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VOL. 124 | NO. 125 | Monday, June 29, 2009

Commission Moves to Next Phase of Tax Vote

By Andy Meek

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When the Shelby County Commission meets this afternoon, the body will take the second of three required votes on a new county tax rate for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The commission’s budget committee reaffirmed its support Wednesday of a new property tax rate of $4.02 per $100 of assessed value. The current county tax rate is $4.04.

Wednesday’s committee vote was the second time the committee recommended $4.02 to the full commission, which meets this afternoon at 1:30 in the Shelby County Administration Building at 160 N. Main St.

The proposed tax rate of $4.02 is 2 cents lower than the current tax rate, but because some property appraisals rose after this year’s countywide reappraisal, some homeowners still could face higher tax bills.

The owner of a $200,000 home in Shelby County currently pays $2,020 in property taxes at the current county rate. After this year’s reappraisal, that home’s value could rise up to $200,992 and the owner would still pay the same amount in taxes at a new rate of $4.02.

That’s a 0.5 percent increase in the appraisal. Any increase higher than that, and the tax bill goes up.

Breakfast club

The implications of the proposed new tax rate have generated some lively discussion among commissioners. Some of them insist the rate should be viewed as a tax cut, since the rate will drop 2 cents.

Others argue that doesn’t matter, since for most county homeowners whose appraisals rose, their tax bills also will climb.

That disagreement at times also has contributed to moments of levity among commissioners. The early hour of Wednesday’s budget committee meeting, for example, as well as the availability of nearby breakfast items for commissioners, very nearly changed the committee’s recommendation on the tax rate.

At the outset Wednesday, commissioners Wyatt Bunker, Mike Ritz and Deidre Malone were by themselves in front of the voting screens. Bunker moved to change the county’s certified tax rate to $3.92 instead of the state-approved amount of $4.00.

A certified rate has to be approved before a new tax rate can be set, and the certified rate is one that will generate the same amount of tax revenue as the county levied the year before. Once that rate is set, commissioners than can approve a tax hike if they want.

Ritz seconded Bunker’s motion to lower the certified rate. Malone started laughing, and Ritz offered her a chance to respond.

“With the votes here, it won’t matter at all, so you do what you do,” she said, light-heartedly. “I’ll deal with it on Monday.”

The resulting vote was not a surprise: two ayes, one no.

“Wow, the taxpayers are way ahead now,” Ritz said. “This thing passes with a huge margin. Sixty-seven percent of the vote.”

Next up was the setting of the new official tax rate, which Bunker and Ritz also wanted to keep at $3.92 instead of the proposed $4.02.

Ritz and Bunker were the lone Republicans into the room. Other Democratic commissioners who support the $4.02 rate began trickling in, some after munching on nearby breakfast items.

“Hurry up and sit down, sir,” Malone said to commissioner Sidney Chism.

Ritz asked whether Chism had eaten breakfast yet, and Chism said he was trying to.

“Well, you go ahead,” Ritz said. “We’ll call you in a minute.”

The vote on second reading of the new county tax rate was at hand.

“Sidney?” Malone snapped. “No sir. Sit down.”

Ritz ribbed Chism that almost no bacon was left for him to eat among items laid out for commissioners. When Chism asked what the members were about to do, Bunker responded: “We’re trying to save you some money.”

A few moments later, fellow Democrats Steve Mulroy and Matt Kuhn joined Chism. That turned the philosophical tide.

The committee’s vote on the new tax rate reflected the new arrivals in the room: four commissioners in support of $4.02, two commissioners against.

The rate of $4.02 was a compromise put forward a few weeks ago by commissioner Mike Carpenter. It was determined that rate would produce enough revenue to fund positions in the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department that would otherwise be cut to balance the county budget. It would also fund several initiatives of the Operation Safe Community anticrime strategy.

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