An Open Letter to the County Commission:

I’m Zack Walden. I am a 3rd district voter, a Campbell County property owner, Vice-Chairman of the Campbell County Republican Party, and an attorney. I am concerned about and disappointed in the recent actions of the Campbell County Commission, and I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts on the proposed tax increase that the county intends to use to fill a slush fund.

The 2018 property tax rate was set at 2.25. After this year’s reappraisals, the property values in Campbell County rose. Because reappraisals cannot result in a tax increase, the property tax rate was adjusted to 2.0659. However, the county commission recently proposed raising the rate to 2.25—a $1.3 million tax increase on property owners.  The purpose of raising this rate is to make people believe that it was the reappraisal that caused the increase, but that is simply not accurate. Some commissioners still claim that this is not a tax increase. However, property owners will be paying more taxes, and the county property tax revenue will increase by $1.3 million. This is obviously a tax increase, and any commissioner who says otherwise is either being dishonest or has such a deep misunderstanding of the tax process that they should not be serving on the commission.

The important question to be answered is: What is the county commission going to do with this money? Recently, our long-underfunded school system faced a $1.8 million shortfall, but the county commission has proposed to allot no additional funds to our schools. Our county has also been hit with record-setting rainfall this year which has caused deterioration to our infrastructure, but our underfunded road department also will not see any meaningful increase in funding.

The recipient of this tax windfall is the “general capital projects fund.” After being funded .0884 cents of our 2.25 rate last year, this fund is going to be tripled to received .2613 this year which totals $1.8 million—coincidentally, the exact amount of shortfall the school system is facing.

I have spoken with numerous local officials and discovered that the only capital projects the county has planned this year is tearing down the old board of education building—which will cost $50,000—and an expansion of a campground at the White Bridge park, most of which is funded by a grant.

So what is the county commission planning to do with $1.8 million? They either won’t tell you, or they can’t tell you. This will be the commission’s special fund to give to pet projects throughout the year. This is not the result of visionary leadership, but a result of the power of corruption. Every member of the commission should be ashamed now that their plot has been exposed: continue to make the school system and road department scrape by while putting the proceeds of an underhanded tax increase into a slush fund.

But the other problem is that if our schools and infrastructure continue to be underfunded, we can expect more of the same.

Currently, the Campbell County Commission provides funding equivalent to $1,854.33 per Campbell County student. That’s less than half of what our peer counties provide. Anderson County provides $3,836.59 per student, and Roane County provides $3,945.27. Even Claiborne County provides $2,590.94. We should be embarrassed that nearby counties fund education at significantly higher rates than we do.

Some commissioners have pointed out that the school board did not request additional funding from the commission. There is a simple reason for this: School board members were bluntly told by the county finance department that the county commission would not raise taxes and would not increase funding for schools. We now know this is half true: the commission will raise taxes significantly, but they still will do everything they can to rob the children of Campbell County of a quality education.

For their part, the commission believes it is being responsible by not increasing school funding. They believe that Governor Lee’s voucher program will eventually affect Campbell County and cause the school system to lose hundreds of students. The commissioners have been incorrectly told that if Campbell County were to have three failing schools, they would automatically be included in the voucher program. This is false. The original voucher legislation would have affected school systems who had three or more failing schools on the 2015 list—not the current list. The legislation was eventually watered down to include only schools in Nashville and Memphis. The state legislature specifically chose the 2015 list because no rural county had failing schools in that year. The entire voucher program is designed to target schools in urban districts. There is no appetite in the state legislature to expand vouchers to rural districts such as Campbell County.

As a property owner, I understand what property taxes are for. The better that the local education system is, the safer that our community is, and the higher of quality life that we have, the more my property is worth. Therefore, property taxes are an investment into local priorities that give our property value: the roads that connect us, the schools that teach us, and the police and fire fighters that protect us. I am not opposed to a tax increase when local government uses that funding for local priorities. But let me be clear: this budget is an example of the dirtiest products of politics. It is a brazen attempt to mislead the public about a tax increase to fill a special fund with no accountability. This budget in its current form is and should be strongly opposed by the citizens of Campbell County. Any commissioner who would vote for the currently proposed budget is either uninformed, irresponsible, or corrupt and is unfit to hold public office.

The commission is now faced with a choice, now that their scheme has been exposed: You can fight on for your corrupt tax increase to fund your special projects, you can back down and accept the status quo, or, you can choose to display real leadership. You can finally take steps towards adequately funding our schools and roads. One commissioner has committed make a motion to amend the proposed budget to move $500,000 out of the capital projects fund into the school department, and an additional $500,000 to the road department. I hope some of you are bold enough to join him.

-Zack Walden

Jacksboro, TN

WLAF welcomes your input at (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 06/25/2019-6AM)

12 Replies to “Walden offers his thoughts on property tax increase”

  1. Older people on fixed income have to live on a budget to get by. From year to year things keep going up in price heating oil,taxes, groceries. You can not keep a budget. You start first of year adjusting it and by March, April, and May you’ve been hit several prices up and up. My car Ins. went up, I called USAA to see why I was told for a reason Tn. changed something was the reason.
    Heating oil, gas, interest rates on loans.,medical Dr. RX etc. Goes on and on You have to Rob Peter to pay Paul as the old saying goes.
    What’s left is what you live on which amounts to

  2. Well said Zack! Let’s see which commissioners are serious about education and infrastructure.

  3. Howard says
    Spot on Zach, I confronted one of the commissioners from the 3rd who argued with me until he was blue in the face and at the end of the year when I go to the court house to pay my property taxes it is going to cost me more and he did just what you said he put the blame on the tax assessor’s office it time for a good old fashion house cleaning at the courthouse next election

  4. Thank you Zach we need to hold them accountable. It’s sad that the school system had to close the learning center for lack of funds.

  5. Very good article, Zach. Very knowledgeable and informative. Imposed taxes should be such that everyone has to pay, not just property owners. I agree with Mrs. Johnson.
    The cost of living does not decrease as we become senior citizens, but increases in many areas.

  6. Mr. Walden – what a well written letter! Kudos! You had to spend an inordinate amount of time gathering the facts but you have clearly explained them to the rest of the taxpayers.

  7. I love hearing the facts. I’m by no means opposed to better funding for the schools but I would prefer to see it done with a tax that doesn’t hit on a smaller group such as property owners. With most young to middle aged owners having to leave the county to make a decent wage to be able to afford to own property it’s not fair. I know of a piece of propety that hasn’t changed in 40 years but the reappraisal went up $100,000 since the last appraisal 5 years ago. An increase in the sales tax or the wheel tax would be a hard pill to swallow but for me it would go down easier that a property tax increase.

  8. I agree on all points here. We need more transparency in our local government. Well written.

  9. An eye opener. A well written, very clear, informative letter. Thank you for exposing the truth .. Jean Ann Bochnovich

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