The Tax Levy

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For county general purposes, counties may levy an ad valorem tax on all property subject to this form of taxation.1“County general purpose levy” means a levy for all county purposes except roads, bridges, schools, debt service, sinking funds and levies pursuant to special tax laws.2In addition to the levy for general purposes, the county may levy taxes to (1) build, extend or repair, any courthouse, jail or public office for county purposes;3(2) provide funds for the purpose of securing humane treatment of animals;4(3) pay a judgment against the county;5(4) provide funds for the operation of a county fire department; 6(5) provide funds for the collection and disposal of garbage;7(6) provide funds for a public library;8(7) provide funds for the operation and maintenance of county schools;9(8) repay loans for capital projects;10(9) repay loans for the purchase of fire equipment;11(10) repay loans made to an airport authority or municipal airport which are guaranteed by the county;12and (11) repay loans for capital projects for kindergarten through grade twelve educational purposes.13  This list is not exhaustive, for example, some counties have been granted the authority by private act to levy property taxes for highway, road or bridge purposes.

The county legislative body sets the rate of the tax, which under general law should be done by the first Monday in July, or shortly thereafter.14 Changes made in 2015 to the County Financial Management System of 1981 and the County Budgeting Law of 1957 removed specific deadlines in July for approving the budget.  Now, under both of those laws, if a county fails to adopt a budget by July 1 the current budget continues through August or until the new budget is adopted.  If a county is unable to approve a budget beyond August, it is required to obtain the comptroller's approval to continue the budget through the end of September.  T.C.A. § 5-21-111, 5-12-109. Those revisions were not made to the Local Option Budgeting Law of 1993, which still requires adoption of a tax rate and budget by July 31, or the date required by any other budget law applicable in the county.15 Under this 1993 Act, if the county legislative body fails to adopt a budget, a property tax rate resolution and appropriation resolution by August 15 of any year, then the portion of the budget, tax levy and appropriation for education proposed by the board of education becomes effective by operation of law; and, the balance of the budget, tax levies and appropriations proposed by the budget committee or county mayor/executive likewise takes effect. Counties not under the 1993 Act that do not set a tax rate and adopt a budget by the applicable statutory deadline may continue operations by the adoption of a continuation budget, which remains in effect until a budget is passed.  However, the county legislative body must adopt a budget by October 1 in order to continue receiving state school funds.16 For more information on County Budget Laws, see Financial Management under General Laws with Local Option Application under Financial Structure of County Government of the Accounting/Budgeting/Finance topic.

The rate applies annually as of January 1, and is assessed to the owner of record and becomes a lien on the property as of this date (excepting leased personal property in the hands of the lessee). In addition to the lien, property taxes are a personal debt of the owner or owners as of January 1 and, when delinquent, may be collected by suit as any other personal debt. In any lawsuit for collection of property taxes, the same penalties and attorney fees apply as set forth in T.C.A. § 67-5-2410 for suits to enforce liens for property taxes. The claim for the debt and the claim for enforcement of the lien may be joined in the same complaint. The owner of record as of January 1 has the sole responsibility for paying the property tax assessed for the year even if the property is sold during the year, as the seller is the record owner.17 However, the tax lien runs with the land and failure by the seller to pay does not limit enforcement actions against the land to recover any delinquent taxes.

     1T.C.A. § 67-5-102(a)(1).

     2T.C.A. § 67-5-102(a)(3).

     3T.C.A. §§ 5-5-122, 5-7-106

     4T.C.A. § 5-9-110.

     5T.C.A. § 5-9-312.  See also T.C.A. § 29-20-402.

     6T.C.A. §§ 5-17-101, 5-17-105, 5-17-106, 5-17-107.

     7T.C.A. § 5-19-108.

     8T.C.A. § 10-3-102.

     9T.C.A. § 49-2-101.

     10T.C.A. § 4-31-410.

     11T.C.A. § 4-31-510.

     12T.C.A. § 4-31-607.

     13T.C.A. § 4-31-1006.

     14T.C.A. § 67-5-510. See also T.C.A. §§ 5-5-123, 67-1-601.

     15T.C.A. § 5-12-210. 

     16T.C.A. § 49-3-316(d)(3).

     17T.C.A. § 67-5-2101; see also Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 86-39 (February 21, 1986).