An open letter to Mayor Larry Waters and the Sevier County Commission.
Several articles have been written in the past couple of years regarding the lack of funding for infrastructure needs in Sevier County. A TACIR report states that Sevier County is short by approximately $300 million. A bond issuance was recently passed. Schools lack needed funds. A new hospital needs to be built.
I have attended commission meetings, planning commission meetings and have hosted Mayor Waters at a Friends of Wears Valley meeting. Citizens have repeatedly been told by county leaders that development / developers projects do not create additional burdens on infrastructure because 1. Rental cabins are not used full time. 2. Renters do not send their children to our schools. 3. Additional tax moneys collected on sales to tourists more than offset the burden they place on our system.
More after the jump...
Why then are Sevier County citizens now being told that a property tax increase is possible? Why is there a shortfall?
The state of Tennessee passed legislation that allows local governments to collect “impact” fees (fees paid by new construction for additional infrastructure needs – roads, schools, sewer, county oversight of wastewater, storm water, roadside trash collection, etc.). During one planning commission meeting, a developer stated that his sales would be negatively affected if addition fees were added to the construction cost of his rental cabins. Zoning, building permitting and assessment opponents routinely claim that adding a couple of thousand dollars to their $300,000 plus investment/rental cabin commercial business projects would stifle sales. I believe that if an additional few thousand dollars makes or breaks a deal on a $300,000 building then, developers, real estate brokers and those involved in project pricing need to go back to school for a pricing theory refresher course.
I have a solution to the budget shortfalls that face Sevier County citizens: Charge an assessment fee on all new development. A dollar per square foot per new commercial cabin rental / new building should offset the current lack of funds. If priced correctly, this could be a tremendous revenue stream that would benefit all county residents. How much income do you want to generate? Whatever the price, it certainly should pay for all additional demands created by the mountaintop building that’s taking place in Sevier County. It could even be used to create a surplus for future needs or projects (parks, libraries, etc.)
Why should I watch all of the mountains in Sevier County be clear cut, developed, scarred and ruined and then have my taxes raised to pay for that damage? I think those that cause this destruction should at the very least pay for the additional strain they are placing on my roads, sewers, schools and services.
Many people are moving here from communities all over the United States. There is a vast pool of knowledge brought by these newcomers. Ask for public input. Ask for public buy in. Use the experience of this “new” group of residents.
Meeting state legislators is a great step in addressing shortfalls in Sevier County. Using ideas already implemented by other communities instead of reinventing the wheel could set us on a path that other communities will emulate. Leadership and proactive thinking and policy making can move us into and beyond the 21st century.
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