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Council votes not to pursue barrel tax lawsuit

Posted on Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 1:00 pm

By David Knox

The Metropolitan Lynchburg Moore County Council weighed through a heavy agenda on Monday night at its scheduled council meeting. As a result, the council conferred more than two-and-a-half hours, taking care of business ordinary and not-so-ordinary.

In the latter category, Councilman Wayne Hawkins brought forth a proposal to pursue monies from the so-called barrel tax, which law says Jack Daniel is exempt from paying but an attorney general opinion said it is not exempt from and the law is unconstitutional.

Hawkins methodically presented his case to present background and to point to a path forward for the county to sue the state to recover these monies.

Hawkins said the cost to pursue such action would range from $5,000 to $10,000 and that the council would be mistaken not to pursue the tax money.

“I personally believe we’d be negligent in our duty if we don’t pursue an answer to this question,” Hawkins said.

Councilman Gordon Millsaps made a motion to do so, and Hawkins seconded, leading to a spirited debate, and a passionate one by Mayor Bonnie Lewis.

Lewis said there were so many holes in Hawkins’ presentation that “we’d have to have a whole ’nother meeting for me to tear that presentation apart.”

Lewis said she talked with Rep. Iris Rudder and Sen. Shane Reeves and that they would be against Moore County filing suit against the state. She said State Rep. Gary Hicks, who had requested the AG opinion, was also against further action, saying, according to Lewis, that the matter was closed in 2018.

Furthermore, Lewis said, it wasn’t a good idea to “pick on our only industry in town.”

Lewis said the county should be looking to find ways to build an industrial park and other ways to generate revenue and not take from Jack Daniel. “Don’t spend your time trying to poke the big bear. .. we need to appreciate what we have.”

The vote to take action against the state failed 9-3 with Hawkins, Millsaps and Tommy Brown voting yes.

In other action:

The council had the first reading for the 20-21 budget. Budget Committee Chair Amy Cashion said, “We are not asking for any more pennies this year.” The county tax levy would remain at 2.38. Cashion said the committee was conservative in estimating revenues and expenses. There will be a public hearing on the budget on June 15 before the next council meeting.

There will also be public hearings that night, beginning at 6:05 p.m., on several ordinances, including one to clarify wording for requesting permits and one to clarify wording for fines. The Budget Committee also recommended that council approve an ordinance to dissolve urban services fund 111 into county general 101. This would be the first step toward a referendum on dissolving the urban services district. That hearing will be the first of the night’s on June 15.