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VIDEO: Mayors spat overshadows tax increase in Carter County Budget meeting

John Thompson • Updated Jun 13, 2017 at 12:06 PM

ELIZABETHTON — In normal years, there is no meeting of a committee of the Carter County Commission more important and emotional than the Budget Committee when a public hearing is held and the committee votes on the upcoming year’s budget recommendations.

But this is not a normal year, and once again the heated controversy over the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter came to the forefront to overshadow a 4-cent tax increase.

The Monday meeting started calmly, even though the committee considered and recommended the increase to property taxes. That would raise the tax rate from $2.45 to $2.49 per $100 of assessed value.

A handful of citizens did ask the committee to make sure all economies were done before deciding to raise taxes.

 

The committee also discussed holding the vote on the new budget during the June Commission meeting rather than the July meeting, but that failed by a 3-5 vote.

The meeting turned stormy when county Mayor Leon Humphrey once again took the podium to respond to comments made in last Thursday’s Elizabethton City Council meeting in which Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander was critical of the increased costs of running the shelter. Alexander was also critical of the lack of negotiation between the city and the county over the increased costs and the city’s desire to make changes in the agreement between the two governmental bodies on how the shelter should be operated.

Humphrey told the committee that during the City Council meeting, “Mayor Alexander said he wanted to do the right thing, he applauded the (shelter) staff. ... How can anyone who has only been to that shelter once in five years assess what we are doing as being good our bad? It can’t be done.”

Humphrey said he got a proposal from the city Monday, and it reflected what had been passed in the city budget. It calls for the city to pay for only a quarter of the expenses of the shelter instead of the 50-50 split of costs in the original agreement. It also sets $100,000 as the maximum yearly amount the city would spend on the shelter.

“If we are going to negotiate, why don’t we propose back to them that maybe the city of Elizabethton take over responsibility for operating the shelter, seeing as they are experts?” the mayor said shortly before Budget Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler asked him to sit down.

Humphrey said he is awaiting an investigative report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, which he said will note criminal activity took place prior to the time that the county took direct control of the shelter. Whether that rises to the level that the district attorney will press charges is anybody’s guess. That will be between him, his staff and the comptroller’s report.

The committee also approved a request by Mayor Leon Humphrey to allow his office and the Building and Grounds budget he administers to keep the approximately $25,000 that has not been spent this fiscal year. Humphrey said there are several problems with county buildings that need to be addressed and the additional funds would be used to complete a couple of those projects.

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