In 1790 Benjamin Franklin said nothing is certain except death and taxes. In the East Ridge of 2021 that statement certainly holds true.
After a recent reappraisal of property in our fair city, the value of homes rose on average about 30 percent. By state law, municipalities cannot reap a windfall profit from higher property values through property tax. The state certified a property tax rate of 99 cents, which our city government rejected as inadequate to meet the needs of East Ridge.
Last Thursday at the City Council meeting, City Manager Chris Dorsey briefed the council that the new tax rate would need to be $1.25. He reasoned the city coffers require this 25 percent increase to help the city retain its employees, who Dorsey claims are woefully underpaid. There is $600K in this budget to help address the lack of competitive pay to our 130 employees.
If I’m not mistaken, Dorsey said in the council meeting that we had lost eight employees last month. He did not elaborate what positions those employees filled. Were they veteran cops and firefighters? Were they low-level clerks? Were they garbage truck drivers? Don’t know. Dorsey didn’t say. But he was clear that the increase in the property tax rate was essential.
I don’t think many residents of East Ridge would stand up and oppose decent pay for public safety. That is essential. Same goes for sanitation workers. But, let’s take a closer look at how this city is being run, shall we?
A number of police officers and firefighters have taken to social media making claims that they haven’t received a “raise” in a decade. Well, what about the two percent raise all employees get most every year as cost-of-living increase. It ain’t much, some of those employees might say, but it’s more often than not more than the taxpayers of East Ridge receive at their place of employment.
I was recently told that in 1993 the East Ridge City Council passed an ordinance that established a “step-pay” increase for our police officers. Simply stated, a patrol officer with say 10 years of service would be paid more than a counterpart who just recently joined the force.
I recently asked a member of the ERPD administration about this policy and was told it was never instituted. Why? Don’t know.
Got no idea about how firefighters are compensated. All I know is that the younger guys in the department complain there is no room for advancement because the senior folks never leave. Never. That doesn’t sound like much of an attrition problem to this writer.
Then there is sanitation. Do we need to remind our city officials that each household in this city pays a $180 sanitation fee, over and above property taxes for this basic service that any city would fund through property taxes? It’s a stand-alone fund that brings in $1.8 million a year. If you took that $180 and calculated it into the property tax rate, I’m “guesstimating” that it would tack on another 20 cents or so to the rate.
A few years ago, about 70 percent of the city’s budget went to salary and benefits for employees. I’m not a businessman, but I understand labor is a big chunk of any enterprise’s budget. Does our new budget surpass the 70 percent mark? I have no idea because government accounting systems are so darned convoluted the average person has little chance of negotiating that labyrinth.
Furthermore, when this Border Region Act “thang” came along, one high-ranking member of the city’s staff told me that East Ridge would never, repeat “NEVER” increase property taxes again because the city would be rolling in state sales tax money from all the increased retail development. Sorry to say that just hasn’t happened.
It would be one thing if people had confidence that the 25 percent increase in property taxes would be responsibly spent and make a difference in the quality of life of the residents of this city. You know … smoothly paved streets, improvements in addressing stormwater issues, sidewalks on some side streets where your neighbors actually walk, repurpose the 54,000-square-foot building that once was the McBrien School. City officials could even throw in a dog park which many folk have been coveting for years and years.
Sadly, what’s likely to happen with the additional money is that the better part of the city’s 130 employees will see their standard of living increase; I would guess a few a lot more than others.
And if you think lavish spending is currently going on in Camp Jordan Park, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Remember, the $5 million improvements to the sports complex (I’m no longer going to refer to the facility as a “park”) a couple years ago was only “Phase I,” for crying out loud.
My neighbors might ask, “what can we do about it?” Well, on August 26 prior to the City Council’s second reading of the ordinance setting the new tax rate, a public hearing is scheduled. The public will have a chance to speak up, pro or con in regard to the tax rate.
I’m told that in most places elected officials have a hard time ignoring the great unwashed (that would be me and you, dear reader) who show up and speak out. But, this is East Ridge, you know.
Ol’ Ben was right, you know. We will all, at some point, succumb to the ravages of time and pass from this earthly pale. And, we will all pay taxes for the privilege of living in East Ridge. The question is just who are the privileged; the residents or the employees?