Erwin resident Lois Yelton speaks out in opposition of the 40-cent tax hike passed by the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, Aug. 26. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Town of Erwin residents can officially expect a 40-cent property tax increase following a unanimous vote on Monday, Aug. 26, by the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen to approve the 2019-20 budget.

The tax increase brings the Town of Erwin’s property tax rate up to $1.862 per every $100 of assessed property value. The current rate is $1.462. The new tax rate takes effect Oct. 1.

Citizens were given the opportunity to discuss the budget and tax increase prior to Monday’s vote during a public hearing.

“I wonder where you have gotten all of the money. You keep talking about grants for the trail, that’s still our tax money,” Erwin resident Lois Yelton said. “I’m a 90-year-old woman on a fixed income and everything is going up, but my income is not.”

According to Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, the Linear Trail has been beneficial to the town.

“The trail has helped tremendously with the health of the community, and has brought in sales tax,” Hensley said. “We have people come from as far as Asheville to walk the trail; it’s something I’m very proud of.”

Erwin Resident Larry White was the next resident to address the BMA on Monday.

“I don’t understand why each officer takes their vehicles home,” White said. “It’s not right for the officers to have personal police cruisers.”

Hensley responded, saying that by taking their cruisers home, officers are more prepared to react to an emergency.

“They are not personal cruisers. Our officers are needed to be ready to serve at a moment’s notice, and they are all five minutes from Erwin,” Hensley said.

More comments flooded from the community.

“It’s the property tax and it’s the property owners that are shouldering the irresponsibility of your budget,” representative for Erwin residents Mer Otis said. “I think this is a sin tax on property owners.”

Hensley objected.

“This is the Town of Erwin and we all shoulder the cost,” Hensley said. “We are replacing vehicles that we have had for eight to 12 years, are we spending our money wisely, yes we are.”

Town of Erwin Alderman Michael Baker took offense to the accusation by Otis.

“We have not run this budget into the ground. We are going to have to raise the tax money for future costs, not last year’s budget,” Baker said.

Hensley argued during the meeting that Erwin is moving in the right direction

“We are on an upward swing. You are seeing businesses and industry come back to Erwin,” Hensley said. “We are building for the future.”

Some citizens were more understanding of the tax increase.

“For me, it’s less than a dollar a day in taxes, Erwin resident Jim Long said. “I feel that if everyone understood the tax code and that the taxable amount is 25 percent of taxable land, it would ease minds.”

Hensley explained how the tax rate would affect local citizens.

“In Erwin, the average home property tax would go up $8 a month, that’s less than what garbage pick up would cost,” Hensley said.

One citizen expressed a need for more events to take place on the trail.

“I’d love to see these races that take place downtown take place on the Linear Trail,” Erwin resident Bruce Grubb said.

Hensley agreed with Grubb.

“I’d love to see that too. I hope we can have music out there and arts in the park events out on the trail,” Hensley said.

Grubb also asked how often the Erwin Police Department buys new vehicles.

“We are trying to replace the vehicles at a rate of one or two a year,” Tilson said. “They have to be maintained because of insurance. We use Fuelman for gas. We do everything we can to cut costs.”

For Erwin resident Logan Engle, the taxes are going to improvements to the town she calls home and that is OK with her.

“What this increase does is bring the tax rate back to what we had before recessions,” Engle said. “You get what you give in payments and I live in Erwin because of all you get here. I think I have a different opinion than some here, but I want to thank (the BMA) for all your hard work.”

More than two dozen concerned citizens turned out at the hearing.

During the previous BMA meeting on Monday, Aug. 12, the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously for the first reading to approve the 2019-20 budget, which includes a 40-cent property tax increase for those with property within city limits.

The second and final reading of the 2019-20 budget that includes a 40-cent tax increase passed unanimously on Monday following a motion to approve the request made by Baker and a second by Alderman Gary Chandler.

The Erwin BMA discussed the budget for a final time prior to Monday’s vote during a work session held on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

“We have agonized over this budget and we have to decide if we want to cut some services this year and have to evaluate those services down the road, or do we want to go with the budget as is,” Hensley said during the work session.

Baker expressed his support for the budget during the work session.

“I am 125 percent behind this budget as is; it is not that much in the scheme of things,” Baker said. “We could do like neighboring counties and charge roughly $20 a month for trash pick up, but it would be a bigger increase than what the taxes are going to be.”

Hensley agreed with Baker.

“I have not heard anyone in opposition of the tax increase except for the few the other night at the BMA meeting. I actually have had people come up to me and say, ‘I don’t know how you all do what you do with what you have’,” Hensley said during the work session. “We agonized over this budget and it is out there as a 40-cent increase; it has already been voted on once.”

Unicoi County Vice Mayor Mark Lafever acknowledged that he sees both sides.

“I have heard praises and complaints about the budget,” Lafever said. “All I ask is that we take a second look at it, and we have done that now, so I’m good.”

The BMA decided on Aug. 20 to move forward with the budget as is for the second and final reading of the budget at the BMA meeting on Aug. 26.

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In other business on Monday, the BMA voted unanimously to approve documentation that lays out policies and procedures for the Town of Erwin Home program. By approving this documentation, the Town of Erwin can continue to qualify for THDA funding to rehab low-income housing in need of repair.

The Town of Erwin has just recently completed the rehabilitation for five homes in Erwin with the funds received from the 2016 HOME program, according to Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff.

In a final order of business, the BMA voted unanimously to allow the abandonment of alleyways on Erwin Utilities Authority property on South Elm Avenue, Catawba Street, Vinton Avenue and Iona Street.

• • •

During the work session on Aug. 20, Erwin officials announced that a meeting with Barge to discuss plans for Fishery Park has been scheduled.

“Barge is wanting to meet to discuss the plans at Fishery Park,” City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said. “We can meet with them on Sept. 3 at 4 p.m.”

Another project that has been in the works for some time is nearing completion.

“We are also looking at the Morgan Insulation site to be pad ready by the end of the month,” Rosenoff said. “I can update everybody when that project is ready.”