ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Highway Department was the only winner Tuesday night when the Carter County Commission’s Budget Committee got around to voting on the budget it will recommend for the new fiscal year. If approved by the entire commission, the recommendation would mean a 25-cent increase in the property tax rate of $2.28 per $100 of assessed value.
Road Superintendent Jack Perkins got exactly what he asked for, a recommendation his budget be increased by $344,720, which is a 5-cent increase in the current tax rate. All eight committee members voted for the recommendation.
Prior to the vote, Perkins told the committee “if you don’t fund me, you don’t need the schools or the sheriff’s department. ... We need some money to work on. If you look at the roads you will see what I am talking about after the rough winter we had.”
The committee was much less generous to all other departments and offices. By a unanimous vote, the committee voted to recommend a “bare bones” budget for the General Fund, which includes all the courthouse offices and the sheriff’s department.
Finance Director Ingrid Deloach said the status quo budget only included increases to cover mandated increases, insurance increases and a few increases the committee had already approved, such as the new animal shelter.
Those increases amounted to $378,783, or another 5.5-cent increase in the current property tax rate.
Sheriff Chris Mathes said he was disappointed in the decision because it did not address the needs of the new jail or the department’s operational needs.
A staffing study conducted by the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service indicated the sheriff’s department would need 37 additional positions to operate the new jail. The sheriff has asked CTAS to conduct a second staffing study for the purpose of determining which of those recommended positions could be cut.
During the early stages of the meeting, Mathes delivered a gloomy report on the status of construction in the new jail. He said the jail was filled with “shoddy work that I would never accept in my house. The problems included damage to the concrete floors done during the later stages of construction, sharp razor edges on refits and leaky drains in the top floors that are already discoloring the lower ceilings.
The committee was a bit more generous to the school system, but was agreeable to granting only half the system’s requested $1.4 million increase. The committee first considered recommending the entire amount requested, but the motion failed by a 5-3 vote, with committee members Harry Sisk, Charlie Bayless and Steve Chambers voting for the school’s request while Lawrence Hodge, Nancy Brown, Bill Armstrong, Scott Sams and Tom Bowers voted against it.
The committee then considered an increase of $732,000 for the schools. That would actually require an increase of $1.03 million in the new taxes because the city schools would also be granted about 30 percent of whatever increase was approved for the school system. That meant a 15-cent increase in the property tax rate.
Hodge, Brown, Sisk, Armstrong and Sams voted for the $1 million increase for the schools while Bayless, Chambers and Bowers were opposed.
The approval for the increase was actually an offer to the Carter County Board of Education, since there was no school budget presented at the lower amount. The offer will be presented to the school board during its workshop Thursday.
To lessen the burden on property taxpayers in the future, the committee also voted 5-3 to recommend a wheel tax to the commission. The proposal was for a $25 wheel tax that would be capped at $25 and would be limited to two years. All proceeds would go to the school system, which would allow property taxes now devoted to the school system to be taken off or designated for other needs.
Committee members Bayless, Hodge, Sisk, Armstrong and Chambers voted for the wheel tax. Brown, Bowers and Sams were against it.