My community recently received an election-related mass mailing from Marty Haynes, Assessor of Property for Hamilton County. The purpose of his letter was to clarify his involvement in the sewage plant issue of last year. I live in Ooltewah, very close to ground zero of the 2018-2019 battle between thousands of residents that live within 1-2 miles of Mahan Gap Road and the WWTA/Hamilton County Government. Along with many others, I helped present the argument against building the sewage plant on Mahan Gap Road. I am very familiar with the challenges and obstacles our community faced during this time. Mr. Haynes’ letter offended many of us.
In the mailing, Mr. Haynes wanted to explain an email he sent to another county’s Assessor of Property requesting the property values of homes near their sewage plant. (I hope before Mr. Haynes wrote his email he considered the passion, fear, and determination felt by the thousands of local residents who were adamantly fighting against the Hamilton County government from placing a sewage plant in our backyard. Literally dozens of members of our community, from various social and economical backgrounds, participated in the daunting task of fact-checking, researching public, government, and legal records, as well as gathering the most current and relative housing data).
At the time Mr. Haynes’ email was sent, it was clear to all parties involved who was a proponent of the sewage plant at Mahan Gap and who was an opponent of the sewage plant. It was also known the WWTA had identified this Middle Tennessee sewage plant to use as a representative sample for their argument that a sewage plant next to a neighborhood would not negatively affect the quality of life or property values of the residents; and in fact they argued it could actually increase property values. How would it make you feel knowing that your assessor of property was seeking information that would be used to convince the Hamilton County Commission that placing a sewage plant next to your neighborhood would help increase our property values.
In his explanatory letter, Mr. Haynes states, “The truth is I was asked by a county official to contact…“ this part of his letter is very interesting. Surely Mr. Haynes new why this “county official” was asking for information. I wonder who the county official was and on what side of the debate was the “official”. As stated previously, it was well known at this time which side of the debate each of the key participants was on. Mr. Haynes further justifies his involvement by stating what he had asked for was“…information anyone could have requested.” My first thought was “then why didn’t the person wanting the information ask for it”? Or was the objective to have the information look more “official and substantiated” coming from the Hamilton County Assessor's Office or perhaps Mr. Haynes’ purpose was to do a favor for the “county official” who made the request.
Mr. Haynes explanation in his letter (knowingly or unknowingly) states an untruth that many proponents of the sewage plant also kept repeating in an effort to support their claims. Mr. Haynes states the reason he was asked to contact his fellow Assessor of Property was to “... ask them to share the property values near a recently built treatment facility…” The plant in question was built in 1971 (not recently built as Mr. Haynes states in his letter) and renovated in 2015. This was a key fact that was argued and proven during our presentation to the County Commission.
Please also let me comment on another issue behind the recent mud slinging between the Property Assessor campaigns. Tax records of Creeks Bend Golf Club show the tax payments (since Mr. Haynes has taken office in 2016) have decreased by 28 percent. Mr. Haynes explanation for this has been quoted in the Times Free Press, "Reassessments are a four-year process and the bulk of the 2017 assessment was done by the previous administration before I took office (on Sept. 1, 2016)," Haynes said in a January interview. "About half of the golf club is underwater when it rains, and when the staff factored in the most recent (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood map showing a portion of the golf course is underwater, the value naturally went down." This argument seems fair. Close to where I live is a golf course. It too is under water when it rains. The golf course near my house is made up of five different tax-assessed parcels of land.
According to the Hamilton County GIS, 50 percent of the largest and most expensive parcel lies in the FEMA floodway and it, too, as FEMA accurately predicts, is 50 percent under water during a heavy rain. Applying Mr. Haynes’ reasoning I expected to see their tax bill lowered too. That would have been fair. However, since 2016 their tax bill has increased by 1.3 percent. If it were me, I’d be headed to the Assessors Office today.
So as Mr. Haynes states in his recent letter to our community, “You deserve to know the facts….” and so now Hamilton County I hope you do.
Thankfully, residents of Hamilton County now have a choice for representation in the County Assessors Office. Please lend your support and vote for Randy Fairbanks in the Republican Primary on March 3. Randy is the candidate who has proven to my community we can trust him.