The Blount County Budget Committee voted unanimously Monday to retain the property tax rate at $2.47 per $100 of assessed value, as well as its current revenue allocation.

The Budget Committee also voted to recommend to the full Blount County Commission spending $62.7 million from the county general fund in 2021-22, with a total budget of $242.3 million, including funding for schools, the public library, highway and bridge maintenance and debt service.

The Blount County Commission is expected to vote on the tax rate and spending when it meets Thursday, June 17.

“We have sent a balanced budget to the commission that has no tax increase, no use of fund balance, paid off more of our debt and created no new debt, and I would hope every taxpaying citizen would appreciate that about their government,” County Mayor Ed Mitchell said.

Additions

The Budget Committee approved several amendments in the appropriations resolution at Monday’s meeting.

One raised estimated revenue from hotel and motel taxes $140,000 based on a new state law for collecting taxes from rentals through services such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher requested changing a part-time employee to full time, explaining other savings cover the costs.

The proposed appropriations already included an additional child abuse investigator, as well as one new employee each in the Register of Deeds Office and purchasing, as well as changing a part-time position to full time in the Election Commission and purchasing department, and adding a part-time magistrate.

Under the proposed budget, county employees would see a 2.5% step increase in July if they have a positive performance review and another 2.5% in January. School and library staff raises are separate.

Elected officeholders also will see raises based on salary schedules tied to county populations, since Blount now is estimated at about 133,000, putting it at a new level.

Another amendment would give each of the four volunteer fire departments an additional $10,000.

From the property tax rate of $2.47, like the current year, 88 cents would go to general county funding, 44 cents to debt service, 3 cents to general capital projects, 98 cents to schools, and 14 cents to education capital projects. The rate has been the same since 2016.

For a home appraised at $200,000, the county property tax bill would be $1,235, because residential property is assessed at 25% of appraised value. Although the rate remains level, increased value raises property tax revenues.

School internet

The Budget Committee also approved a resolution to spend $353,000 this budget year to extend the county’s fiber-optic network to improve internet access to schools.

Although the resolution is to spend money from the county fund balance, which are previously undesignated funds, Budget Director Randy Vineyard said the county will seek reimbursement from federal funding under the American Rescue Plan Act.

Mitchell explained the move is part of a yearlong effort to connect all government, school and public safety buildings in the county.

With the commission’s approval, 18 of the Blount County Schools locations will be able to tap into the network in two months, with Prospect, Townsend and Walland elementary schools joining within a year, he said.

The effort is managed by the Maryville-Alcoa-County Network — MACNet — owned and operated by the governments and leased to internet providers.

Working with Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative in the southern part of the county and the Educational Network of America, Mitchell said, the expansion of 70 miles of cable will provide “high-speed internet at levels unmatched by most communities in rural America.”

“The digital divide has been with us for over 30 years,” Mitchell said. “The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us of just how wide it is in Blount County. We had school-aged children who didn’t have the option to go virtual learning. We had elderly who couldn’t register for the COVID shot because they did not have a computer. We used to have government services that can only be delivered in person. We’re changing all of that now.”

Education Reporter

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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