Loudon school facilities tax OK'd

Levy on new homes a contentious issue


LOUDON - Hit by a one-two punch of growing pains and already crowded schools, Loudon County commissioners Monday approved a controversial tax on new homes.

With a standing-room-only audience watching, commissioners voted 9-1 on second and final reading to approve the school facilities tax.

Estimated revenue figures vary, but a projected new tax stream of up to $1 million a year has been mentioned.

Area Realtors and developers were united in opposition to the $1-per-square-foot tax on future homes built in the rapidly growing county. Many wore buttons Monday showing their opposition.

"This is really an unfair tax,'' said Dave Santi, president of the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors, speaking before the tax was approved.

Santi predicted it would hit "empty-nesters'' and current residents who want to give land to their offspring for new homes. He said the tax wouldn't be a "cure-all'' for the local school system.

Gregg Reynolds, with the Loudon County chapter of the Greater Knoxville Homebuilders Association, said building permits in counties where the tax has been imposed have plummeted an average of 25 percent "compared to adjoining counties.''

Resident Thomas Wayne Johnson said the new tax, coupled with other tax burdens, "is making it impossible for me to build'' a new home.

Another audience member, Paula Lynn, rapped opponents of the new tax, saying many of them who didn't live in Loudon County were trying to sway commissioners' votes.

The new tax, she said, is a "fair and reasonable way to share the costs of new or upgraded school facilities and not create an unfair, inequitable burden on existing county residents.''

Other Tennessee counties and cities also are growing fast and have greater tax burdens, Commissioner Wayne Gardin said.

"I believe it (the new tax) will not have one bit of impact on development,'' he said. "We have got to support our schools,'' Gardin said. "We have no choice but to pass this tax.''

There likely would be other taxes needed to help offset the schools' woes, Gardin predicted.

Commissioner Don Miller said the student population in Loudon County schools has surged 15 percent over the last six years.

By the end of the current school year, the county will have "18 classrooms in portable trailers.'' Miller said.

He said he and fellow panelists will have to pass another resolution on how to collect the new tax, "but I don't think it's a huge bureaucratic problem.''

In a related matter, Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp recommended funding a facilities study of the long-term needs of the Loudon County School System, comprised of nine schools, and the three-school Lenoir City system.

An earlier study contained cost estimates that are in dispute, Arp said.

Commissioners on Monday also voted 9-0 to elect Shirley Reno as a county commissioner to replace Chuck Jenkins, who in September was appointed property assessor.

Arp held the property assessor's post until he was elected county mayor in August.

Bob Fowler, News Sentinel Anderson County editor, may be reached at 865-481-3625.