A resolution to budget an increase in city property tax was narrowly approved at the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night. The resolution was previously scheduled to be voted on at the January meeting but was deferred until the Feb. 11 meeting.
The proposed increase in property tax would not take effect immediately as the board still needs to approve a budget this summer. The city manager was directed to come up with the figures necessary to finance by the time the commission votes on the budget.
The tax would increase from 16 cents to 59 cents per $100 of assessed value. Of the proposed new tax, 39 cents will go toward fire protection and funding, while the remaining 20 cents would be used for infrastructure.
District 1 Commissioner Ray Justice said the tax would go toward bringing a fire station to his district, as well as the equipment, services, and payroll that comes with it. District 1 does not currently have a dedicated fire station to service the area.
Though Mayor Hagerty was focused on previous overspending of the fire department, Justice said that their success is not gauged by money but by life safety. He said the management at the fire department are true professionals and experts, and they know best what the department needs to provide protection for Mt. Juliet residents.
Hagerty voiced his opposition to the resolution at the start of the meeting, describing a presentation he held in 2011 with Mt. Juliet citizens. He said he laid out a specific fire protection plan that included the original 20 cent property tax, which was later reduced to 16.6 due to state-mandated reappraisals, and he promised that the tax would be 100 percent dedicated to the fire department.
“The proposal takes everything I promised our citizens and throws it in the trash,” said Hagerty. “If this goes forward, I apologize to all of you and I would hope the Board of Commissioners will honor the promises made and vote it down.”
Maness said the property tax was voted in after the meeting, but the tax pre-dated the fire department by around 14 months. After Hagerty said that Maness voted against the property tax in 2011, Maness said he voted against because they were not voting for the tax to fund the fire department.
“The vote was to collect the property tax and try to persuade the county to continue fire protection [for the city],” said Maness.
Hagerty disagreed, saying the tax 14 months before the department began was by design to provide them with a place to start.
Though Hagerty was against the proposed increase, he assured citizens that he is not against the fire department. Among other things, he said he pushes developers for funding for the department.
“I’m for [the fire department], I go out of my way to bring them more and more and more funding,” said Hagerty. “At the same time, I’m also for responsible spending by this department and all departments.”
Hagerty also said it was curious that the resolution is sponsored by District 4 Commissioner Brian Abston and Vice Mayor James Maness, both of whom were re-elected in November. He said he had never heard either of them talk about raising the tax while on the campaign trail about raising property tax by a factor of four. However, Maness said he introduced an ordinance two years ago to include fire protection in the City’s general fund.
The mayor also questioned why a sales tax wouldn’t be a better option since everyone who visits and spends in Mt. Juliet would contribute, not just those who live in the city. He also suggested the tax could have been a referendum on the November ballot so citizens could decide if it was something they would like for the city. Since the 2018 voting has long passed, he said the proposed tax could still be put as a referendum on a future ballot.
District 3 Commissioner Art Giles agreed there needs to be discussion about the subject but wondered why it was not brought up in work sessions before being made a resolution. According to Giles, many of his constituents still had questions about the issue of increasing the tax. He said some would like to see it as a referendum so they can vote on it, not have a politician deciding to raise the tax.
“I’m going to vote the way [his constituents] told me to vote,” said Giles. “I represent you.”
Abston, however, said he believes the citizens elect them to make the tough decisions, which Justice agreed with. Abston also said it would not be responsible of them to avoid a vote because raising taxes is never a popular suggestion.
“When we see the need, we have a responsibility as a commission to do something about it, as hard as it is,” said Abston.
Hagerty said he will continue to be opposed to the proposed tax increase until it is proven to be needed and that the board is being responsible with tax payer money.
Amendments to allocate 39 cents of the property tax to fire protection and 20 cents to infrastructure were approved 3-2, with Hagerty and Giles against.
The resolution was passed in a 3-2 vote. Justice, Maness and Abston voted for the resolution while Hagerty and Giles voted against. Discussions surrounding the tax will continue before the commissioners vote on the budget this summer.
*This story has been updated to clarify that the approved resolution will not immediately raise property tax. The Board will review the numbers after the city manager brings forward a proposed city budget this summer.