Sumner County residents will pay the same amount in property taxes in the 2022 fiscal year as they did in 2021 after a vote Monday by the Sumner County Commission to keep the tax rate at $2.26 per $100 of assessed property.
The vote came after commissioners approved a 2022 fiscal year budget that appropriates around $76.6 million for county general fund operations and nearly $300 million for the county’s school district.
Budget Committee Chairman Chris Taylor gave a run-down of the differences between last year’s county general budget and this year’s. They include:
- A 3.5 percent cost of living raise for all county employees at a cost of about $1.5 million
- A seven percent increase in insurance premiums at a cost of about $500,000
- Several new employees, including the new position of HR director, an additional person for E-911, five new employees in the Sheriff’s department that included three deputies, a detective and a sergeant; a developmental services paraprofessional; a financial analyst in the county’s finance department; and a deputy clerk in Sumner County Clerk Bill Kemp’s office.
- Addressing issues with cybersecurity at a cost of around $240,000
“There were other requests for personnel that we said no to,” said Taylor. “This is what we felt best represented the needs of the county at this time and addressing it in a way that’s allowing the county to grow.”
Taylor added that the county expects the 2020 Census numbers to show that the county has 20,000 to 30,000 more residents than the previous Census count.
Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to allocate $1.5 million to several non-profits, including $24,000 each to 13 volunteer fire departments; $689,744 to the Tourism Board; $100,000 to Forward Sumner and $100,000 to the Sumner County Resource Authority.
Following that vote, District 11 Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield made a motion to sever the budgets, meaning he wanted commissioners to vote on the county general fund budget and the general purpose school budget separately.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me to vote to separate the budgets,” said District 1 Commissioner Moe Taylor who seconded Mansfield’s motion.
Moe Taylor said that he was told by his state representative and a member of the county commission association that if commissioners separated the budgets, those who benefitted from the school budget would have to declare a conflict of interest.
County Commission Chairman Scott Langford, who is also the chief academic officer for Sumner County Schools, asked County Law Director Leah Dennen for her opinion.
Dennen said that state legislators amended the law a couple of years ago to only define direct conflicts of interest. “And simply because someone works for the board of education or the sheriff’s department, they do not have a direct conflict with the entire budget,” she said.
An example of a direct conflict would be if someone is voting on funding that would specifically benefit them like a teacher who teaches a summer program who is voting specifically on that program, Dennen added.
Mansfield’s amendment failed 8 to 16.
Several other amendments failed to garner a majority as well like an amendment by Moe Taylor to remove $37,500 in dues and memberships in the county commission budget (failed 3 to 21); and a motion by Mansfield to strike the same 3.5 percent raise for county commissioners that Sumner County employees are receiving (failed 11 to 12).
Mansfield also motioned that $10,000 allocated for travel for commissioners be removed from the budget. Chris Taylor explained that state law requires commissioners to receive additional training, and the $10,000 was set aside in anticipation of those expenses. That motion failed 5 to 19.
District 9 Commissioner Jerry Becker asked why the school budget has nearly $50 million in reserves.
The 2022 budget approved by the school board increases the school district’s unmandated reserve balance from $6 million to $15 million. That amount is in addition to a state-required reserve fund of $11 million and nearly $24 million the school district had in unspent funds from the previous year.
“Is there a calculation you use of what you think it needs to be?” Becker asked Director of Schools Del Phillips.
“There are still a lot of unknowns out there,” said Phillips. “It’s smart to have a fund balance to weather some of that. I don’t know if there’s a magic number.”
Phillips noted that the county has an operating budget of $76 million and $36 million in reserves.
“We’re still not as a percentage close to what the county has but we’re trying to get there,” he said.
The county budget passed 20 to 4 with Mansfield, Moe Taylor, Terry Wright of District 1 and Merrol Hyde of District 8 voting no.
At the start of Monday’s meeting, Mansfield made a motion to vote on the tax rate before setting the budget. That motion failed 14 to 10.
During the vote on the tax rate later in the night, Mansfield motioned to lower the $2.26 rate by 13 cents, after the budget was approved. The 13 cents reduction would mean cutting the budget by about $8.5 million, Mansfield added.
Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt said Mansfield’s motion was unrealistic and out of order.
“With certain maintenance of efforts that have to be met, I don’t know that you could cut [certain budgets] legally,” said Holt. “It’s not even realistic. Just to make random motions to reduce the tax rate is irresponsible.”
Langford also ruled Mansfield’s motion out of order. Commissioners voted 20-2-2 to keep the tax rate at $2.26 with Moe Taylor and Mansfield voting no and Hyde and Steve Graves abstaining.
Of the $2.26 tax rate, $1.32 or 58.58 percent of the county’s budget funds Sumner Schools; 48 cents, or 21 percent of the county’s budget goes to a county general fund that funds county departments like the courts, sheriff’s office, and Sumner County Jail. About 14.75 percent, or 33 cents goes to a general debt service fund; .54 percent, or .01 goes to fund the county’s highway department; and 11 cents or 4.9 percent goes toward capital projects.