To Succeed or Not to Succeed

editorial-logo3The local governing body, the Jefferson County Commission, will meet this week to vote on several items of interest, mostly to them. They will choose a Chairman, Vice Chair and Parliamentarian, and there is, as always, great debate surrounding the potential choices. But, let’s be honest, for the majority of the public it isn’t much consequence who holds what internal position on the County Commission. That is internal housekeeping and the votes count the same for every County Commissioner no matter if they hold an office or not. In fact, most people in Jefferson County have no idea who is the Chairman or who is an officer and it has no impact on their daily lives, or at least that is their perception. What they care more about is decisions that dip into their wallet or change the way they live.

There is one decision that might or might not make it to the table Monday for the voting meeting. But, whether or not it is voted on Monday, it will likely be on the near horizon. A portion of Jefferson County is looking for the Jefferson County Commission to release their area of the County so they can become members of Sevier County. Yep. A real succession, of sorts. The area in question is the Parrotts Chapel Community and they have presented the idea to the County Commission, lobbying that they are logically closer to Sevier County and their services, such as ambulance, police and schools, would be much more timely if they were to come from Sevier County rather than Jefferson County.

And, that may be true. Parrotts Chapel is in the farthest corner of Jefferson County, lakeside, several miles beyond Bush Brother’s. Most of what the community contends is true. Police services would likely be faster from Sevier County, depending on where cars are located at the time and the same for ambulance service. Community representatives that brought the issue before the County Commission cited the amount of time that students ride the school bus as an issue, probably the most pressing issue. As for fire service, Jefferson County does fund a community fire department for Parrotts Chapel so that is mostly a moot point.

But, the reality is a little different than the picture that is being painted by the community lobbyist. School Bus ride time was addressed earlier this year by the Department of Education. It came to light that students in that community were at the brink of exceeding the time allowed on the bus by the state of Tennessee. Director of Schools Edmonds informed the School Board that he had checked with the students at the farthermost location and they were not interested in switching to Sevier County Schools. So, the DOE added a bus route that drastically reduced the amount of time that the students spend on the bus. According to Transportation Supervisor Sherry Dotson, the majority of the school buses in Jefferson County run a one hour route, with the exception of inner city Jefferson City which is a little shorter. Dotson, herself, ran the bus route to the farthest point in the Parrotts Chapel Community and the route came in under one hour, making the ride time for students in the that community in line with the rest of the County. So, let’s take the students out of the equation.

Property tax and wheel tax attributed to that area of Jefferson County brings in an estimated $1 million dollars in revenue. There is also some hotel/motel tax involved as there are lake rental cabins in that area. That means that the County will have to come up with around eight pennies on the property tax rate just to get back to even for the rest of Jefferson County property tax payers. Will there be some adjustments in the costs to service that area? Some, maybe, but I highly doubt that there will be an offset of expenses. The argument was made that it is just the right thing to do for the folks in Parrotts Chapel. I can’t argue with them wanting what they want. The fact is that community is more tied to Sevier County and it doesn’t hurt that Sevier County has a much cheaper property tax rate than Jefferson County. It certainly makes being a resident of Sevier County look attractive.

However, some things need to be considered. First, property is at a premium and Jefferson County is not going to just be given additional property so it would be a real loss to “give away” part of our County. Second, the real dollar impact, both present and future, to Jefferson County is significant. This is an area that could be commercially developed in the future (why do you think Sevier County is interested in acquiring the lakeside community) and it would be short sided to give away a potential cash cow. Third, the County lines have not changed in Jefferson County in more years than anyone can remember. Which means that there were no surprises to those that bought property in the Parrotts Chapel Community. In fact, most purchased property before there was even a volunteer fire department in the area. The area is lovely but it is now, and has always been, secluded. It is the responsibility of those that purchased property in that area to know what they are buying, and I think that they did know exactly what they were getting for their money. It is bad business to cry foul now when the parameters of the game have not changed. And for that reason, the “sometimes you just need to do what is right no matter the cost” argument doesn’t work. Nothing was done to the community, it is what it is, and just like it was what it was.

And lastly, regardless of what the law demands, I do not believe that any member of the legislative body should be casting votes to give away part of Jefferson County and amend our County lines. If, and that is a big if, this issue should be addressed at all, I believe that it should be the will of the people of Jefferson County and should go to public vote.

There are other things that will be dealt with in the coming months but nothing is as important as keeping Jefferson County intact. Remember this, Sevier County would not be interested in a pig in a poke. They believe that they will come out better for the acquisition of Parrotts Chapel and they are right. I hope that Jefferson County Commission draws the line in the sand and it remains just where it is today. If we need to supplement services, and it is cost effective, then maybe. But, again, that may be opening a door that we cannot close, and it could be one that just keeps the County bleeding money. I think the best mantra is “buyer beware.” If you don’t like the services, don’t buy the property.

Source: K. Depew, News Director

Jefferson Farmers Co-op 08112014