That Four Cents

Who would have thought that four cents, four measly little pennies, could cause so much consternation. I'm talking about the four cents that was part of the twenty cent tax increase for the school building program.

Back in 2012 I think it was, the commission raised the property tax rate by twenty cents for the school building program. Everyone knew at the time twenty cents wasn't needed. It was more like fourteen cents but commission went ahead with the full twenty cent hike. So with the Phase 1 building projects complete, there are some excess pennies in the tax rate not currently designated for anything.

Last year the commission decided to pull some of those excess pennies from the school building fund for county general operations. Well, that went over like a you know what in a wind storm. Education folks and citizens alike came unglued at the thought of taking money, designated for the schools, and rolling it into the county general fund. The idea was dropped.

Fast forward to a few months ago, just before the election, commissioners and the mayor once again decided to try to take money from the school building fund for the county general fund. This time four cents of the tax rate. The uprising of opposition by the folks was even more hostile. Some would even say it had a direct impact on the election, defeating the current mayor and a couple of commissioners.

With the outcome of the election, the idea of moving the four cents from the schools to the county general is pretty much a dead issue but an alternative plan has been proposed.

The budget committee is recommending the four cents be given back to the tax payers in the form of a four cent property tax reduction. However, not all commissioners are on board with the idea.

Here's the two sides of the debate. Currently the four cents is not needed nor designated for any school building projects. So some commissioners feel that if the pennies can't politically be moved to any other of the budget, it should be given back to the tax payers. Also, there is concern that the school board will just squander the excess funds.

On the other side of the debate, some commissioners feel that the full twenty cent tax increase passed back in 2012 for the schools building program should be left intact and in the school building fund knowing that at some point, in the very near future, the school folks will present the need for more expansions and renovations and those four pennies will be needed to fund those future projects. Also, those four pennies will continue to generate revenue to the school building fund that could allow earlier retirement of some of the debt.

So, the question is, give back the four cents now and potentially look at a future tax increase to fund building projects or keep the four cents in the school building fund for future projects and avoid another tax increase in the future.

A four cent property tax reduction would save the average Loudon County home owner about $20.00 per year. Conversely, those four pennies in the school building fund will generate about $600,000.00 per year.

The commission is split about down the middle on the question and when a vote comes it will likely fail or pass by one vote. We'll see shortly.