Property tax hike could be in offing

Monday, May 19, 2008

Marshall County is short on money.

That's the message from three local leaders who rang the bell of caution during discussions with members of a countywide group that exists to improve the economy here.

While no one is predicting one yet, the prospect of an eventual county property tax rate hike to cover debt payments apparently seems realistic to Lewisburg Mayor Bob Phillips, County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett and Chapel Hill Mayor Carl Cooper. They discussed their concerns Tuesday with other leaders on the executive committee of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board.

Even with historically high gas and diesel prices, the county mayor is more worried about how to pay debt on school bonds. Liggett made the point after Phillips decried a lack of action to get a new executive director for the state-mandated board so economic development might boost government revenue and improve the quality of life here.

That's why the JECDB exists, but a dispute over its organization has festered since its first executive, Jamie Stitt, resigned six months ago for another job with the state. Without her, county commissioners have said it's a good time to rewrite the inter-local agreement that organizes the JECDB. And, without Stitt, county commissioners deferred funding for a consultant to help attract retail businesses.

"I think it's slipping away from us," Phillips said of the JECDB's effectiveness while he explained his conclusion that the county's debt load and property tax rate adversely affected Lewisburg when refinancing city debt.

As the three mayors' discussion matured, Elizabeth McDow, a member of the JECDB representing higher education interests because she's the Lewisburg campus director of Columbia State Community College, suggested the talk be tabled until the county and a couple of municipalities vote on a new organizational agreement for the JECDB. Pick up a copy of today's May 16 edition of the Marshall County Tribune for full coverage.