Carter Co. mayor wants more budget cuts

John Thompson • Jun 4, 2012 at 8:47 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission has nearly completed its work of developing a budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, but Mayor Leon Humphrey is not pleased with the results, which could possibly include a 20-cent increase in the property tax rate.

“A 20-cent increase is not acceptable,” Humphrey said. “That 20 cents is without making any real cuts.”

In an interview on Friday, Humphrey said, “last year we went through the process and there was not one cut in any department. ... I made an appeal to the County Commission to look at an across the board cut, but it did not do so and we added $3 million.”

Although Humphrey had proposed cuts last year, he said he was at fault for not following through on his proposals.

“This year I am taking a different initiative,” Humphrey said.

In an effort to set the example forotherofficeholders,Humphrey said he has submitted a r e v i s e d budget for 2012-13.

He said he took a closer look at the the m a y o r ’s budget and found ways to cut it by 2.7 percent, even though he was forced to take a 1.6 percent statemandated pay increase. He also included a 2 percent pay increase for his staff.

In the other budget he controls, Humphrey cut 3.7 percent from the county buildings budget. That was made even though the custodial staff was given a 2 percent pay increase.

The total savings from the two departments was $32,483, Humphrey said.

“That is not a lot, but it is just a small budget. If all the departments throughout the county and the school board were to make the same type of cuts, I am confident we could provide the same level of service without passing any tax increase to the taxpayers.”

During last Tuesday’s meeting of the Budget Committee Humphrey said the members were “missing the big picture.” He said the trend over the past five years has been disturbing.

Humphrey said in 2007 the county’s revenues ended the year with an excess of $1.8 million. In 2008, the number declined to an excess of $1 million. In 2009, it declined to an excess of $865,000. in 2010, the excess was down 458,000. In 2011, there was a deficit of $889,000 and so far this year the deficit is running at $500,000.

He said there was a matching trend in the school fund, which had a surplus of over $750,000 in 2007 and a $250,000 deficit in 2011.

He said this trend was not just a Carter County problem. He said it was nationwide problem. He said Sullivan County is nearly bankrupt as a result.

As an example of how spending more money doesn’t solve the problem, Humphrey compared the results of the Carter County School System with the Washington County School System on the state report card.

He said the results show that Carter County spends $9,129 per student while Washington County spends only $8,098. Despite spending less per pupil, Washington County students were above the state average in all subjects on ACT scores. In contrast, Carter County students were below the state average on ACT scores.

While Humphrey believes there are many opportunities for cuts in the school department’s $41 million budget, he said he would leave it to the school board to make the decisions on what and where to cut.

Humphrey said there will come a time when it is necessary to raise taxes, but he said any new revenue should be invested where it would give the most return. The most obvious place for such an investment is on the county’s infrastructure.

Examples include developing an industrial park, encouraging the spread of a fiber optic network and encouraging the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fish hatchery proposal.

Humphrey said the fish hatchery could become the anchor for the development of the entire riverfront renovation. A commercially viable riverfront section in Elizabethton would encourage the growth of jobs and land values in the area.

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