Issues common to Jackson and Roane counties focus of legislative luncheon

Suzette Lowe

Jackson and its neighboring county of Roane have differences in population and tax base. But there are also a great number of similarities.

Topics at a recent legislative luncheon focused on issues that face both counties. Hosted by the Roane Chamber of Commerce, three of the four legislators attending represent both Jackson and Roane counties.

Roads was the topic most thoroughly discussed.

“The roads in this state are in terrible, terrible, terrible condition,” said Senator Eric Tarr, who represents Jackson, Roane, Mason and Putnam counties. “I traveled here on Route 33 from Ripley and saw the worst slip I think I’ve ever seen.”

Both Delegate Riley Keaton, who represents Roane and Jackson counites, and Tarr said that $150 million had been appropriated for road repairs throughout the state from the surplus budget.

“That just scratches the surface but does show a commitment to deal with the problem,” said Keaton. “The 11th district got $3.8 million of that.”

Tarr said he had approached the governor’s office to ask why more money was not allocated. The answer surprised the approximately 40 attendees at the event hosted by Chestnut Ridge Winery in Spencer.

“I was told we don’t have the capability of spending more than that,” he said. “We don’t have the equipment or the manpower necessary. The state is suffering with the same issues as the private sector in finding workers and getting equipment.”

During the question-and-answer period, the difference in approach to the repeal of the personal income tax became clear.

Senator Tarr spoke of his strong support of the repeal which did not receive enough legislative support for passage in the last legislative session. Tarr said that the nine states that have no personal income tax have shown population growth, higher income per capita and a stronger work force.

“The House of Delegates is in favor of a more gradual, measured approach,” said Delegate Keaton. “My chief concern is tax increases in other areas to cover the loss of the personal income tax.”

A question on vaccination of school children was addressed by Senator Amy Grady who also represents Jackson, Mason, Putnam and Roane counties.

Senator Amy Grady, R-Mason, speaks at the legislative luncheon as, from left, Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, Senator Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, and Delegate Riley Keaton, R-Roane, listen.

A mother shared that she had been told by her family physician not to vaccinate her children due to a strong reaction by her youngest child. She said that because of vaccination requirements her children will not be able to attend the Christian school she is currently helping to establish.

Grady, an elementary teacher and mother of three school-aged children, said that she was in favor of addressing vaccination regulations.

“I want to keep that dialogue open,” she said. “There should be more consideration for more exemptions.”

Law enforcement retention and pay was one of the final topics discussed. Concern was expressed for increasing the salaries of city police and sheriff’s deputies to enable the counties to be competitive.

Tarr said that a measure on the ballot in 2022 would allow a change in the constitutional requirements regarding property taxes.

“If this passes, counties will have more leeway and means to manage property taxes which could help address this issue,” he said.

Overall, the four legislators, who also included Senator Donna Bole, said the last legislative session was one of the better ones.

Tarr, along with the other three Republican lawmakers on the panel, said having a ‘super-majority’ in the Legislature made it easier to pass certain bills. The Republican Party was the majority in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, along with the governor being in the same party.

“We were able to pass about 300 bills,” he said. “Thirty of those were major pieces of legislation.”