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Editor’s Note: Over recent weeks, The Times has posed numerous questions to county leaders, especially County Mayor Peggy Bevels. In the following, Bevels responds to those questions as part of a Q&A The Times hopes to make at least a monthly feature of the newspaper.
Q: Do you believe people are disenchanted with our county government?
A: I do not know of any county commissioners or elected officials that liked the 77-cents property tax increase, but as was said at the last commission meeting, the Budget Committee had spent many hours trying to establish a balanced budget for this county. It started at $1.09 and went to $0.385. If you multiply by two (for education), that’s $2.18 and .77 cents.
Realizing much more work was needed, a continuing budget resolution was requested. This means the state comptroller’s office approved us to operate on last year’s budget for three months, but that’s all.
We were going to use that three months to establish a budget for 2012-13, but a group called “We the People” decided they want to have a charter government, where they can appoint officials if they so desire instead of our elected officials that are governed by the Tennessee Constitution. There are only two counties in Tennessee under charter government. They are continually in lawsuits. Also, we are audited daily by the state on our work and our books. We continually work to keep our county out of lawsuits, which saves thousands of dollars.
It is realized people become disenchanted with the slow process of our county government, but you can believe we are working for the good of our citizens.
Q: Address Runway Centre and whether you believe this was a good investment for the county.
A: Thankfully, we had enough progressive commissioners to vote to purchase Runway Centre. I would have preferred to have had more time, but due to the auction, that wasn’t possible. I found out later there were people interested in buying parcels and some wanting to purchase all the acres. One hundred and ten acres were purchased for $500,000.
Since then, the IDB has been deeded the land for a business/industry park. We have been awarded $750,000 and $830,500 from the state in which they forgave all our match money, and we (IDB and the county, working through South Central) have submitted a $2.5 million grant for infrastructure for Runway Centre. It is looking promising.
All of this has been based on a “bird in the hand” company locating here. They – the company – are rather nervous about moving here if we can’t even get a budget passed for this year that includes sewer. This project is to provide jobs for our citizens.
These are just a few of the projects we have working.
Q: Many people have said the county should have been raising taxes a little at a time, versus what has been proposed. What do you have to say to that?
A: I wish we could have raised property taxes maybe five cents a year, versus a 77-cent increase. Some of us have been here a while, and we know it would have been spent. Now, we might have had a new building somewhere – but it would have been the same story as we have now – 77 cents.
You have heard committee reports that disclosed how the departments are to operate with the same money as last year. The services are practically gone.
Also, figures from the fee offices in the courthouse were reduced considerably. This money helps pay for the operation of all offices and the sheriff’s department.
Therefore, it should be realized that our revenue – fees, interest, sales tax, etc. – did not come into this county as was needed.
The only way we can have a balanced budget, which we are required by law to have, is to cut services if the proposed 20-cent property tax and $50 wheel tax doesn’t pass.
Now this petition that “We the People” turned in to the Election Commission requires us to allocate $50,000 for their study commission of eight – one elected from each district – to reconstruct government for our county. We have to hold this $50,000 for the two years they are studying. It cannot be put in any other line item, even if they do not use $6,000.
Just for the record, this money could have given the sheriff three or four deputies or paid for turnout gear for our volunteer firefighters or for roads – just to name a few uses.
Q: Do you have anything, in particular, that you would like to address:
A: The mayor’s office is open to the public, just as is every office in the courthouse.
The commissioners have worked hard to present a balanced budget. There has not been any overspending. In fact, taxes from the county have not been raised since 2004. (Now, sometimes state re-assessments change with property improvements.)
Commissioners make less than $300 per month, and many take time from their professional jobs, their livelihoods, in order to perform their duties well for the county. It’s a hard position that they’re in – they want to please their constituents, but they also want to see that needed services are provided, all without putting the welfare of the county in jeopardy.