ERWIN — Before the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen considers the second and final reading of its budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, the board met in a called session Tuesday to discuss a couple of items in the proposed budget.
The board was set to vote on the budget last Monday, but tabled its consideration of the second reading until some aldermen could ask questions of Erwin Town Recorder Randy Trivette, who was unable to attend that meeting.
Trivette said Tuesday that the board could not pass the budget during a called meeting, but the meeting could serve as an opportunity for the board to give its input on the proposed budget.
Erwin’s budget, as currently proposed, calls for 2 percent raises for town employees. However, Aldermen Gary Edwards said he would like to see Erwin employees receive a 3 percent raise in the 2011-12 fiscal year, adding that employees have received raises of 3 or 5 percent each year since Trivette began serving as town recorder.
Trivette said this year, due to an economic downturn, the town’s revenues have not increased but expenditures have. This has led to the proposed transfer of $480,000 from the town’s fund balance to balance its budget. While Trivette said it is ultimately the board’s decision as to how to budget town funds, he said a 2 percent raise for Erwin employees would be fair when taking into consideration benefits employees receive, including the town paying 100 percent toward employee retirement and health insurance, which have both seen cost increases over the past year.
A 1 percent raise for Erwin employees would represent an additional $20,000 in expenditures, Trivette said.
“I think our employees are good employees. I think our employees deserve everything we can pay them, I really believe that,” Trivette said, “but I think from a standpoint of a lot of people are making cuts themselves personally in their homes and tax increases and everything going up, I think what the board did to try to decide to keep taxes from going up this year was very wise to help people out.”
Edwards complimented Erwin employees before saying that he is not in favor of the proposed budget.
“It’s not this board that sits up here and makes this town,” Edwards said. “It’s not the aldermen, it’s not the mayor, it’s not the vice-mayor. It’s the employees of the town of Erwin that, in my opinion, keeps it clean, keeps it safe. If there’s a fire, they’re there. ... I can’t vote for this budget. I’m not in favor of this budget. I started with a ‘no’ and I’m going to have to go with a ‘no.’ ”
Aldermen Mark Lafever suggested employees receive 2 1/2 percent raises to “meet in the middle,” with this suggestion supported by Aldermen Lester Bailey. To increase revenues, Lafever also said the town may need to look at eventually increasing its tax rate. Erwin’s current tax rate is a little more than 94 cents per $100 of real and personal property and would remain unchanged under the proposed 2011-12 fiscal year budget.
Lafever also addressed the $35,000 contribution the town has tentatively committed to Unicoi County’s 911 service. He said Erwin aldermen agreed to this contribution, only to learn later that the 911 service has approved the payment of dispatcher bonuses in its budget and said he would not vote for the contribution if the 911 budget includes these bonuses.
“I am not for that and I feel that as a board and as the town of Erwin, we should not be giving money to somebody else’s budget for bonuses when we’re ... not giving as much as we did before, in the past, to our own employees,” he said.
Aldermen Robie Sullins said would like to see the contribution remain intact, with the stipulation that the town of Erwin receive more representation on the Unicoi County 911 service’s board of directors.
“I hope they would be receptive for to us to have more representation on the board,” he said.
To give employees an extra half-percent raise, Trivette said approximately $10,000 could be moved from the town’s unappropriated surplus fund. This would prevent changes to the budget’s bottom line, he said.
The board will meet in regular session Monday to consider the second and final reading of the town’s 2011-12 fiscal year budget. The board passed a resolution Tuesday to authorize a continuing budget to fund city departments and services at 2010-11 fiscal year levels until the second reading is passed.
In other business, the board unanimously approved an agreement with Kimley-Horn and Associates to develop a downtown revitalization master plan. The firm was selected after a field of nine interested firms was narrowed.
Trivette said the development of the master plan would involve hardscape work, public input and planning for economic growth and development. The town had previously budgeted $160,000 for development of the master plan.
Representatives from Kimley-Horn and Associates hope to begin the first round of public meetings by the end of this month, Trivette said. He said the master plan would likely take around nine months to complete.