Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times Macon County Mayor Steve Jones (right) outlines projected revenue from both property and wheel tax increases during the Macon County Commission's meeting held Monday.  Also pictured are (from left): Macon County Court Clerk Connie Blackwell and county attorney Guy Holliman.

Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times

Macon County Mayor Steve Jones (right) outlines projected revenue from both property and wheel tax increases during the Macon County Commission's meeting held Monday.

Also pictured are (from left): Macon County Court Clerk Connie Blackwell and county attorney Guy Holliman.

The Macon County Commission approved an 18.7-cent property tax increase for the 2019-20 fiscal year by a 13-6 vote at its meeting held on Monday, following more than two hours of debate.

That decision was meant to set a tax rate as required by the state, and the body plans to discuss whether to increase the county's wheel tax in the coming months as well.

"Your general fund needs approximately 25 cents to get back in order," Macon County Mayor Steve Jones said, referring to projected shortfall in the budget due to expenses associated with population growth. "That doesn't have anything to do with the schools ... you'd need approximately 48 cents to fix the general funds and pay for the (new elementary) school."

Residents will begin paying the new property tax rate in October, which translates to an additional $47 per $100,000 of residential property.

The commission's budget committee had proposed a 16.7-cent property-tax increase and a $15 wheel-tax increase, while Jones recommended a 25-cent property tax rate without any wheel tax increases.

"I can't vote unless it's got a wheel tax to it, because (that) gets everybody," commissioner Jeff Hughes said. "People that don't own a piece of property, they're going to get off scot-free. That's just me."

Commissioner Chad West said that raising property taxes would still impact most county residents.

"If people live in the county, unless they're living out of their car, property tax is catching them too," West said. "They're either living in a rental house, an apartment building, or they own their own house. Somebody's paying property taxes for those people. To me, (it's) one or the other. We've passed the sales tax, and now, we're going to throw two more taxes at people ... I'd like to see us just do one."

The commission voted on a series of motions before reaching a decision, with many proposals focused on the wheel tax failing due to the possibility of a public referendum.

"If you vote on a wheel tax, and it passes, within 30 days of the second passage, taxpayers have the right to send that to referendum," county attorney Guy Holliman said. "The petition would have to be signed by 638 registered voters before it would be certified to the election commission, and ... (since 2019 is not an election year), it would cost the county a fair sum to put that on the ballot because it would have to go to a special election."

The approved tax rate is projected to generate $720,716.70 over the course of the year, according to budget figures Jones provided for commissioners during the meeting adjusted for an 18.7-cent value.

This means the commission would have to generate approximately $268,300 in additional revenue to meet its target general fund balance.

Macon County Court Clerk Connie Blackwell estimated that there are 23,000 vehicles in the county that would be impacted by a wheel-tax increase, meaning that a wheel-tax increase of approximately 11.7 cents could be the next step.

"I know this has been a hard decision to make this year, but we had to get a budget passed," Jones said. "This gets us started, and we'll come back and discuss what you want to do on the wheel tax and go from there."