Loudon County Commission appoints new General Sessions Court judge
Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
LOUDON — The Loudon County Commission on Monday voted 8-0 to appoint Hank Sledge as the new General Sessions Court judge.
Sledge, whose appointment will run from Sept. 1 until the March 2016 election, will serve with current General Sessions Court Judge Rex Dale.
The new judge will be funded by an increase in the litigation tax from $17 to $51, approved by the commission in an 8-2 vote.
A native of Loudon and graduate of University of Tennessee, Memphis, Sledge has been serving as judicial magistrate and has worked for the 9th Judicial District. He said his goal will be to help move cases through the system more quickly.
The Loudon court system currently experiences long delays moving civil cases through the system, he said. With two judges, one judge will be able to conduct multiday trials while the second judge can keep the other cases moving.
Commissioners voted 8-0 in favor of Sledge with commissioners Earlena Maples and Van Shaver abstaining. Maples said she abstained because she believes the increase in the litigation tax is not sufficient to fund the position of the second judge.
“If they don’t pay it will fall back on the taxpayers,” she said.
Based on the previous year collection rates, the litigation tax is expected to generate about $237,000 additional revenue.
Shaver added he thought adding the second judge would be very costly before it was done.
Commission also discussed at length a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program with Tate & Lyle, the county’s largest single taxpayer. The plan would freeze property tax for the company at $2 million a year for 10 years and settle a long-running tax dispute with the county and the city of Loudon.
The county would lose about $200,000 per year in tax revenue but the deal would remove the threat of ongoing litigation that could cost millions and encourage the company to remain in the county.
Loudon Economic Development Agency president Pat Phillips said the PILOT program was originally designed as an economic development proposal.
Tate and Lyle will be building a power generation system that would reduce coal emissions. A new gas line would free up a large amount of natural gas per day that could be used by new business moving into the county, Phillips said.
The investment would make the plant, which creates about 500 jobs with the associated businesses on the site, more competitive. Investment by Tate & Lyle would make it more likely that the plant remains in operation and could lead to even more jobs, Phillips said. There is no guarantee, however, that Tate & Lyle would remain in the county or increase jobs, he said.
The commission also heard from citizens opposed to the PILOT program.
“If we give them this, how many others will want the same thing?” asked Aileen Longmire.
Greenback Commissioner Bill Satterfield, who voted against the proposal, said he, like many citizen taxpayers, would also like a freeze on his taxes.
The commission voted 7-3 to approve the PILOT program. The city of Loudon had previously approved the program.