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Unicoi County budget committee working to avoid a tax increase

Sue Guinn Legg • Jun 6, 2018 at 9:43 PM

ERWIN — In attempt to avoid an approximately 58-cent property tax increase, the Unicoi County Commission’s Budget Committee on Wednesday continued to whittle away at more than $1.6 million in unfunded departmental funding requests.

In addition to the excess in line item increases submitted by county officeholders, including a request for more than $1.3 million in new funding for the Sheriff’s Department, Assessor of Property Teresa Kinsler has projected property tax collections will decrease in the new fiscal year.

With individual tax assessment hearings still underway, Kinsler said Wednesday penny value of the property tax rate had fallen approximately $380, down to $30,726 from last year’s $31,106.

While Kinsler expects the penny value will increase slightly as the hearings conclude, the demolition of an NFS building and the removal of some CSX property from the tax rolls are expected to result in a decline in overall property tax collections.

On the plus side, County Financial Director Phyllis Bennett reported the county’s undesignated fund balance, which came in at just over $1 million for the first time last year, appears to be holding steady.

Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice reminded the committee that the commission voted to spend a portion of the fund balance over the course of the past fiscal year and Bennett cautioned that the current balance will be impacted by three employee pay periods in June.

While a state mandated 5 percent pay increase for all county officeholders cannot be avoided in the new budget, the committee agreed on Wednesday to delay its consideration of all other requests for employee pay increases until the end of its budget deliberations and until the county learns the cost of its new ambulance service contract set to take effect in April.

Bids on the county’s request for proposals on the ambulance service contract are due on June 20 or 21 and so far have garnered only one submission.

Cuts to the excess departmental funding requests began last week with the committee’s elimination of $40,000 requested for a new accounting staff member in the mayor’s office.

On Wednesday the committee cut $10,500 out of a total $13,000 funding increase requested by the mayor for courthouse maintenance and repairs submitted in anticipation of the continued deterioration of the building’s aging heating and air conditioning system.

And a trustee’s office request for $3,000 in emergency reserve funding was cut to $2,500.

Wednesday’s meeting ended with an agreement to commit the committee’s next work session to a significant increase in funding requested by the county’s Joint Economic Development Board, a small increase from the county’s University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension Office and a summation of the balanced budget submitted by the county school system.

The committee plans to follow up with a separate work session dedicated exclusively to the Sheriff’s Department’s $1.3 million request in new funding for additional staff, vehicles, pay raises and jail annex repairs.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

 

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