ELIZABETHTON — After last year’s difficult decisions in creating a city budget, the Elizabethton City Council should have a much easier time with the 2012-13 budget.
City Manager Fred Edens opened the first budget workshop of the year on Tuesday by telling council members “this is such a different budget year than we have seen, particularly last year.”
The council was obviously glad of that. Last year, the council’s tough decisions in a tough economic climate included the first property tax rate increase in 19 years, going up by 21 cents to $1.78 per $100 of assessed value. It also led to a $10 charge per month for household garbage pickup and an increase in the Water Capital Improvement Fee from $4 to $10.
This year, Edens told the council members the city staff is presenting a budget that is balanced without a tax increase. Edens provided even more good news by saying the budget included about $142,000 that could be used for the first pay raise for city employees in several years and include some funds to place in the fund balance to reverse a trend of declining reserves.
Edens said the money could fund a 2 percent pay raise for city employees. Some council members were not satisfied with that.
Councilwoman Nancy Alsup said a 2 percent across the board raise would benefit the higher paid employees more than the lowest paid. She said the lowest paid employees were suffering and needed a larger increase.
She called for a $1,000 increase for the lowest paid hourly employees, a 2.5 percent increase for other salaried employees and a 1 percent increase for department heads.
Finance Director Jerome Kitchens said that would take more than the $142,000. Even though the staff had presented what Edens called “an extremely tight budget,” Alsup looked through it to find other things that could be cut to help increase employee salaries. She suggested one of the five patrol cars for the Elizabethton Police Department be cut.
Edens said the city’s pay scale already had inequities and more could develop with such a bottom up pay raise. He suggested this year’s pay increase should be given as a bonus rather than a raise, but Alsup and Mayor Curt Alexander said they preferred it to be a raise.
Councilman Charles LaPorte suggested there were three or four natural breaks in the city pay scale that separated the various levels of employees. He said these breaks might be used to distribute the $142,000.
After removing the bulk item garbage pickup service last year, several council members spoke in favor of bringing it back. Bill Carter said many residents saw the loss of the service at the same time they began paying for regular household pickup as “paying more and getting less.”
The council also appeared to be in agreement to fund the various outside agencies supported by the city at the same level as this year. There is one exception brought about by the state 911 Board. Because of the state demand, the local 911 will be probably be recategorized from an outside agency to a contracted service for the police and fire departments. The state board also is demanding the city’s funding to 911 be increased from $81,510 to $130,394, which is the estimated cost of the dispatch services provided to the city.
The council will continue its budget deliberations on April 25 at 2:30 p.m. at City Hall.