By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Grayson city council opened their meeting last Tuesday with their typical acknowledgment of visitors. But when Mark Strother, president and CEO of Commercial Bank of Grayson, stood up to address the council regarding their occupational tax plans, Mayor George Steele told him the plan was most likely off the table for now.
Strother discussed the impacts it would have on his employees and other working class people in the city, especially with rising costs associated with inflation already cutting into families’ bottom lines.
“With the price of almost everything going up… I think it’s the wrong time to do so,” Strother said. “I would make the comment too that I would be cautious of, when this comes up again, or should it come up again, that people being against it are painted as being anti-police, which is something I heard someone comment about the issue. I think that characterization is wrong. There are reasons to consider this without making it council member versus the police, or citizen versus the police.”
Before Strother finished his statements, however, Steele interjected.
“Let me say on that point, though, that this council has pretty much ruled out the occupational tax already,” Steele said after Strother had completed his statements.
But, he said, he worried that city services would suffer because of that decision.
“With that ruling out, it means a whole lot less services… You won’t be getting the same services you have been getting for the past 14 years,” Steele warned.
Councilman Troy Combs, who is also running for mayor, said he had “a different interpretation.” Combs said he believed the city could still provide the same level of services with relief funds and other income sources making up the difference until Grayson’s tax base could grow. One way Combs thinks the tax base could grow was through annexation. The other is through the opening of new businesses and the growth of existing businesses; which he thinks the recent completion of the Kinetic fiber optic internet upgrades in the city could facilitate.
“I’d like to say, one of the reasons that council took this off the table was because we figured out, and worked very hard to figure out, what we could utilize our relief funds for,” Combs said. “And because we’re able to utilize our relief funds to keep the government running, it’s my opinion – the mayor seems to have a different opinion – I believe we’ll be able to provide as much services over the next year or so just as we have in the past. I have a different interpretation of it. We can buy things like salt for the street department with some of the relief money. We can buy vehicles for our departments. Now, when that money runs out we will have to reevaluate where we are, but I don’t anticipate our services will decline in the next couple of years. That’s just my opinion.”
“I hope you’re right,” Steele replied. “I love this city… and I don’t want to take one step forward and two steps back.”
But Steele added, he would like the budget to have more flexibility and more of a “bumper” for unanticipated costs even if Combs is correct.
Council and the mayor also failed to come to an agreement on the budget, and moved to table the proposed first reading of a new blighted properties ordinance.
Councilman Willis Johnson made a motion to strike the item relating to the ordinance from the agenda at the outset of the meeting, tabling it until a future meeting, noting that none of the councilmembers had been able to examine the updated ordinance yet. Changes had been made to the ordinance by city attorney Jason Greer, at the direction of council, after discussions in previous meetings regarding confusing and unclear language in the previous draft.
While Combs argued that council could keep the item on the agenda, and discuss it, without entering into a first reading, Johnson and the rest of council disagreed. In a three to one vote councilmembers Pearl Crum, Bradley Cotten, and Johnson voted against Combs on tabling the issue and striking it from the agenda.
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