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BMA to vote on 33-cent tax increase

A new tax increase went through the first stage of becoming reality for Erwin last week.
Town officials met at Erwin Town Hall on Thursday, July 2, and unofficially agreed on a measure to raise the property tax rate by 33 cents in a budget work session meeting. The budget will not take effect until the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen approves it during two upcoming meetings.
The plan is projected to raise the current $1.0796 property tax rate to $1.41 per $100 of assessed property value for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
The tax increase was used to chip away at the $411,686.33 difference between expenditures and revenues. Officials convened in meetings over the past two months to hammer out cuts to trim an almost $1million deficit by $640,000, but could not ultimately find any other spots to trim expenditures.
“Even though I don’t like this budget, it is the best we could do,” Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said during the work session. “Each department has suffered and I can’t see us putting an 88-cent tax increase on the taxpayers.”
The plan OK’ed at the meeting has two more steps to pass through before being implemented for the upcoming 2015-16 fiscal year. The Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman will put the ordinance through a first reading on July 20.
If the plan makes it through that stage, a second and final reading is set for July 27.
The 33-cent tax increase is 10 cents more than the 23-cent increase previously projected. The increase came after the board agreed to put funding back into line items for social services, which was previously set to go unfunded next year.
Members of the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce, including director Amanda Delp, were on hand Thursday and empathized with the officials.
“We appreciate the support,” Delp said. “Times get tough, but we do what we have to do and we continue to work hard to promote the area.”
Funding cutbacks over $65,000 to social services was just one of the different line items addressed during each work session. Officials also had to cut funds to purchase a new pumper truck for the fire department and a request for two new vehicles for the police department.
Also on the cutting block during each meeting were health care discussions. City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff stated in a previous meeting that, going into the new year, an increase in healthcare would be inevitable. Negotiations by the town with Humana nixed a potential 14-percent increase in cost to 6.8-percent increase, but still caused an increase in expenditures.
Officials also added at the end of the meeting that estimated revenues in liquor sales and potential businesses entering the area could allow the BMA to address the budget in January with anticipated revenues.
Chief of Police Regan Tilson also said at the meeting he’s been sharing information about the Morgan Insulation and Elm Street School properties.
“They don’t call fishing, ‘catching’,” Tilson said. “We’re coordinating with different individuals and working to bring in a good industry in those facilities.
Tilson added that during these financial times town officials should work together to bring in different businesses.
“There’s not much I can do on my end,” he said, “but we’ve been actively working to pass along the information and that’s something we need to do to help attract different businesses.”
The former Morgan Insulation building, which was shutdown in July 2009, has been one of the highly-touted facilities by officials that is currently being shopped around as a location for potential industries.