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Magistrates needlessly OK higher health tax rate

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Fiscal court finds out following meeting vote wasn’t even necessary

By BEN CARLSON

 The Anderson County Fiscal Court narrowly approved placing the health department’s tax rate on tax bills this fall — a vote that later proved unnecessary.

Magistrates voted 4-3 last Thursday to include a tax rate increase from 30 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to 52.5 cents when Magistrate David Montgomery changed his vote to yes after initially recusing himself from the vote.

Montgomery’s recusal left the measure deadlocked at 3-3, after magistrates Mike Riley, Steve Drury and Rodney Durr voted against placing the rate on tax bills and magistrates Juretta Wells and Meredeth Lewis joined Judge-Executive Orbrey Wells in voting yes.

County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis, who was in Anderson District Court when the meeting started, came in and explained that Montgomery was not required to recuse himself due to a business he operates having a contract to clean the health department and other county facilities.

That’s when Montgomery changed his vote and the motion to include the tax rate passed.

Following the meeting, Gritton said he spoke with Lewis who explained the fiscal court does not actually vote to place the rate on tax bills, and instead votes to acknowledge the rate was received.

Following the meeting, Riley said he voted against placing the rate on the bill out of confusion.

“I didn’t really know,” said Riley. “I thought it was a vote to approve the rate, then come to find out, it wasn’t.”

The 75 percent rate increase was needed to cover the health department’s increase from 49 percent to 100 percent its contribution to employee pensions, which increased the agency’s operating budget from about $1 million a year to $1.4 million.

Drury said he stands by his vote because he is opposed to any tax increase, including increases for pension contributions.

“I’m never for more taxes,” he said. “I represent the people of the 6th District and people there don’t want higher taxes. People on fixed incomes can’t afford these big tax hikes. There are other ways of getting money they need as far as pensions.”

Durr could not be reached for comment.