By Misty Green
“You guys should definitely raise the wheel tax to $200,” the first citizen, (who did not state his name) remarked during the period set aside for public statements scheduled during the Macon County Legislative Body meeting on September 18. He continued on to say, “You have budgets, you guys can get a raise… sheriff can get a raise… build new school buildings, whatever you guys want… I think it’s going to be great, so I petition for you guys to go ahead and push that forward and that will solve a lot of issues that you guys may have and I hope you aren’t being sarcastic with that, because right now, the citizens are hurting… I don’t know if you guys noticed, but everything is going up… wheel’s (tax) are fixing to go up, and if your on a fixed income… good luck, thank you.”
“Sooner or later, ya’ll are going to have to raise taxes,” Macon County Mayor Steve Jones said, “no matter if it is this or anything else, and I’m not for that, and I want the papers to understand that,” he declared. Mayor Jones continued on to say, “I’m not for that, just like you are… I think people thinks that I’m just open-minded and just want to raise taxes and do everything… your wanting to do something for a vocational school and you have made a commitment to the Board of Education, that if they will build the elementary school, you will do the vocational school… if you don’t do the vocational school, and they have to do it, then they are going to be coming back and asking you for money to pay on the elementary school, and there’s just not enough money to go around… the problem is growth… there is nothing wrong with what’s going in this year, but you have got to understand, next year, you are going to have too… EMS is sitting over here asking for the same thing because they are having the same problems… nine paramedic spots and only 4 paramedics… so, it’s a problem, and it’s the growth of this county that is doing it, and you can’t help that… they (sheriff, EMS, schools) can’t help it… it is just a decision you’re going to have to make.”
Although, no tax increases were voted on during this meeting, District 1 Commissioner Phillip Snow gave an example after the meeting, of how the tax increases could affect him if the vote to increase taxes for revenue passed in the future. “Raising the wheel tax for a vocational school would place the cost of getting each tag renewed at $136.00, which would be the highest county in the state, and tonight’s action (to proceed with discovering the cost of the vocational school) could potentially place a 7¢ increase on the property tax in the near future, and for me that means an additional $50-75. If I figured it correctly and if the proposed $36 increase in the wheel tax takes place, that means an increase of around $250, that I will have to pay. I wonder how many other families are on a single income, fighting cancer, having to pay medical bills that keep piling up? Make sure your voter registration is up to date for a likely petition in the near future. As recently as two months ago, the county mayor had stated in a commission meeting that the best thing to do was to put any further discussion off for a while until things got economically better. For the record, I am not against vocational education, I support it over a college. I am against raising the Wheel Tax once again, especially in light of the fact that the superintendent stated that someone would be coming asking for another school once these were paid off.”
Sheriff Pay Scale Approved ~ Commissioner Slayton says, “Investment in Safety is a No-Brainer!”
When discussing the budget request motion to approve pay increases for the sheriff’s department and jail employees, and had already been seconded, District 7 Commissioner Barry King asked Sheriff Joey Wilburn where the money was coming from. Mayor Steve Jones asked the sheriff to explain his plan and the money concerning it.
Pulling up the presentation on the smart screen, Sheriff Wilburn explained, “$80,000 is offset through the SRO Grant… so, before the SRO Grant, the county paid $10,000 per employee to have their health insurance, so that grant has freed up $80,000 and I would like to reallocate that money to the sheriff’s department to help offset cost. Then we have capital outlay, right now it’s budgeted for $150,000, but I want to move $100,000 of that into the sheriff’s office to offset another $100,000, and then I have $100,000 in commissary revenues that I want to put forward to the salaries… that’s another $100,000, so, it’s really $280,000 just right up front… now the Prisoner Board Fund is where I am kind leading it up too and now, I want to fund the remaining balance… I don’t know how much is in there exactly… I know a lot of you wanted me to use/take care of the jail that’s going to be built, but my argument to that is, even if we decided to build the new jail now, in three years construction and I’m in pretty dire need of money… Basically, $205,208 is what I am needing this fiscal year. The Prisoner Board Fund brings in $400,000 every year… there’s roughly a million dollars in there and we have 34 to 35 State Inmates, which brings in $400,000 every year into that fund… so, I am just asking if this is a way to offset any kind of taxes… I’ll leave it up to ya’ll.”
“My concern there,” District 1 Commissioner Phillip Snow commented, “is, if we start taking money out of that Prisoner Board Fund, then we ain’t going to have enough to pay the Jail (addition) and we will have to come up with that, and I am real concerned about that… vehicles,” Snow said, “you keep a vehicle and your in pretty good shape, but I don’t want to get behind like we was years ago, and I am absolutely supportive of you… you know that.” Wilburn agreed saying, “It is a concern, but this is something that gives us the opportunity to fund it and then work toward making other revenues… right now, the issue is being down so many officers, and to me is the most pressing issue I want to take care of, and then work towards taking care of the rest… I do understand what you are saying… I don’t like pulling from the Prison Board Fund and I also don’t want to raise taxes or hit the county with a half a million dollars more… this is just what I am trying to bring as a way to offset costs now, and work toward the replacement later… yes, we will need the capital outlay to back the vehicles in the future… commissary money won’t be there in the future, this is an option we’ve got now to be able to fund this… the capital outlay and commissary is this year alone.”
Commissioner Barry King commented, “this is only this year, right… I mean, that we will have to come up with this kind of money.”
Wilburn replied, “the $80,000 is just year over year.” “Right,” King said, “we’ll have to figure something out when it comes to the budget meeting.”
“So now, next year we’ve got to come up with $450,000… would that be about right,” District 2 Commissioner Keith Newberry asked. “Somewhere around that,” Sheriff replied.
“What concerns me is,” District 4 Commissioner Justin Dyer stated, “you say, next year we’ve got to come up with $450,000, but with the scale you presented the other night, we don’t know what that maximum number is.” “Correct,” the sheriff replied, “that’s all budgeted on maximum amounts… that’s me paying everybody out max, as if everybody was there for the step 4 (highest level for pay).” “So, this is a tapped out budget,” Dyer clarified. “Yes,” the sheriff answered, explaining, “because, we can never predict how many will come and how many will go.”
“What concerns me is,” District 6 Commissioner Michael Slayton said, “this is a huge investment for our safety and our county’s safety… it’s a no-brainer.”
Several, ‘Mm-hmm’s,’ were heard in the crowd.
There were some calculations being imputed concerning property tax increase revenue among the governing body, “so, your talking, 6¢ to 7¢ to do it (next year),” Mayor Steve Jones commented.
“So, you have a motion and a second to approve the Sheriff’s request,” Mayor Jones told the Legislative Body. Calling the roll for final vote, here is how the tally came in… VOTING WITH PASS: Larry West and Kyle Petty; VOTING WITH NO: Phillip Snow, Todd Gentry, Keith Newberry; VOTING WITH YES: Mike Jenkins, Benton Bartley, Ethan Flippin, Justin Dyer, Barry Marshall, Tony Wix, Michael Slayton, Jeff Hughes, Barry King, Bobby Ray King, Wendell Jones, Jarhea Wilmore, and Helen Hesson; ABSENT:Billy Wilmore and Dan Hill.
In the election of Notaries Public, Tammy Bray was approved by acclamation.
The retirement of two Macon County Sheriff Department K-9’s (K-9 Loki & K-9 Otto) were on the agenda and Commissioner Barry King asked what was to be done with them before voting began. It was told that an officer was going to adopt them both, then commissioners approved the motion.
The commission also approved to donate Sergeant William Cherry’s firearm to the family.
The following budget amendments were approved for the respective departments: Parks and Fair Boards, Chancery Court, Election Commission, Workhouse, Sheriff’s Department; Drug Fund; and Sex Offender Registry. The following resolution/proclamations were also approved: 9-8/23 Strategic Plan Resolution & Debt Management Policy – Resolution and Policy for the Three-Star Program adopting a strategic economic development plan and the county’s debt management policy to assist in debt management decisions; 9-9/23 Title VI Resolution – Resolution declaring Macon County is in compliance with federal Title VI regulations; and 9-10/23 Suicide Prevention Proclamation — Proclamation for September being Suicide Prevention Month.
Commissioners approved the following monthly reports for the following departments: Building Codes/Impact Fee Report; Animal Control Report; and EMS Operational Report.
Commissioners approved the following minutes: Legislative Body Meeting 8/21/23; Planning Commission Meeting 7/18/23; Board of Zoning Appeals Meeting 7/18/23; Special Called Meeting (Elementary School) 8/7/23; Special Called Meeting (Administrative Building) 8/7/23; and the Committee of the Whole Meeting 9/5/23.
In the County Mayor section of the agenda, the commissioners approved the following: Library – motion to approve amending the Library’s FY23-24 budget (voting no: Phillip Snow); Procurement – motion to approve procurement for architecture firm for new Health Department project (voting no: Bobby Ray King); Industrial Development Board – motion to retroactively approve the terms for the members of the Industrial Development Board; Copier Lease – motion to approve copier lease for Circuit Court Clerk, as well as the copier lease at the Sheriff’s Department; Vocational School – motion to approve looking into the cost of building a new vocational school. “We need to get quotes on what it would cost,” Mayor Jones said, explaining it would be an estimated expense of $15 to $20,000 to have the vocational school drawn up by architects and engineers to obtain a number on what it would cost to build it. The vote that was approved by the commission was not to build the (vocational) building, only to seek the cost.
“I just want to reiterate what Mr. Jones said earlier,” Director of Schools Shawn Carter said, as he began to address the commissioners,”Ya’ll asked us at the Board of Education, before Christmas, if you could just give us some sort of certainty, that ya’ll won’t ask for anymore money for the elementary school, then we will build the vocational school, and so, I went back to the (School) Board and talked it over and we got our school down where we could pay for it and not ask for another penny. So, I would just ask that we keep that same train of thought. I know it’s a lot of money, and I know that some people don’t see any use of having a vocational school… well, I have three students right here that absolutely see a use for having a vocational school, and plenty more from where these kids came from. So, I humbly ask you to further this and just see where it goes.”
After much discussion, it was estimated the vocational school would roughly cost $11-$12 million.
District 1 Commissioner Phillip Snow commented, “I don’t remember voting to build a vocational school.” It was either 17-3 or 18-2,” Carter replied, “You didn’t vote to build a vocational school,” Carter explained, “Ya’ll asked me for the Board of Education to give you an assurance that we would not come back and ask you for any more money, and if we built that, then ya’ll would take care of this… that is what ya’ll asked me for… and I see several of them are shaking their heads, so I know they remember, but that’s okay.” A motion and a second to proceed with the vocational school cost inquiry was made and carried after the roll call vote. Voting NO: Phillip Snow, Tony Wix, and Bobby Ray King.
Investigating the matter concerning the vocational school “agreement” after the meeting, here is the official minutes recorded February 21, 2023, which states: After discussion by the legislative body the commission agreed to allow Mayor Steve Jones to proceed with checking into the funding that it would require to build a new Vocational School. There are several questions that need to be addressed before talking about additional Wheel Tax. The public attendees of the meeting were told if the Wheel Tax was addressed that there would be a public meeting where they could ask questions and give input. Motion #13 by Hughes, 2nd by King to allow Mayor Steve Jones to gather information about what it would take to build a new vocational school pertaining funding options and to get more information about staffing.
The next Committee of the Whole Meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 2, 2023 at 6:30 p.m. at the Courthouse on the Public Square.