Trimble passes first reading of new tax
Proposed tax of insurance premiums could help eliminate Trimble County's nearly $500,000 annual budget deficit
Tuesday, January 22, 2013 10:00 AM
Several people crowded into the Trimble County Fiscal Court building to hear discussions of a proposed tax on insurance premiums.
Some in the standing-room-only meeting came to show their support, while others spoke against the tax and asked for other options to be explored to make up the financial losses.
Before opening the meeting to comments from the audience, Trimble County Judge-Executive Jerry Powell explained the fiscal court's reasoning for the tax which could help eliminate the nearly $500,000 annual budget deficit.
The county absorbed the costs over the past three years and has used reserves to pay the county's bills, he said.
The proposed ordinance, which passed 5-0 on the first reading, will collect a fee on any residential or business insurance policy covering casualty, automobile, inland marine, fire and allied perils, health and life within Trimble County. The county plans to collect a 5 percent tax to help curb the budget deficit beginning in July.
Powell said the budget deficit was created after a decline in revenue at Valley View Landfill located in the county.
"We have no guarantee it will pick up, if it ever picks up," Powell said of the landfill revenue.
The Trimble County Fiscal Court looked at other options to make up the annual deficit, he said, including the implementation of an occupational tax in the county or cuts to the budget.
"I think this is more fair than any other option," Powell said.
Trimble County resident Phillip Wright said the county should look into insurance tax, as well as occupational tax, but Powell noted far fewer people work in the county than county residents who pay for insurance.
Wright also asked what cuts could be made to the county's budget to make up the difference, suggesting each county department be asked what they could cut from the department's operations.
"If it were my family and I had to cut (a budget) or go broke, I'd make cuts," Wright said.
Powell said the budget already had been slashed over the past three years, and certain areas of the budget - such as the road fund - cannot be cut because of state mandates.
John Edwards, another county resident, told the fiscal court that counties are profitable when its citizens are profitable. With the current economy, everyone feels the effects from unemployment and other declines.
"We're getting hit everywhere with taxes," Edwards said. "This is just a bad time."
Former Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens agreed that the tax comes at an inconvenient time for everyone with the current economic issues across the nation, but he also understands the need to balance the county's budget.
"You're not cutting fat anymore, in my opinion," Stevens said of the county budget. "You're in the meat."
The proposed insurance tax had been thought of during his time in office, Stevens said, and some preliminary research had been done to consider the possibility. The decision to proceed with the insurance tax was presented in a public forum during the Fiscal Court's December meeting.
"I hate it, but I understand it," he said of the tax.
Other people in the audience understood the need for the tax much like Stevens, but those residents also hope each future purchase is scrutinized before a decision is made.
Trimble County resident Russell Young said he agreed with the Fiscal Court's choice to impose the tax to increase revenues, but he also asked magistrates to think about "wants" versus "needs" before each purchase moving forward.
Bedford City Commissioner Todd Pollock also showed support for the tax during the meeting, even though he had planned to be against the decision before the meeting, he said.
"I see what you're doing, and I understand why you're doing it," he said. "Here I am defending you, and I sure didn't mean to do that because I'm against this tax."
Pollock learned before the meeting that Trimble County residents living in Milton or Bedford will not be paying double for the insurance tax already charged by the cities, which he was against.
Other residents expressed disgust at the insurance tax and worried that residents will quit paying insurance premiums just to get away from the extra costs.
Trimble County landowner P.J. Nacke said the new proposed insurance tax may be too much for residents already living paycheck to paycheck and might be too much for some residents to afford. This new tax, she said, isn't worth the extra cost to stay in Trimble County for her and her family.
"We're getting out," Nacke said. "We're getting out of Trimble County."
The Fiscal Court must do something before the county runs out of money, Magistrate Nolan Hamilton said, and the proposed insurance tax seemed to be the best solution at this time.
"We (have) got to do something," Hamilton said. "I (have) got to make sure this county survives."
A second reading of the ordinance will be held Feb. 18.
In other business:
Magistrates unanimously approved the second reading of a budget amendment for the current year. The amendment accounts for unbudgeted receipts in the LGEA fund, road fund and jail fund.
Powell notified the fiscal court that the Shelby Energy Coop gave the county $500 for its participation in the I-71 Corridor Regional Economic Development Task Force.
The Fiscal Court also agreed to sell dog tags at the animal shelter, as well as the county judge-executive's office. The county dog tags cost $5.