By Joe King, [email protected]

Nearly 70 residents attended the first meeting to discuss incorporating Seymour.

Nearly 70 residents attended the first meeting to discuss incorporating Seymour. (the Herald / Joe King)

The process of incorporating Seymour started off on a hopeful note for advocates as nearly 70 community members came out for the first public meeting at Seymour High School Jan. 9.

Put together by a group called Incorporate Seymour, the presentation served the purpose of providing information on incorporation to residents.

The meeting began with a brief introduction given by presenter Patrick Doyle, who then launched into an informative slideshow presentation that illuminated an entire wall of the SHS auditorium.

As part of the presentation Doyle explained some of the problems facing the community, such as the need for infrastructure improvements, a lack of a community center, schools that require more financial support, increasing funding to local fire and ambulance services, getting a local police force, and more.

During the presentation, which was described as a “what if” scenario, a half dollar per every $100 of assessed property tax rate was proposed. With that proposal the median home value for that area, $160,000, would be taxed at about $17 a month.

The presentation defined the boundaries of Seymour as nearly anything within the 37685 zip code area, which includes portions of both Sevier and Blount counties.

The presentation concluded by showing that the petition signature of 33 and one-third per cent of registered voters is required to get the measure on the ballot and give local voters a chance to choose for themselves.

However, three of the four Sevier County Commissioners who represent Seymour were not as optimistic.

Sevier County Commissioner Bill Oakes began by referencing the Toy Town Law, aka Tiny Town Law, as a reason why incorporation can’t happen in Seymour. Yet, that law was nullified by the Tennessee Supreme Court nearly two decades ago. (For the full story on Oakes’ Toy Town Law comments, see the article “Commissioner Gives Public False Information” in this week’s Herald.)

Oakes additionally said it would cost more to incorporate, although failed to present any figures or examples of his own.

“I don’t know where the figure came from that was presented tonight, but I will tell you that it is incorrect,” Oakes said at the meeting. “It’s going to cost a whole lot more than what was presented here tonight.”

Oakes’ comments seemed off base with the presentation as no cost or budget data was made available other than a proposed tax rate.

Further, Oakes neglected to mention that an incorporated Seymour would receive matching State funds from the same sales tax residents are already paying and be eligible for numerous Federal and State grant opportunities.

“I have a ton of information, but there’s no need in us going through it and getting in a shouting match,” Oakes said of his supposed data.

Sevier County Commissioner Buster Norton, a member of the budget committee, did however provide some figures. Norton stated information he obtained from the Sevier County Sheriff’s Department shows it would cost about half a million dollars a year to have the equivalent number of officers serving the current area, eight zone and two traffic officers.

But Norton’s statistics were later shown to be inflated as they included all new equipment for each officer, which is only needed during the first year if the incorporated Seymour chose to have its own police force.

Sevier County Sheriff’s Department Captain Michael Hodges said it would cost an approximate average of about $65,000 per officer for the first year and about $32, 500 for the following years. If the equipment needed to be replaced every seven years, that would be an average of about $37,000 per officer per year, or a total of $370,000; much less than $500,000 quoted by Norton.

Sevier County Commissioner Harold Pitner made it a point to defend the current form Seymour is governed under through the County Commission.

“We’re your county commissioners,” Pitner said. “We fight hard for money for this community every time we go to budget. We do get our fair share. Sometimes it seems like we don’t, but we do.”

Despite the differences of opinion regarding incorporation, Oakes, Norton, and Pitner all agreed they would be willing to participate on a committee to discuss the possibility of incorporating.

Interestingly enough, the meeting concluded with a local resident saying Seymour needs to come together and discuss community issues more often. She added the recent incorporation meeting was the first time she has ever seen a local townhall-style format come together.

“I think that we have to find a way to work together, and to put pressure and influence and mind to doing it,” said Louise Raegan Thomas, a life-long Seymour resident.  “I congratulate you for having this meeting. I think it’s good and we need to have more of them. I think we need to focus on Seymour and what’s best for it …”

 

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