ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Commission will decide this month on the budget for the new fiscal year and whether or not there will need to be a tax increase to support it.
The Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission will recommend that property taxes should be raised by 6 cents, to $2.21 per $100 of assessed value, to fund the budget, with half the increase going to the Carter County School System and the other half going to the debt service to repay the county’s loans.
Mayor Leon Humphrey made his feeling clear about a tax increase during the June meeting of the commission.
“I for one will not support any tax increase with this budget cycle,” Humphrey said. “I am totally against placing an unwarranted burden on our citizens at this time when it is totally obvious that we have the means to operate without it.”
Humphrey was referring to an unusually large amount of operating revenues that will be returned to the General Fund reserves this year by the county office holders.
The lion’s share of the revenue is being returned by Sheriff Chris Mathes. His is mostly revenues that had been intended to hire 37 new corrections officers to operate the new Carter County Detention Center.
When it became obvious there would be a lengthy delay in opening the new jail because of a dispute with the contractor over nicks and divots in the concrete floor and other problems, Mathes chose not to begin hiring the new jailers until the repairs were negotiated and corrected.
The result was a savings of approximately $750,000 because the jailers were not hired until about nine months into the fiscal year.
The county was also fortunate not to have an increase in health insurance rates. Added to the money saved from the sheriff’s budget, that amounted to a savings of $910,000.
Humphrey said there will be unspent revenues returned by other county office holders this year. He estimated that amount would reach $300,000.
In considering these surpluses returned this year and the fact that other county governments have had across-the-board budget cuts, Humphrey said a 1 percent across-the-board cut in the budgets of county offices and the school system, with funds totaling $52.6 million, would result in an additional savings of $526,000.
Added together, Humphrey said that amounted to more than $1.7 million the county could save.
“This would be more than ample funds to balance the actual monetary needs,” Humphrey said. “This action would result in no significant negative impacts or create unnecessary burdens for any one department. Also it would result in a substantial amount going toward debt service. Most importantly, there would be no tax increase passed on to the citizens of Carter County and no further constraint placed on business owners.”
Humphrey said last year the county added $3 million to the budget, with $1.5 million going to the sheriff’s department, primarily to support the increased operational costs for the new jail, $1 million for the school system and a $500,000 increase to the general fund. He said the County Commission did not increase the tax rate to a level to cover the increase. It was able to do that by taking money out of debt service, which had a reserve of more than $8 million.
Humphrey said he could support a tax increase if it was going to be spent on new systems to improve efficiency, improved infrastructure or to provide additional services for citizens. He said last year’s increases and the proposed increases for this year do not do that.