County, city see high and low points in 2008


By RAY NORRIS, Chamber of Commerce

Now that 2008 is history, a review of the high points and low points is in order to put the full year in perspective and to prepare for a challenging 2009. 

First, a review of some of the financial data will show that both the city of Celina and the county of Clay had a number of success stories with respect to being awarded grants for numerous reasons. Celina recently was awarded a grant for $500,000 for water and sewer systems refurbishments. Clay County received two grants from Tennessee Housing authority totaling $448,000 to improve and replace a number of housing facilities for our residents. 

Clay also was awarded a grant in the amount of $280,000 to extend water on Clifton Rich Road and James White Road. A CDBG grant of $300,000 was recently announced for the county to purchase two new ambulances. These grants total $1.528 million that benefit city and county residents. If the $1.528 million had been put on the backs of the property owners in Clay County the property tax rate would have to be increased by $1.70 for a full year. Ouch!

Many projects are underway

The Head Start program currently housed in the Clay County Community Center announced that a new facility will be built in Celina on Williamson Street by summer of 2009. The $500,000 facility containing approximately 5,000 square feet will be utilized by nine employees and thirty-seven preschool children. This will free up much needed space at the Community Center to be used for other county offices that will be moved into the building in the future.

The Corridor J project in Clay County is progressing through the right of way property acquisition and it is planned that bids for actual road building will be let in the summer of 2009. Once the actual earthmoving begins it is scheduled to take about two years to complete. This will significantly improve the traffic flow into Clay County and will facilitate economic development.

The Clay County Sanitation Department is progressing with the site regulation of many of the convenience dump sites in the county. By doing so the result is a reduced amount of tonnage sent to the landfill which property owners pay for. A significant amount of non resident garbage is being prevented. Additionally, each resident needs to increase the amount of recycling which also in turn reduces the tonnage sent to the landfill. In reviewing the tonnage reports of the landfill from Clay County this is saving taxpayers a significant amount of money compared to tonnage before regulating the sites began. 

The city and county began involvement in the Tennessee 3 Star program in 2008. Of the 95 counties in the state all but five are 3 Star certified. Clay is one of the five but is striving to become certified by the fall of 2009. One of the benefits of 3 Star is a significant reduction in the amounts required for the matching portion of grants referred to in the first paragraph. This will save many thousands of dollars to the taxpayers.

Late in 2008 a meeting was held with the TDOT commissioner, his staff and a contingent of Clay County and Celina officials to discuss the danger on the Proctor Creek Bridge just past the new high school. The bridge was completed in 1930 and is in need of replacement especially as it is only 24 feet wide and is a significant danger when two vehicles cross at the same time.

If both vehicles are wider than the average car the danger of damage to one or both increases. The TDOT Commissioner explained that when the U.S. Congress passes the stimulus bill for spending on the infrastructure the Proctor Creek Bridge is a good candidate for replacement since all of the planning and engineering work has already been completed.

Dealing with the low points

Now for the low point. As we all vividly remember the Clay County property tax rate was increased by 30% which by any measure is significant. Yet, when looking at the history of the county tax rate it reveals that the property tax rate had not been keeping up with the rise in the cost of doing the county’s business, thereby drawing down the amount of the operating fund below the state prescribed level. In comparing Clay to our surrounding counties especially in 2008 every county experienced budgetary problems. The only option for Clay was to increase the rate by 30% since the county had to borrow $600,000 from the debt service to get through the balance of 2008 until property tax revenue rebounds early in 2009 to make up the shortfall and to be able to repay the loan from the debt service fund by June of 2009.

2009 will be more of a challenge than 2008 as the world is in an economic recession and we all will feel the pain. One opportunity that we all must seriously consider is to do as much shopping as possible in our home county. This will put more sales tax dollars in the Clay County revenue stream and reduce the pressure on the property tax rate. Clay County businesses should strive to pass as many savings on to their customers as possible. Together, we can collectively work our way through this recession as we have all of the prior recessions.