Red Bank Commissioners voted unanimously on first reading on Tuesday night to raise the property tax by 11 cents.
The new $1.10 per $100 of assessed valuation was 10 cents below what Interim City Manager John Alexander had recommended and had been supported by Mayor Hollie Berry and Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton.
Red Bank's tax rate previously was $1.39. However, under the certified tax rate following reappraisals, it was rolled back to .99.
Mr. Alexander, who has served as city finance director for the past 10 years, said the $1.20 was needed "to keep our heads above water" and to avoid another tax hike for 5-6 years.
He said without any increase the city would have to pull $306,000 from its rainy day fund.
Mr. Alexander said Red Bank is a property tax dependent town like Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain. He said its sales tax collections are far below other towns "that have Walmarts." He said, "I don't want to say we're putting it on the populace, but it's the only place we have to go."
Just prior to the vote for the $1.10 rate, Mr. Alexander said that amount would be enough to bolster the city's finances and provide a raise for firefighters. Under the recently approved budget, employees got a two percent raise.
Commissioner Pete Phillips made the motion for the $1.10 rate, saying the commissioners can re-evaluate later whether a higher rate is needed. Vice Mayor Dalton asked if that could be done as soon as six months, but City Attorney Arnie Stulce said, "You cannot change the tax rate in the middle of the fiscal year."
Commissioner Phillips, in his motion, cited the need to pay Red Bank employees well, saying the city faces competition from private employers who have had to raise wages in some cases to lure workers back. He said department budgets had been closely examined and they were being run on a tight basis.
Mayor Berry said the appraisal on her home went up 33 percent. She said at the $1.20 rate she would be paying $102 more a year.
Vice Mayor Dalton said the value on her house rose 50 percent. She said she would be paying $136.31 more at the $1.20 rate.
Commissioner Ruth Jeno said citizens had told her they wanted to know what the extra money was going to be used for. She said no plan had been presented with specific needs.
Commissioner Ed LeCompte said he would pay $105 more per year at the $1.20 rate. He said he personally was not opposed to that rate, but he said many citizens told him they objected to going that high.
At a public hearing, some citizens spoke in favor of an increase, while others were opposed.
One citizen said, "To keep the lights on, I don't think $10 a month is too much."
Another said funds were needed to pay the employees more.
Shirley Dowlen, longtime resident, said $1.20 was "entirely too much" and a more gradual approach should be taken.
David Hafley said when the budget was recently approved there was no talk then about needing additional income.
Richard Floyd, former state representative, said Red Bank was "running toward socialism as fast as our little feet can carry us." A woman later said, "This is not socialism. This is a community."