ELIZABETHTON — After nearly three months of discussion and debate, the Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission was finally able to agree on a recommended budget for the next commission meeting.
After failing to reach a majority on two earlier recommendations on Tuesday night, the committee finally agreed upon a budget that would raise the county property tax from $2.15 to $2.40 per $100 of assessed value. The tax rate would increase the General Fund 15 cents and the Debt Service Fund by 10 cents. The School and Highway Funds would remain the same. A divided committee approved the recommendation. Nancy Brown and Scott Sams voted against it, while Charlie Bayless passed.
The recommendation will now be sent to the commission for its consideration at the regularly scheduled meeting on July 15. That meeting starts at 9 a.m. Citizens will get a chance to comment on the recommendation at a public hearing that will be held at 8 a.m. The meeting will be held in the Main Courtroom of the Carter County Courthouse.
The recommendation also included a 5 percent budget cut for most county offices funded by the General Fund. The Budget Committee had voted at its meeting last Thursday to make the 5 percent cut across the board, but several officeholders appeared at Tuesday’s meeting to argue that their operations could not sustain such a cut.
These included Sessions Court Judge John Walton, Sheriff Chris Mathes and County Health Department Director Caroline Hurt.
The sheriff’s budget includes an increase in the jail medical services that had already been approved and Mathes also asked for a $7,074 increase for the Patrol Division. He said maintenance expenses for the new jail will have to rise because much of the maintenance on the facility was performed by the general contractor, Blaine Construction, this year. Blaine is no longer obligated under the construction contract.
Finance Director Ingrid Deloach said the patrol increase and the $67,367.44 increase for the jail was in the final budget request.
Hurt’s annual budget is $169,000. She said it has remained at that level for 10 years, despite all the increases in health care. “We were lean in 2003,” Hurt said.
Hurt said her department has about 30,135 patient encounters a year. She said that means the Health Department is spending about $3.82 per patient encounter. She said the department provides a lot of other services, including putting about $1 million in the county’s food stores through its federal Women, Infant and Children voucher program.
Deloach said the biggest problem for the Health Department is a cash flow matter. She said the department must make payments up front and wait for reimbursement from the state. That sometimes brings the department very close to having no cash on hand.
The department’s budget was not cut.
Brown asked if it might be good to revisit the balanced budgets submitted by the Highway and School departments as possible sources of savings.
Director of Schools Kevin Ward said the system cut $2.3 million over the past two years, including the removal of 35 teaching positions and the closing of Range Elementary School. He said the system has made other cuts, including parking vehicles to save gas.
Ward said the school system is looking at several challenges as the new Common Core Curriculum continues to be installed, along with more use of computers in state tests. He said schools must develop more computer labs.
Brown asked Ward to consider reducing the amount of medical insurance paid by the school board and shifting the burden to new hires.