ELIZABETHTON — The Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission was able to reach a recommendation on three of the four funds in the property tax rate during its meeting on Thursday, but after spending more than two hours wrestling with the tough choices needed for the general fund, called a recess until next Thursday.
Two of the funds, for the county school system and the highway department, were easy. Neither Director of Schools Kevin Ward nor Highway Superintendent Jack Perkins requested an increase this year, so the committee unanimously agreed to keep their portion of the tax rate the same. The county’s total property tax rate is $2.15 per $100 of assessed value and the school system’s part would remain at $1.04 and the highway department at 13 cents under the committee’s recommendation.
The committee also made quick progress on an increase for the debt service. Although Finance Director Ingrid Deloach told the committee that more than 20 cents was needed to keep the reserves from being depleted, committee member Bill Armstrong said it could be stabilized over two years. He moved the fund to be increased by 15 cents this year and the rest next year. The fund also will have some major debt coming off in 2014-15, when Cloudland Elementary School and the animal shelter debts are paid.
Armstrong’s motion to increase debt service funding from 11.5 cents to 26.5 cents was approved by a 5-3 vote, with Charlie Bayless, Nancy Brown and Scott Sams voting against it.
While the committee was not able to reach an agreement on the general fund, which is 86.5 cents this year, several motions to cut funding for offices in the general fund were approved.
The biggest cut came from a motion by Thomas “Yogi” Bowers to cut the sheriff’s department’s request by $110,000. That includes $70,000 from the patrol side of the department and $40,000 from the jail side. The motion was approved by a 7-1 vote, with Bayless casting the only dissenting vote.
Sheriff Chris Mathes was attending a sheriff’s association meeting in Nashville, but Chief Deputy Ron Street was at the meeting. Following the recess, he said the cut would have a significant impact on the department, but he said it was “too early to say what those impacts would be.” He said he would have to go back and look at the department’s proposed budget.
“We have a lot of operations,” Street said.
An easier cut came with Sams’ motion to cut the entire $15,000 for industrial development. This fund has been in the budget for many years and is intended to provide some incentives to a prospective industry considering a move to the county. It was intended to be used to help pave a parking lot or other minor improvement. In recent years, the fund has been used to pay for cost overruns when the pauper burial expenses went over budget because of unanticipated demand. All committee members voted unanimously to zero out the line item except for Bayless, who passed.
The committee also voted to remove all requests for increases from offices of the register of deeds, Planning Commission, property assessor, trustee and the clerks of the Circuit, Sessions, Chancery and county courts. That cut $37,910. The motion by Sams was approved by a 5-1 vote, with Steve Chambers voting against it, Bayless passing and Armstrong absent.
Another small cut of $2,000 from civil service was approved. A motion to cut the funding for Carter County Tomorrow from $40,000 to $10,000 was defeated.
Mayor Leon Humphrey criticized the committee from a seat in the audience for not making deep cuts. He said he has watched the committee’s work for three years and “never has there been a real suggestion of cuts ... people have elected us to make the tough choices.”
Humphrey said he has cut his own budget and suggested across-the-board cuts of 2 to 3 percent.
Committee Chairman Harry Sisk said Humphrey’s stand was “strictly political” and no action was taken on the mayor’s suggestion.
In other matters, the committee approved the proposed contract with the Carter County Rescue Squad to provide service to the jail, hazardous material cleanup and county-wide search and rescue operations. The county will pay the squad $170,000 per year for four years for the services.