Public Hearing, Heard

The first of three meetings being held by Loudon County commission was Wednesday evening. The public hearing is a statutory requirement as part of the budget process. It had been expected that a large crowd would be in attendance. Everyone attending the meeting was issued a number in series when they entered the room due to the fact that the fire marshal had recently placed a maximum capacity on the meeting room at 123. Fortunately, the crowd size never got close to the max.

There were approximately 80 folks in attendance including all the elected officials, media and security. There were about 50 citizens and county employees in the audience.

15 people had requested to address the budget committee about various parts of the proposed budget. About 8 spoke in opposition to the school building plan/tax increase, 3 spoke in favor of the school building plan/tax increase, one county employee spoke on behalf of herself and 15 other county employees who stood while she addressed the budget committee pertaining to change in county employee benefits and pay and to be honest, I'm not sure what the other three were talking about. They were just kind of all over the place. The meeting lasted about an hour and a half.

Over all, the meeting went smooth with commissioners and citizens alike showing respect and civility.

The next meeting will be a workshop for the entire commission Monday, June 27 6:00, at the Court House Annex.

Tax proposal divides Loudon County residents

Tea party forces challenge plan to build school

By Hugh G. Willett
LOUDON - A proposed 20-cent property tax increase was the primary topic of discussion at a public hearing held Wednesday by the Loudon County Commission, drawing the attention of tea party activists.

The commission's Budget Committee heard from residents on several issues, including pay and benefits for county employees, but it was clear from the start that the biggest issue was the proposed $43 million school building program.

About two dozen residents wearing blue tea party T-shirts with orange "No Tax Hike" stickers sat on one side of the room, while supporters of the building program, some wearing orange T-shirts representing Greenback school, sat on the opposite side.

Loudon County resident Pandora Vreeland presented the commissioners with a petition signed by 400 residents opposing the tax increase and asking the commission to appoint a citizens committee to review the school building plan before raising taxes.

"We think you should be lowering taxes," Vreeland said.

Richard Truitt, a frequent speaker before the commission, said he was concerned about overspending on school operational expenses and criticized a "golden parachute" retirement program requested by the county Sheriff's Office.

"County government doesn't know they're in a recession," Truitt said.

Greenback resident Ron Sabo said he has supported the building program since the debate began more than five years ago. Most of the issues associated with the building of a new pre-K to 12th grade school in Greenback have already been discussed, he said.

Sabo said he'd gladly accept the tax increase and forgo a round of golf or a dinner at a restaurant to make up for the $7 a month the 20-cent tax increase would add to his yearly property tax bill.

"We haven't had a new school built in 27 years," he said.

Richard Cubberly said he'd worked in the Greenback School and said he thought the school was "deplorable." He also said he'd like to see more planning before the commission commits to the tax increase for the building plan.

"We've been throwing money away," he said.

County Commissioner Bob Franke said he understood that many residents are concerned about the tax increase but added that the commission had the responsibility to do what was right for the schools even if the decision is unpopular.

"We've kicked this can down the road long enough," he said.

Commissioner Austin Shaver said he is sympathetic with residents who don't want tax increases. One of the reasons the building plan costs so much is the county did not maintain the buildings in the past. The commission might have to bite the bullet on the tax hike to make up for years of poor management by the school system, he said.

The County Commission will vote on the 2012 budget and the proposed tax increase at its June 30 meeting.