Signal Mountain Approves Tax Increase On 1st Reading, But Without Sanitation Fee; Town Has No Problems With Chickens For A Decade

Tuesday, June 11, 2019 - by Gail Perry

Signal Mountain’s budget for 2019-2020 passed on first reading at the council meeting Monday night with a property tax rate higher than the one originally proposed by Town Manager Boyd Veal; however it eliminates an $18 per month sanitation fee that was part of that proposal. The property rate was set at 1.9004 for the coming year which will mean an increase of $208.69 for a $250,000 house, which is close to the median home value in the town.


The current tax rate is 1.5665, which on a $250,000 house, means the tax is $979.06.

The initial budget that was presented by Mr. Veal was planned around a tax rate of 1.8091, which would have meant an increase of $151.63 on a $250,000 home, however it also included the monthly $18 sanitation fee per home.  


The new budget includes $268,439 for some paving, but leaves more to be carried over to the next year. It also provides a five percent raise for all employees except for the town manager.


Vice Mayor Amy Speek, who was unable to attend the meeting, had prepared a statement for the council, however Town Attorney harry Cash said there is no provision in the town codes that would allow an absent council member to be heard electronically. Before the vote, Councilman Robert Spalding told Mayor Dan Landrum that he was abstaining from the vote because he would prefer to first hear from citizens at a public meeting and to look for more efficiencies before making a decision. With the vice mayor absent, the ordinance passed on the initial reading with a vote of three in favor and one abstention.


The increase in property taxes was mostly due to the reduction from two sources of income, even though the budget this year is smaller than it was for 2018-2019. Declining income from the Hall state income tax and money from a SAFER Grant that has been funding firefighters for the town’s new fire station are both being phased out. The Hall tax, which provided $250,000 this year, is estimated to bring in $100,000 in 2020 and it will be $0 in 2021. The phasing out of this tax is having the biggest effect on small towns without a lot of potential commercial revenue, said Mayor  Landrum. The SAFER Grant is shrinking each year too, from $336,872 in 2018-19 to $247,039 in 2020, $78,600 in 2021 and $0 by 2022.


A public hearing and second vote will be held on the 2019-2020 budget at the next commission meeting on June 24. A continuation budget from 2019 was also passed so the town can continue to operate in the event that the new budget fails to pass on second reading.


The town’s ordinances regarding short term rentals such as VRBO have been amended. The practice is highly regulated by state law, said the town manager. A vote to adopt regulations on that industry, which are allowed by the state, passed unanimously. Another vote defined what is allowed as long as all regulations are complied with, which is a mechanism to allow the town more control. Another reason for changing the ordinance is to allow the town’s administrative officer to hear zoning violations. Prior to this vote, zoning cases were heard by the municipal court which can fine up to $50. An administrative officer can fine up to $500.


Having had no problems with keeping chickens in the town limits during the past 10 years, the council voted in favor of amending the city’s code. A building inspection will be done at the time of a permit application and a permit fee of $35 is required, but no annual visit by an inspector will be made unless there are complaints.


A resolution passed to authorize an additional $16,671 for renovations and repairs to the MACC. The changes were due to a “rock clause” in the contract with Raines Brothers, Inc. Excavation and removal of rock was required at the cost of $11,419 and a rock wall was removed and rebuilt at the cost of $5,252 for drainage improvements. Funds that are already in the MACC operation budget will be used to cover this work.


A contract with Santek, the current waste services company used by Signal Mountain, was renewed in the annual amount of $230,000 for a three-year term. This was the lowest and best bid for hauling and disposal of waste from the town’s transfer station.


The mayor was authorized to sign a contract renewal with the Southeast Tennessee Development District in the amount of $15,350 per year for the coming two years. The SETDD assists with planning, makes recommendations about zoning and subdivision issues, assists in grant projects, updates the land use plan and provides planning training for members of the Signal Mountain planning commission.


A culvert will be replaced at Windtree Drive in the amount not to exceed $43,330. When the subdivision was annexed there was some infrastructure that did not meet the town standards, and now some is failing, including the culvert that the council voted to replace. Public Works Director Loretta Hopper said that one lane will remain open at all times during the work for access into and out of the area.


The town’s sign ordinance specifies that a sign be no larger than 25 square feet. Alexian Village requested a variance for the size of three new signs that will replace three existing ones. It was found that one of them, which exceeds 25 square feet, would block the Signal Point park sign. After discussion, it was decided that giving a variance would set a bad precedent. The council voted to deny a variance for all three new Alexian signs.

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