $86.

Brewer told the Times News last week he felt the county could afford the $500,000 revenue reduction because it increased its undesignated fund balance (savings) by $2 million last fiscal year. 

Under Brewer’s proposal, the $10 cut wouldn’t have taken effect until June. With one month left in the current fiscal year, that would have cut projected revenue for 2019-20 by about $48,000. The full effect of the revenue reduction wouldn’t have been felt until 2020-21.

In other business Monday, the commission unanimously approved a one-time $4,000 bonus for all volunteer fire departments for the current fiscal year; elected Rick Brewer chairman and Jeff Barrett chairman pro tem; and confirmed Mayor Jim Lee’s hiring of longtime assistant EMA Director Jamie Miller to replace Gary Murrell, who will resign as of Sept. 30.

The Times News will follow up on these issues in articles later this week. A video of the entire county commission meeting can be seen in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net

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