Public has chance to comment on proposed Carter County Budget for next year

John Thompson • Jun 16, 2018 at 11:45 PM

ELIZABETHTON — After more than two months of discussions by Carter County commissioners, courthouse officeholders and other community leaders, it is now time for the public to weigh in on the budget for next year and the proposed 9-cent increase in the property tax rate.

The Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission has scheduled a public hearing for 5 p.m. in the Main Courtroom of the Carter County Courthouse. The meeting is scheduled to last an hour. The County Commission meets in the courtroom at 6 p.m. The commission is scheduled to vote on the budget during its July meeting.

There are lots of numbers with any budget discussion, but the most talked about will be the proposed 9-cent increase in the property tax rate, going from the current tax rate of $2.47 per $100 of assessed value to the proposed tax rate of $2.56 per $100 of assessed value.

While the proposed 9-cent increase will be criticized by some citizens, the Budget Committee may point out that when it began the budgeting process in April, the total requests would have required a 16-cent increase in the property tax rate.

Much of the committee’s time during the past two months has focused on lowering the amounts of increases from officeholders and other agencies that receive funding from the county.

Chairwoman Sonja Culler had asked for each recipient of county funds to reduce their spending by 10 percent. That was met with some success, as a few offices did cut their budget by 10 percent. Others said they were already cut to the bone and could cut no more.

The proposed budget was barely approved by the Budget Committee, by a 5-3 vote on May 30. It will take the votes of 13 of the 24 commissioners to win approval when the County Commission takes it up in July.

Traditionally, the County Commission approves a property tax rate that is lower than the one proposed by the Budget Committee. Several commissioners have already expressed their opposition to any increase, and Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said he would veto an increase.

The way the commission has been able to select a lower tax rate in the past has been to vote on a tax rate that will require some funding from the fund balance.

This has resulted in the lowering of the count’s fund balance from $6 million to $4 million in the past several years and causing each new budget-making process to start its work in a deeper deficit.

For that reason, the County Commission voted this year to require a balanced budget, but County Attorney Jason Hardin said that resolution could easily be overridden if the commission wanted to do so.

During its two-months-long deliberations, the Budget Committee did get the proposed tax rate increase down to 9 cents, but that also has caused unhappiness from those who have been cut out.

One of the recommendations the committee made is to cut funding to outside agencies except those that the county is contractually obligated to fund and kept the funding to the county’s volunteer fire departments and the Carter County Rescue Squad.

Last Thursday, the Elizabethton City Council expressed its unhappiness that the Budget Committee cut all funding to the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department and the Elizabethton Senior Citizens Center.

During the City Council meeting, Councilman Jeff Treadway questioned Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mains about the proposed county funding to the city parks. Mains said this year the county provided $11,281.25 to the department. He said he believes none of that money is proposed to be given to the city parks next year. He said county residents who live outside the city limits make up 63 percent of the users of parks and recreation assets.

Treadway said “I don’t see how the City Council can continue subsidizing county residents using our parks.”

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