Blount tax revolt group seeks support
By Joel Davis | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Blount County Tax Revolt is looking to change county government and get citizens more involved in making decisions on taxes.
Samuel David Duck is spearheading the effort to get voters to approve a home rule charter that would require future property tax increases to be approved by referendum. He needs at least 3,000 signatures on a petition to get the process moving.
“We’ve got more than 1,200 signatures,” he said. “... Right now, I’m intentionally sitting a little quiet. I’m figuring in May or June that we’ll get another big burst of signatures again.”Duck said this is because he fully expects the County Commission to pass a property tax hike for the Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget as Blount County Schools already faces a nearly $8.6 million budget shortfall in the next year.
“Our County Commission sees very little interest in controlling the budget (in a way) such that they don’t have to borrow more money or raise taxes,” Duck said.
Once the property tax increases, people will be much more interested in the ideas of forcing public votes to approve property tax increases, Duck said, and Blount County Tax Revolt will take advantage of the interest while it lasts.
“The enthusiasm will pick back up again. As the saying goes, the people get a wake-up call but a lot of times they just roll over and slap the snooze button.”
According to The University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service, home rule in Tennessee is the power of a local county or city under the Tennessee Constitution to adopt its own charter including its own system of self-government within certain limits dictated by the state constitution and laws.
Duck said the intention would be to pass a charter that imposes term limits, synchronizes the county elections with state and federal elections for better voter turnout, and force property tax increases to go to ballot just like sales tax.
Another idea being considered would change how bonds were issued and approved. “If they try to borrow money, if they float a bond, then every time they try to borrow money ... that has to go to ballot. It would be a lot harder to continue to run large budget deficits if every time a bond was floated that the citizens had to sign off on it.”
If Duck gets enough signatures, it would force the county to hold an election to appoint members of a commission to develop the charter. There would be 10 members — one for each of the county’s commission districts, Duck said.
The threshold to trigger the creation of the commission would be getting the signatures of a number of registered voters equal to at least 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the county for governor at the last preceding gubernatorial election. This would be about 3,000 people. Duck said he is aiming to get 6,000 signatures.
According to state law, the election of the charter commission members would be concurrently with the next primary or general election in the county occurring 75 days or more after the resolution is adopted or otherwise becomes effective. The cost of the election would be paid out of county funds.
One the commission created a proposed charter, it would then have to be approved by voter referendum at another election. “It’s not a fast process,” Duck said.
The Blount County Tax Revolt group has been researching the charters of other counties and municipalities. It took Knox County about three years to finish its charter process, Duck said. “We’re not going into this blind. We’re looking at what to do what not to do.
“.... The Town of Louisville has a similar petition in their charter. If the Board of Aldermen approves a tax increase that has to go to ballot. These are working examples of what other people have done.”