By Richard Rourk
Erwin’s 2019-20 budget of $7.4 million passed the first hurdle to being finalized.
During a meeting held at Erwin Town Hall on Monday, Aug. 12, the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to approve the 2019-20 budget, which includes a 40-cent property tax increase for those with property within city limits.
If approved on second reading, the budget’s tax increase would bring the Town of Erwin’s tax rate up to $1.862 per every $100 of assessed property value. The current rate is $1.462.
Prior to the vote on Monday, citizens addressed the board. Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said she welcomed the citizens’ input.
“It’s always good to see citizens come out and see what is going on in their town,” Hensley said.
Erwin citizen JD Shook was first to address the board.
“This is not right,” Shook said. “Most of us are on fixed incomes; this isn’t right. You need to take some of the burden off of the taxpayers.”
Former Unicoi County Commissioner and Erwin citizen Dr. James “Mickey” Hatcher also addressed the board.
“I’m here to object the 40-cent tax rate increase,” Hatcher said. “I don’t see how the citizens can stand this. Please go back and balance the budget.”
According to Hatcher, the Town of Erwin should have replaced vehicles and equipment a long time ago and prepared the citizens with a slight increase of taxes over time. Shook agreed that the equipment should not have been replaced all at once.
Hensley addressed the citizens’ concerns head on.
“I do appreciate the comments and Mr. Shook you are right, we should have taken better care of maintenance on our vehicles,” Hensley said. “Unfortunately, we maintained them for as long as we could, and we have come to a point where we have to cut services or get new equipment. We are trying to protect the citizens as best as we can.”
According to Hensley, the decision to raise taxes wasn’t an easy one for the board members. “We agonized over this for months,” Hensley said. “We went home and lost sleep over this. We take our job very seriously. We came up with the best budget we could.”
Vice Mayor Mark Lafever agreed with Hensley.
“We are trying to make Erwin a better place to live,” Lafever said. “We have taken (the former Morgan Insulation property) and are trying to bring industry back to Erwin.”
According to Hensley, the site should be pad ready by the end of next month.
Lafever also pointed out all the services that he and the citizens of Erwin receive from taxes.
“As a resident of Erwin I get brush pickup, trash pick up, lighting and snow removal services,” Lafever said. “These items cost money.”
Alderwoman Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz pointed out that Erwin is at the same tax rate they were more than 20 years ago.
“Right now, we are working on a tax rate that is equivalent to 1991-93,” Hyder-Shurtz said. According to Hyder Shurtz, it was time for a tax increase to keep up with rising costs.
“We can’t continually work on a tax rate that is close to twenty years old,” Hyder-Shurtz said.
Prior to the vote, Hensley had one final message for the citizens in attendance.
“We want to make this a place where our kids will stay or if they have left, they can come back to,” Hensley said. “This is the town we are trying to build for our future.”
A motion to pass the first reading of the 2019-20 budget and 40 cent property tax increase was made by Lafever and seconded by Alderman Gary Chandler. The board voted unanimously to pass the first reading.
The BMA is scheduled to meet again on Monday, Aug. 26, for the second and final reading of the 2019-20 budget. The meeting time is 5:30 p.m.
Following Monday’s BMA meeting, Hensley spoke to The Erwin Record about the direction of Erwin.
“We are trying to prepare our town for growth in a way that we are not going to leave the debt to our children and grandchildren,” Hensley said. “We want our children to have a place to stay and work, with good paying jobs when they leave school.”
As far as the budget and tax raise goes, Hensley stressed that it was a difficult decision.
“Again it was very agonizing, but coming short of cutting services, we had to raise taxes,” Hensley said. “You can’t do a job if you don’t have the people and equipment to do it with.”
• • •
Also during the meeting, the BMA voted unanimously to allow Relay For Life of Unicoi County to hang a banner on Love Street from Aug. 23-29. The motion to approve the request was made by Hyder-Shurtz and seconded by Alderman Michael Baker.
In a final order of business, the BMA voted unanimously to close the section between Main and Nolichucky avenues along Union Street for a Relay For Life of Unicoi County fundraiser on Aug. 26, from 4-9 p.m. The motion to approve the closure came from Lafever and was seconded by Hyder-Shurtz.