Should voters decide property tax rate? Knoxville ‘cap the tax’ petition says yes

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A local petition aims to freeze the current property tax rate in the City of Knoxville. While there is no current proposal to raise the rate, Erik Wiatr, a petition organizer and local realtor, hopes to secure more than 4,700 additional signatures by July 28. “Anytime the property tax goes up, that has a direct impact on the monthly payment for homeowners,” Wiater said.

He fears what happened in Nashville in 2020, when property owners were faced with a 34% increase in property taxes, could happen here.

“There is the potential for city council to increase our tax rate as much as they want,” he said. He noted the petition is also about sending a message to city leaders. “The city needs to understand that part of this is that they need to change the culture of their attitude towards economic growth and job creation in this community. That’s one of the long-term goals of this petition,” he added.

There is currently no proposal to raise Knoxville’s property tax rate, which is currently $2.46 on every $100 of assessed value (AV). Information listed on the city’s website says that’s the lowest in nearly 30 years.

Councilwoman Lauren Rider sees the cap the tax initiative as a solution in search of a problem.

“The city tax rate is the lowest it’s been in 30 years with one exception, and I think that might have been in the early 2000s,” Rider said. “If you’re going to cap the tax rate at some point and say you can never go beyond that, then you’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to pay for your services like fire, police, brush pickup, public works, parks and rec. The decision is, which one of those do you want to cut.”

Spending is currently outpacing new revenue. According to the most recent budget, revenue is up 1.06% while spending is up 2.8%; however, 2.5% of that spending is made up of annual pay increases. “75% of the city budget is wages and benefits for the workers that come out and do services for our neighborhoods,” Rider added.

Wiatr thinks the budget can be balanced without raising taxes: “I think the primary goal of city government should be to expand economic growth through job creation, through new businesses, through business expansion. That’s how you increase taxes.”

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