LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — Less than 48 hours after the Metropolitan Lynchburg Moore County Council thought it had approved the first reading of its county budget, county attorney John T. Bobo informed council members otherwise.
At the council’s regular monthly meeting on May 16, Budget Committee chairman Tommy Brown presented a budget to the council that included a 20 cent property tax increase. By roll call vote, the new budget received seven ‘yes’ votes, five ‘no’ votes and one ‘pass.’
Brown, Marty Copeland, Glen Searcy, Shawn Adams, Parks Norman, Gordy Millsaps and Coleman March voted ‘yes.’ David Boyce, Amy Cashion, Patrick Maynard, Arvis Bobo and Denning Harder voted ‘no,’ while Wayne Rhoton passed. Councilman Wayne Hawkins was absent from the meeting.
The News incorrectly reported last week that there were eight ‘yes’ and six ‘no’ with one councilman passing. Eight would have meant the budget would have passed by the slimmest of margins.
In an email obtained by The News, Bobo informed council members that he “could not locate the Charter Amendment during the meeting but reviewed it afterwards and (found) that passage requires an affirmative vote of a majority of the entire council (and) that is eight votes.”
Perhaps adding some confusion to this month’s meeting was the resignation of councilman Anthony Brandon (5th Dist.). Brandon, whose letter of resignation was effective on May 5, was accepted by the Council on May 16. With the vacant seat leaving 14 members on the Council, seven was a mathematical majority considering councilman Wayne Rhoton passed on the measure.
But according to the Charter, for the measure to pass it still requires a majority of the total number of council seats, regardless if they are filled are not.
Bobo’s letter continued to say that Mayor Sloan Stewart spoke with the state comptroller’s office and officials there “suggest the council pass a continuing budget resolution at (its) next meeting which will allow Metro to operate under the current budget until an agreement can be reached by the council on the budget for the next fiscal year.”
The failed vote on May 16 leaves the Council much work to do considering the proposed property tax increase comes less than three months away from a resolution on the August primary ballot that will ask the voters of Moore County if they’d support a property tax increase to fund upgrades, improvements and renovations for Moore County high school and middle school campus.
“We will have a budget meeting on (May 31). The first reading will go back to the council in June,” said Stewart. “We will be operating under what is called a continuing budget.”
At the heart of the budget issue — and more specifically the tax increase itself — is the jail expansion, renovations and planned move of 911 dispatchers down to the new 911 Emergency facility at the intersection of Main St. and state Route 50.
Rather than go toward the much-debated school improvements, the proposed tax increase was instead planned to aid in the renovation jail and the expense anticipated when the county’s 911 dispatchers move.
Officials with the county’s 911 service have been trying to get the dispatchers moved out of the jail for more than a year. While the 911 service, the new facility and much of the equipment used are paid for solely through a phone tax and available grant money, the dispatchers are county employees.
Despite not being trained corrections officers, the dispatchers often have to assist corrections officers in their day-to-day duties at the jail.
While half of the tax increase is to go toward paying off the $1.35 million jail expansion early, the other half is intended to pay for salaries for correctional officers once the 911 dispatchers move to the new facility.
The jail project is currently budgeted for and set up to be paid off in 12 years. According to Stewart, a tax increase would pay off the note in just two years.
The rest of the tax increase would cover salaries and benefits packages for hiring five corrections officers and one dispatcher to man the facility once the dispatchers move from their current location into their new facility.
The next council meeting is set for Monday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion Building.
—By ROBERT HOLMAN, Publisher (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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