August 22, 2005
Reactions to Property Tax Increase Vote
I was all old-school with my pen and pad, so I couldn't post as soon as some did, but you know by now that Commissioner Casavant's 26-cent levy increase proposal passed by an expected 5-4 vote (the 5-4 part was expected all along, but the question was which way it would go). Voting "Yes" were Commissioners Gregory Beck (5), Richard Casavant (2), William Cotton (4), Larry Henry (7), and Charlotte Vandergriff (3). The "No" votes came from Commissioners Curtis Adams (8), Bill Hullander (9), Lou Miller (6), and Chairman Fred Skillern (1).
A majority of those in attendance stood and applauded after Dr. Casavant's second amendment -- the 16-cent increase earmarked for the school system -- passed.
What was interesting to me was that the funds to add on to, replace, or build new school buildings come out of the General Fund increase (the 10-cent; specifically, 3 cents of it) instead of the Schools fund increase. Three middle schools and two elementary schools will either be added to or replaced; and two new high schools are promised, for East Brainerd and Signal Mountain.
The most confusing part for me was the discussion of "interlocal agreements" and transportation measures. I'll appreciate edification from readers on exactly what changed, or didn't.
So, on to the reactions:
Curtis Adams seemed a lot more cautious in his statements than he has in many previous ones. Does his turn away from the more caustic rhetoric signal an acknowledgment that his hold on District 8 is precarious at best? More later from his opponent (John Bailes). Adams did attack Harry Austin for this past weekend's editorial, and I get the impression that if you're a renter, he just doesn't represent you. He speaks only for actual property owners.
Greg Beck's main defense of voting for the increase actually seemed to be the raises for County employees (law enforcement, healthcare, corrections, and EMS) that he felt had been held back for too long. I know from an insider what those working in the County Jail put up with every day, so I concur that their families deserve our support.
Dr. Casavant, in addition to making the proposals, commented on the fact that our schools are known for their innovation in faraway places, despite the disrepair and low teacher salaries. He lamented the fact that the recent gross increases to school revenue have largely come from residential tax base growth, instead of industrial.
William Cotton talked a lot, but I didn't write down much. He says a lot without saying much, in my opinion. Quite rhetorical.
Larry Henry seemed like he was relieved after delivering his vote, and said that he will continue to stand firm, regardless of the intimidation that has been levied at him. He requested that, from now on, the Commissioners base their decisions on numbers and not on personality differences -- an obvious reference to Skillern's and Adams' anti-Register vendetta. The most poignant thing he said is that he also finds that the schools' management is not the most efficient with taxpayer money, but he can no longer use that as an excuse to avoid helping the teachers and students. He said this to some pretty fervent applause.
Bill Hullander delivered by far the least relevant and most bizarre comments (exceeding those of Cotton, even). He said that, though he would have been able to vote "Yes" on the original budget, the "extry" things included via Casavant's increase just didn't seem right "since our country is at war." Huh??? Please tell me, Bill, what that has to do with anything. He just doesn't think of his vote against the increase as "saying no to the County workers" [in terms of their getting a raise]. (Explain that one, too.) He would like to see us put up billboards that tout how much, in dollar figures, the school system receives from the County (uh, Commissioner Hullander, would you propose a tax increase to fund the billboard rentals???). I've got to be careful of a slight conflict of interest here, but it seems to me that Bill Hullander represents the McKee Foods Corporation, and that's about it. They could do better (as could the citizens of District 9). One more time (because he used it twice): "extry."
The post-vote statements were led off by a Lecture from Lou (Miller). She made a valid point after she was through scolding those in attendance who applauded the tax increase, though. She wants the County to work harder with the state legislature to ease the property tax burden on Seniors and others on fixed incomes. I agree. But in later comments, she emphasized her viewpoint that neighborhood schools (since "the neighborhood is anchored by the church and by the school" -- this grated on me as much as County Attorney Rheubin Taylor's "in Jesus' name we pray" in his invocation) are needed more than other types. I disagree.
Fred Skillern sang the one song he knows about "running the schools as a business" (it's a song whose chorus has repeatedly been echoed by the School Board member from his district). Earth to Fred: the profit from a good school system is not money; it's well-educated graduates who can compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace. That costs money, but it won't make you any. District 1 voters, you know what to do -- aw, hell, what am I saying? We can pretty much give up on District 1. I'd vote to cede that area to Rhea County, as it'd be a more congruous alignment.
Charlotte Vandergriff said that her "Yes" vote on the increase wasn't a difficult decision, given the circumstances in which the schools currently find themselves. When Republicans talk this way, one has to assume that the situation is indeed serious.
After several citizens thanked the Commission for the vote (except one, Libertarian extremist Daniel Lewis), the meeting was recessed and I caught up with John Bailes, who is a candidate in the 2006 election, District 8 (currently held by Curtis Adams).
I asked him for his thoughts on the session, and he summed it up nicely: "it showed that accountability and fair funding do not have to be enemies." Although Bailes feels that the levy increase approved today merely restores funds that have eroded in recent years (he cited librarians, guidance counselors, coaching supplements and teacher pay), instead of providing a true increase, he expressed optimism that the perceived schism [between the Commission and the Schools Administration] will no longer be used as a "punishment." He also pointed out that -- for District 8 residents, specifically -- today's approval of a modest tax increase is mitigated by the recent state-mandated rate decrease related to the appraisal cycle (a point that, I should mention, directly and accurately counters Bill Hullander's complaint that "this happened during appraisal").
I agree with John Bailes, too, in his assessment that today's bipartisan decision did much to overcome the divisions between the School Board and the County Commission, and will lead to a new era in our local government.
I'll be proud to help place Mr. Bailes into that government by voting next May and August.
Government | By joe lance | 11:03 PM