At least four county commissioners were against a plan to get the county debt free over the next three-plus months, but it wasn’t enough to prevent it from happening.
In the Tipton County finance committee meeting Monday night before the Tipton County Commission meeting, committee members voted 5 to 4 to approve County Executive Jeff Huffman’s plan, which will get rid of approximately $9.7 million of debt by Sept. 25.
Commissioners Walker Adams, Michelle Smith, Mike Naifeh and David Copeland, all of whom were elected last August, voted against the plan. Dr. Courtney Fee, Glenn Turner, James Sneed, Jeff Mason and Sheila Barlow, all of whom have been commissioners for several years, voted in favor of the plan.
“I feel relieved,” Huffman said after the commission meeting. “I’ve been worrying about this because we were hoping interest rates didn’t go up.”
Although there was dissention during the committee meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the plan during the full commission meeting.
Now that this issue has been settled, the finance committee will work toward presenting a budget at next month’s meeting.
Part of Huffman’s plan was to reduce the property tax rate from $2.42 to $2.36. Whether that happens or not will be determined in the coming weeks.
Adams and Copeland both said one of the reasons they voted against the debt-free plan was they felt blindsided.
“The problem was had we seen the budget first as opposed to second, I might have changed my vote,” Copeland said. “Going in with what I saw, no, there was not correlation because we had not seen the prior plan. We did it backwards. It was presented backwards.
The first we heard of it was when the article came out in the paper. That was a surprise to 90 percent of us. That was a huge shock.”
“One thing was the timing,” Adams said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of discussion in the matter … I like the fact of going debt-free, but maybe we could structure it a little different instead of paying it all off at once.”
Discussions about going debt-free became public in early 2018, so it’s no coincidence the longer-tenured commissioners were in favor it.
“We’ve been on the commission so we’ve seen what’s coming and been prepared for that,” Sneed said. “For me it was a no-brainer. I think, going forward, what we need to do is bring in the new commissioners even more so they understand. Right now they have a lot of questions, and that’s natural.”
Said Fee: “When you have these conversations about your county going debt-free you’ve been able to project out who much savings it will be. We’ve talked about it in the finance committee for a while. The seed was planted a long time ago. Our county is in good shape because it’s managed very reasonably and very responsibly.”
“I think they’re (the commissioners who voted against it) for paying off the debt, but they didn’t want to make a vote tonight while they’re still trying to figure out what the tax rate is,” Turner said.
Adams said he is against lowering the property tax rate.
“In my opinion, to be good stewards of the county, we need to give people back things they can see,” Adams said. “Pave a few more roads, get a few more officers out there. Let’s get this county fire department up and going correctly. With all that we need money. I would rather us continue what we’re doing as opposed to reducing it and then coming back to the people and asking for the money back.”
Sneed is excited about the county starting with a clean slate.
“It kind of recalibrates everything,” he said. “It puts a new meaning, like now how are we going to be responsible? Now you can really look at it when the debt builds up, where did that come from? You can really see it. Now you’ll know.”