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The cost of progress

For Tennessee property owners, Feb. 28 is the last day to pay property taxes without accruing penalties or interest.

Where some property owners may have seen an increase in their tax bill, others may have experienced little change or even a slight decrease in their payment, which is largely determined by the certified tax rate that is set after a county has gone through reappraisal by the state.

The state conducts property reappraisals in each county every four to six years in an effort to remain consistent with the current market value. Trousdale County went through reappraisal in 2022, and Macon County properties will be reappraised in 2023.

“The big adjustment in tax collection comes from reassessment,” said Trousdale County Property Assessor Mike Potts. “Trousdale County is on a six-year rotation. Every six years, the state comes in and assesses property sales all across the county. By that, they readjust the property values to try and get as close to even with current market value. We saw a huge increase in market value over the last six to 10 years. That is the majority of where the tax changes have come. The certified rate is based on our entire book of properties.”

Macon County Property Assessor Rick Shoulders added, “The only thing that will increase property taxes is an increase in the tax rate. Every county in the state does a reappraisal once every four, five, or six years. That is only when the values can go up. They don’t go up just because everything is selling like crazy. They can’t go up until there is a reappraisal of the whole county. If the county needs more money, they raise the tax rate. That is what makes everyone’s taxes go up.”

But while some areas of a county may see very little growth, other areas may experience significant development, thus increasing property values during reappraisal.

“During reappraisal, if there is one area in the county that is selling a lot higher than the rest, and their values increase more on one side of the county than the other, then their taxes are going to increase a little bit more,” said Shoulders. “But then to offset it, the taxes in another part of the county may go down a little bit. But it’s very minute.”

Potts added, “Someone’s taxes may have gone up while someone else’s didn’t go up at all or may have even decreased because they aren’t in an area that experienced as much growth. (For example), in the (Highway) 231 South corridor (of Trousdale County), the land value went from $7,500 an acre to over $20,000 an acre. So, if you have more than five or six acres, it gets pretty extreme when you see the price change, not counting that home values themselves have also gone up.”

As a result of the growing population in many areas of the state, the need for more publicly-funded resources has increased.

“If taxes have increased, it is only because the county needs more money to operate, and they increased the tax rate,” said Shoulders. “We have had three tax increases in the 26 years that I have been in office. We have built two schools and a justice center/jail combination. When a county has to build those, then, you have to have additional money. That’s really why a tax increase happens.”

Potts added, “Any time we talk about building jails or schools, property taxes are the number one thing to be raised.”

However, according to Shoulders, when property values increase, the tax rate decreases.

“When reappraisal happens, the value of everybody’s property goes up, and the tax rate goes down to match, so there will not be an increase,” said Shoulders. “The tax rate is the same for everybody.

“Macon County needs $14 million to operate. So, the tax rate is set—ours is $2.40. The $2.40 tax rate generates the $14 million for the county to operate on. Now comes along the reappraisal, and let’s just say, (for instance), that everybody’s property value goes up. When all of those appraisals go up, the county still only needs $14 million to operate on, so the tax rate comes down whatever percentage is needed to generate $14 million. So, instead of the tax rate being $2.40, it may come down to $1.60 or $1.80 because all of the appraisals went higher. That’s how that works”

According to the state, the process is designed to ensure truth-in-taxation for all Tennessee property owners.

Cleaning up history

As a community service project on Jan. 28, students from the Franklin High School Habitat for Humanity Club in Williamson County spent the day at the Hartsville Train Depot and the Living History Museum cleaning and organizing both locations.

The idea for the project came from Franklin High School senior and Habitat for Humanity Club officer Emma Ford as she recognized the need on one of her recent visits to the Trousdale County Archives.

“I have been to Hartsville a couple of times,” said Ford. “I am very interested in history myself. I’ve been to the archives multiple times. The last time that I was (in Hartsville), Mr. (Jim) Bills was giving a tour to one of the historians that had come to town to see the train depot. That’s when he said that they needed volunteers to help. I had mentioned to him that Habitat for Humanity was looking for community service opportunities, and when I talked to my fellow club officers about the idea of going out there, everyone agreed. So, we decided to go out and help for the day, and the rest is history.”

Franklin High School Habitat for Humanity Club officer Laura Ovion added, “We were looking for a community-service event that we could take our people from Habitat to and see who was really engaged in the club and who would participate. When we asked the club members, a lot of them were very interested in the project.”

In addition to service projects, the Franklin High School Habitat for Humanity Club raises money throughout the year to put toward a final goal, a house that is being built for someone in need.

“Right now, we are actually focusing on fundraising for our final goal,” said Ford. “Our final goal for our Habitat for Humanity Club is what we call our build day. That will happen at the end of February and beginning of March. We will go to Columbia, Tennessee, and all of the funds that we have raised throughout the year will go towards the Habitat for Humanity build, including supplies like paint or other things for the house.”

According to Trousdale County Historical Society Vice President Jim Bills, the efforts of the Habitat for Humanity Club were greatly appreciated, as the historical society would like to be able to open both locations to the public in the near future.

“(The students) showed up at 9 a.m. and left around 2 p.m.,” said Bills. “We were very, very pleased with their work. It was such a big help.

“When we do get the living museum and the depot ready, we thought about opening up once a month on a Wednesday or a Saturday so people can stop by. We may do the first Saturday of the month for the living museum and the second Saturday of the month for the depot so people can tour them.”

Nevertheless, bringing life back to the old museum and train depot is one outcome that Ford hopes is accomplished through Habitat’s volunteer efforts in Hartsville.

“As some who loves history, I would love to see it open up and become an active museum,” said Ford. “Even though we were a small part in the very early stages, I would love to see it open up, add employment to the town, and add joy. Why not allow other people to come in and see it? I know that Trousdale County and Hartsville are very strong in their historical roots. And for that to be reopened for people to enjoy, I would love to see happen.”

When disaster hits, Stuff Helps

Barry Newberry has been hard at work helping people in need across multiple Middle Tennessee counties by lending a hand to those who have experienced disaster or may be down on their luck.

Through his nonprofit — Stuff Helps, Inc. — the Macon County firefighter has been providing assistance to both individuals and organizations for more than a decade.

“I have been doing this for about 10 years now,” said the 58-year-old Newberry. “I’m a firefighter, so when this started, I had it on my heart to help people who had been through a fire or another type of disaster. That is how I actually got started. But it’s grown, and now, I try to help the homeless as well.

“Also, when churches have food drives, I help them get bread. I’ve helped places like the Trousdale County Jail, the Macon County Jail, the Allen County (Kentucky) Jail, and Golden Oaks (Village).”

Stuff Helps Inc. provides assistance to the community in a variety of ways, from providing food boxes and clothing to household items and personal aid.

“I give people rides if they are down on their luck,” said Newberry. “If someone has a fire, I can get their electric meter moved from one house to another so it won’t cost them a lot. I’ve done a lot of footwork, but it has all paid off.”

He has also provided assistance to Trousdale County’s Crossroads Mission Care.

“Barry has given us stuff to distribute to the first responders,” Crossroads Mission Care founder Patti Carter said. “He is a volunteer firefighter, so he has a heart for that group of people. He has a lot of storage containers at his place and collects stuff that can be distributed to the community.

“He keeps his eyes open for resources and materials for things that we need. He had a reclaimed chassis that he gave us so that we could integrate it into building a shepherd’s hut. The chassis that he brought us is from an old hay wagon. He brought us components that we could integrate into a shepherd’s hut for people when they come to stay at Crossroads.”

Because the nonprofit lends assistance to so many people around the area, the life-long resident of Macon County says that the organization depends on donations and grants to help keep it going.

“I keep quilts, bedding, mattresses, box-springs, dressers, and anything I can get, so when people need those things, they can get them,” said Newberry. “I’ve also gotten a Walmart grant for two years and another grant just the other day. It’s great to know that they will be helping someone.”

According to Newberry, helping others is his preferred pastime, which brings him great satisfaction.

“I guess you would say that helping others is my hunting or fishing,” said Newberry. “I just enjoy doing it. It’s enjoyable to see someone when you’ve helped them a little.”

For those interested in donating to Stuff Helps, Inc., contact Newberry at 615-633-7120.