The Beacon Center of Tennessee says that despite a 30 percent increase of tax revenues, Sumner County’s consideration of further tax hike proposals is just another example of lawmakers balancing their fiscal irresponsibility on the backs of the taxpayers.
Beacon Center is a Nashville-based conservative think tank that reviewed the revenues and spending of Sumner County from the 2014-2015 fiscal year through and including the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which concluded on June 30.
The think tank’s Director of Policy and Research Ron Shultis told The Tennessee Star that the situation is unfortunate.
“In the past five years, Sumner County’s property tax revenue has increased by over 31 percent,” said Shultis.
And that’s not all. “Total revenue has increased over 30 percent,” added Shultis.
The comments come as the Sumner County Board of County Commissioners is set to approve budgets and establish the property tax rate for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Sumner County, which is on a five-year property reappraisal cycle, just wrapped up the process conducted by the Assessor of Property. Upon the completion of the valuation of all properties within the county, which is intended to bring equality to property values based on recent sales data within neighborhoods, a revenue-neutral property tax rate is calculated by the Assessor of Property.
The revenue-neutral tax rate, which is presented to the state Comptroller’s office for approval, is also known as a certified tax rate.
The intention of the certified tax rate, as established in state statute, is to ensure that increases in property tax revenues to the local government does not occur simply because of the increase in the value of properties.
Rather, the local legislative body – whether that is a county commission or city council or board of alderman – must take a separate and specific action to adopt a tax rate different than the certified tax rate.
The adoption of a property tax rate other than the certified tax rate is a two-step process. First, the certified tax rate must be adopted by the local legislative body followed by a vote on the actual property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year.
If the local legislative body has the intention of exceeding the certified tax rate, there are requirements established in state law to notify the public in advance in a newspaper of general circulation in the county. Both votes require only a simple majority of the legislative body in order to adopt.
The budgets for the operation of Sumner County’s schools, sheriff’s department, highway department, courts and general operations have not yet been approved for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which began on July 1. Rather, Sumner County is operating on continuing budgets from the 2018-2019 fiscal year, through action taken at the June County Commission meeting.
According to budget documents available on-line and presented by Sumner County’s Finance Director, it has been known for more than two months that Sumner County is headed for a property tax increase, as reported by The Star in June.
Beacon Center’s review of Sumner County’s revenue increases came before any increases still to be proposed with any specificity for the 2019-2020 budget year, which was waiting, in part, on the certified tax rate.
This week, the Sumner County Assessor of Property announced that Sumner County’s certified tax rate from the five-year reappraisal is $1.9284, which is a decrease of about 30 percent from the current property tax rate of $2.50, reflective of the corresponding increase in Sumner County property values over the past five years.
Relating Sumner County’s recent revenue increases to that of Tennessee taxpayers, Shultis commented, “Most Tennesseans would love a 30 percent raise over five years.”
“Once again, this is being sold to taxpayers as a revenue problem, instead of a spending problem,” concluded Shultis.
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