Executive Opposes TWRA Plan

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Knoxville News  Sentinel:
Over one of every five acres in Morgan County is controlled by entities that don't pay property taxes, and it's time to draw the line.

So says County Executive Don Edwards, who is actively opposing a bid by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to take another 1,753 acres off the tax rolls.

But the go-ahead for TWRA to buy that tract off Vespie Road in a remote area next to Catoosa Wildlife Management Area has been given by the State Building Commission, meeting minutes indicate.

That further upsets Edwards, who said he learned secondhand of the proposed land sale.

"When the state is going to take land off the tax rolls, you'd think they'd notify county officials," he said. "I would have been there, objecting to the deal."

Two tracts of property owned by Betty Jane McCartt and Gener M. McCartt, on the property assessor's books at a value totaling more than $3.2 million, are sought by TWRA.

The property is next to Catoosa and the Lone Mountain State Forest, and TWRA told the Building Commission the land purchase "will allow for conservation of wildlife and other recreation for the public."

Edwards has a starkly different view. "There's really no good reason why they (TWRA) wants it other than it's next to their property and they can add to their dynastic holdings in Morgan County."

"They want all the property they can get their hands on," he said.

Morgan County "is a very rural county which lacks economic opportunity for its citizens," Edwards wrote in a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam protesting the intended purchase.

He said the land purchase by the state would "take another $7,000 away in property tax revenues from Morgan County tax payers which they will have to make up with an increase in their property tax rate."

TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter last month responded to Edwards' concerns and his letter to the governor, saying in a letter to the county executive that the McCartts "have indicated a clear desire to proceed with selling their property to the state."

Carter's missive states that the "McCartt family tried to sell their land on the open market for several years to no avail."

The planned sale, at 75 percent of the land's fair market value, "will alleviate their (the McCartts') growing inheritance tax burden," Carter wrote. He said TWRA can buy the property "entirely with federal Wildlife Restoration dollars."

Edwards says he sympathizes with the landowners, but Morgan County needs some revenue restoration in return. Carter in his letter indicated that "hunters, bird watchers, and other outdoorsmen and women … would visit the area frequently."

He said it's TWRA's expectation that those visits would "exceed the amount of any forgone property tax revenue."

Edwards cites statistics showing that of the 344,080 acres in Morgan County, 68,174 acres are controlled by entities that don't pay property taxes.

That includes the 25,300-acre Frozen Head State Park, TWRA's current 30,260 acres, and University of Tennessee's 6,124 acres.

Efforts to contact the McCartts for comment were unsuccessful.