By Angie Mayes
Mt. Juliet News Correspondent
Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty spoke out against a property tax increase at Mt. Juliet Commission meeting last Monday night.
“As most of you know, there is before us tonight, a pitch to increase your property taxes by nearly a factor of four,” Hagerty told the crowd in the audience. “From the current rate of 16 cents to 59 cents. Of that, 39 cents would be dedicated to the fire department, and the balance of 20 cents would be dedicated to infrastructure.”
When approving the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, the resolution to authorize the increase and the budget that went along with the increase, was removed from consideration. Hagerty said because of that, there was going to be a move to drop the potential increase at this time.
“I do want to comment further, because there’s been quite a bit of discussion about this,” he said. “Quite frankly, I’ve been a very vocal opponent against this. One primary reason that I have repeated often is we do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”
Hagerty said the fire department’s revenue increased 42 percent in the past five years.
“Most agencies would be thrilled. They’d be ecstatic with an increase in funding of 42 percent,” he said. “We celebrate our economy when our gross domestic product is 2 percent or even 2.5 percent in a year. Could you imagine if a business increased their revenue 42 percent in five years?”
He asked if the audience had a 42-percent increase in income in the past five years.
“How many of those have spent every penny of the increase?” Hagerty said. “You probably didn’t. You probably [saved some] like most of us do. In this case, the department has not only spent it all, they more than doubled the spending. They spent more than 100 percent of a 42-percent increase in revenue.”
He said there would be “a lot of excuses as to why this happened. But I ask you this. If any of you had a teenager, who was spending recklessly, would you blindly give him or her more money? Would you triple or quadruple what you’re giving them? No, you’d take a deep breath and talk to them and try to get them to act responsibly. And you’re giving solutions that make sense.
“If you teenager then acted impetuously, challenged you, talked down to you or ignored you, would you be more or less inclined to triple their money?”
He related a story about calling for an ambulance May 8. He said his wife called, and the Fire Department of Mt. Juliet did not show up, even though they were two miles from his home.
“The Fire Department of Mt. Juliet did not come when called,” Hagerty said. “They were not on another call. I checked. Given the ranker and emotion of this tax discussion, I don’t even what to speculate why the city of Mt. Juliet [fire department] did not come when called.”
Later in the meeting, fire Chief Jamie Luffman, told Hagerty the 911 system, which goes to the Wilson Emergency Management Agency first, recognized his home as outside the city limits. Therefore, WEMA’s fire truck and ambulance showed up for the call.
“My personal situation aside, assuming this property tax proposal fails over the next two months, I will be bringing to the commission alternate proposals and ideas for consideration,” Hagerty said.
He said that could include raising the sales tax, which everyone who visits Mt. Juliet pays. Hagerty said other options are to “change the impact fee on construction, reduce spending or become more efficient. Here’s the real kicker. We got our budget books on Tuesday, electronically, and on Wednesday, we got the hard copy. We have not had a single [work] session dedicated to the budget until now.”
He acknowledged there was a work session for the tax increase proposal. There were also two town hall meetings for the tax proposal.
“Through all of those, the sales pitch was always on the revenue side,” he said. “Not a single comment on the spending side of the equation. The sales pitch has been relentless, ‘We must have more revenue for the fire department. We must have more money for the fire department. We must have more of your money.’”
Hagerty then said he quoted exactly from the fire department’s executive summary in the budget book.
“The Fire Department of Mt. Juliet’s budget request is largely status quo,” he read. “The Fire Department of Mt. Juliet is requesting no additional personnel, nor are we requesting any additional funding for any capital project.”
Hagerty said because the taxes are paid in arrears, the tax would be due Oct. 1. That would, he said, cover the period of Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. The budget runs on a fiscal year, July 1 through June 30. He said the residents would have paid twice, once Oct. 1 and then Oct. 1, 2020 before the department needed any money.
“For these reasons alone, I stand opposed to this proposal and will be bringing alternatives to the table in the next few days,” he said.
The issue was moved to the June 10 meeting, where the budget would be considered on first reading. A second and final reading will take place June 24 if it’s approved on first reading.