Wilson County Commissioners approved a 35.17-cent property tax increase, which will in turn provide raises for close to 500 county employees, including higher pay for emergency personnel, members of the sheriff's department and county teachers.
The county recently conducted a compensation study comparing pay for county employees to four comparable neighboring counties: Williamson, Rutherford, Sumner and Montgomery. That study then set pay ranges for nearly every position in county government, minimum, mid and high.
Many Wilson County employees were currently being paid below the minumum set forth by the pay study. The Budget Committee recommended raising all members of Wilson Emergency Management and Wilson County Sheriff's Office to be raised to the mid-level, in turn causing a property tax increase to fund the pay adjustments.
"These are not pay raises," Mayor Randall Hutto told the commission. "They are pay adjustments."
Several department heads gave stirring speeches to fight for their employees. WEMA Director Joey Cooper admitted to giving up a portion of his own salary to help his employees. And WEMA employees, by far, made up the largest portion of the standing-room only crowd. Teachers and employees of the sheriff's department made up the majority of the remainder.
"Any way that we can support them - that would be appreciated" he said. "They are worth every penny we can give them."
To hammer home a point of how underpaid they are, Commissioner and Budget Committee Chairman Mike Justice asked for a show of hands from the crowd if they were a WEMA employee who had to work a second job to help pay their bills. Nearly every hand in the crowd shot up. In fact, only one WEMA employee raised her hand that she did not work a second job to make ends meet.
There were a few attempts made to put-off voting until the following night; however, after two short recesses, commissioners were ready to vote on the issue - taking it department by department.
- 50 cents for the Sheriff's Department with a vote of 21-3. Commissioners Frank Bush, Dan Walker and Jim Emberton were the three "no" votes.
- 39 cents to Wilson Emergency Management with a vote of 20-2, with commissioners Terry Scruggs and Mike Justice abstaining. Commissioners Bush and Walker voted "no."
- 19 cents for all other departments, including the Mayor's Office, Veteran's Office, Information Technology, Building and Maintenance and Finance Office, Election Office, General Sessions, Probation and Juvenile Probation departments with a vote of 20-3. Commissioner Scruggs abstained.
- 9 cents was approved for the construction of a Gladeville middle school with a vote of 15-9. The original number of 15 cents was amended six-cents lower. The tax will generate $45 million for the construction of the school.
- 1 cents to teacher pay raises passed 20-3; with commissioner Adam Bannach abstaining.
- 7 cents for WEMA projects passed 18-6.
- 1 cent to convenience centers passed 19-5.
Employees can expect to see their adjustments take effect Sept. 1, 2016.
Monday night's 3-hour meeting was preceded by one-hour of public comments and finally wrapped at 10 p.m. Public comments were split almost 50-50 with people speaking both in favor and against the property tax hike or pay adjustments.
Prior to voting, Hutto gave a brief history of property tax increases in the county and how they compared to nearby counties.
Other counties have recently had to raise property taxes, noting that we are "not in a boat by ourselves." Sumner and Rutherford Counties both voted on property tax increases in 2014.
After the commission approved the pay adjustments, middle school funding and support for WEMA projects, Mayor Hutto made one last comment to the commissioners.
"We make things too hard sometimes. I applaud how you came together."
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