Changes to Carter budget ... again

John Thompson • Jan 18, 2012 at 2:30 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Although the Budget Committee had not planned it that way, the Carter County Commission once again had to approve a change in its budget that is becoming an annual tradition.

Each year for the past several years, the commission has approved an annual county budget that includes only $40,000 for the operation of the commission. For the past several years the annual costs for the commission has been around $60,000, meaning the commission has had to pass a budget amendment each winter to get through the rest of the fiscal year.

That was the case this year. On Tuesday commissioners once again approved the recommendation from the Budget Committee to increase the line item by $25,000.

Commission Chairman Thomas “Yogi” Bowers had intended to put a stop to the annual amendment. Last spring, when he was the Budget Committee’s chairman, Bowers suggested raising the commission’s budget from $40,000 to $60,000. He worked to get a majority approval for the change.

“We discussed that during the workshops,” Bowers said, “but when it came time to vote we were focused on other things. The result was the County Commission budget was once again set at $40,000.”

That caused current Budget Committee Chairman Harry Sisk to make the annual recommendation for the $25,000 amendment and led several commissioners to think about making changes to lessen the cost.

Commissioner Nancy Brown suggested cutting the members’ pay to the state-mandated minimum, which would cut each members’ pay from $100 to $70 for commission meeting and from $50 to $35 for committee meetings. Sisk would not allow Brown’s amendment to be a part of his motion, so it was voted on as a separate motion.

Sisk’s motion for the $25,000 amendment passed with 14 votes. Brown’s motion to cut commissioners’ salaries failed by a 9-10 vote. Brown, Joel Street, Richard Winters, Ronnie Trivett, Charles Von Cannon, Steve Lowrance, Sonja Culler, Pat Hicks and Robert Gobble voted to cut their salaries. Scott Sams was absent and L.C. Tester, Jo Ann Blankenship, Charlie Bayless and Bill Armstrong passed.

That led to other suggestions on how to save money. Sisk said someone needed to be responsible for deciding whether a committee meeting was necessary, so the panels would not meet when there was no urgent business.

Sheriff Chris Mathes suggested that since his line item for correctional officers to man the new jail has not been used because of delays in opening the jail, the savings could be used to provide the $25,000 amendment. The commissioners said that would not be necessary because unused line item funds automatically revert to the General Fund.

Bowers entered the arena by deciding a February County Commission meeting would not be necessary, saving the taxpayers $2,400.

In other matters, the commissioners heard from D.H. Hampton, who is experiencing erosion problems from Laurel Fork in Hampton. The stream has cut so much off his bank that a tree, a septic tank and a mobile home are in danger of being swept downstream.

Several commissioners called for action, not just to help Hampton but all the citizens who live downstream on Swimming Pool Road.

Hampton said the stream change was caused by county actions after the flood of 1998. Several commissioners warned some actions by the commission could open the county to potential litigation.

A motion was considered to allow Planning Director Chris Schuettler to explore Army Corps of Engineer grants the county might be eligible to receive. The motion failed by an 11-12 vote.

Carter County Tomorrow Chairman Steve Lowrance said he had good news. He said Project Quest, an industry that is considering bring 70 jobs to Carter County is back on track. It had been placed on hold for the past few months.

Lowrance said he is also very optimistic Project Red Energy, which would locate an industry that converts used tires into synthetic diesel fuel, is coming to the former Alcoa aluminum extrusion plant on U.S. Highway 19E. He said the company would solve the area’s tire disposal problem.

During the time for the mayor to speak, Mayor Leon Humphrey was critical of Schuettler for giving up his extra duty as director of the animal shelter. After some negotiations, Schuettler agreed to temporarily resume the position until a permanent director is found.

During the time for citizens to speak, Roy Livingston spoke forcefully in accusing the majority of the commissioners of being “full of hate ...They hate the flag, they hate the constitution.”

Commissioner Russell Kyte spoke for himself in saying he did not hate the flag or the constitution.

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