Unicoi County budget passes first hurdle

Sue Guinn Legg • Aug 6, 2018 at 9:55 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission on Monday cast its first vote on the county’s 2018-19 budget, authorizing the lean $7.4 million budget for newspaper publication and advancing it for a public hearing and final vote later this month.

With eight of the county’s nine commissioners present for Monday evening’s specially called meeting, the commission voted to 8 to 0 to publish the budget for public review.

The budget holds the county’s property tax rate at its current level of $2.6838 per $100 of assessed property value and includes one time bonuses for all county employees, but also dips into reserve funds and cuts most county offices back to less-than-last-year funding levels.

The budget maintains an undesignated fund balance of $953,489, or approximately $60,000 less than last year’s $1.1 million fund balance and more than $550,000 less than the approximate $1.5 million recommended by the state.

The budget draws just over $74,434 from the previously projected 2018-19 fund balance and an equal amount from funds reserved from the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital designated.

With the $74,000 in hospital sale money designated for health-related expenditures in the 2018-19 budget, including a portion of the anticipated $130,000 increase in the cost of the county’s ambulance service contract, approximately $265,000 from the sale of the hospital remains for future health-related needs in the county.

The budget provides $550 for all full-time employees and $250 bonuses for all part-time employees funded through a $30,300 reduction in budget funding for the county road department, or the equivalent of one cent of the county’s tax rate.

With the reduction of the county funding for roads, the road department will also lose $30,300 in matching state dollars for roads.

The new budget also draws down a combined $45,000 held in reserve by county’s Court Clerk and Property Assessor offices.

The budget reduces funding allocated for the Sheriff’s Department in last year’s budget by approximately $18,000.

Sheriff Mike Hensley, who initially requested a more than $1.3 million increase in funding for new officers, patrol cars and other needs, was not present for Monday’s vote on the budget.

Hensley told the commission’s budget committee in June he would not sue the county for additional funding but has also indicated he will not sign the budget without more funding for specific needs, including additional staff and overtime pay.

Hensley told the committee in June that without additional funding for the county’s jail and jail annex he can not afford to house state prisoners that annually generate about $600,000 in state boarding fees for the county.

A public hearing and final commission vote on the budget will be held Aug. 27.

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

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