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Unicoi County Commission adopts budget, recognizes outgoing members

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Aug 27, 2018 at 10:49 PM

ERWIN — For the first time in recent memory, the Unicoi County Commission on Monday approved the county’s annual operating budget by a unanimous vote.

Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice commended the commission members for their work on the budget and county officeholders for their contributions to balancing the budget without a property tax increase.

Rice noted the budget process had begun with $1.6 million in new funding requests that would have equaled a 52- to 53-cent increase in the county’s property tax rate.

After some deliberations, Rice said the budget committee decided to take the budget back to last year’s funding level with the exception of a state-mandated 5 percent pay increase for county officeholders.

Rice said several decreases in revenues also contributed to the “bare bones budget” but noted the budget was balanced without a tax increase and money returned to the county general fund by several departments allowed for the inclusion of one-time bonuses for all county employees.

The $550 bonuses for full-time employees and $250 bonuses for part-time employees combined with an increase in the county’s contribution to employee health insurance premiums will provide most county employees with more than $1,100 in additional pay and benefits, Rice said.

Following the budget’s approval, Rice said the unanimous vote on budget was the first in her five years on the commission.

In other business Monday, the board voted to join in a class-action lawsuit through which the federal government is increasing its payment in lieu of taxes for federal lands in counties across the nation to make up for a shortfall on those payments from 2015-17.

Mayor Greg Lynch recommended the county join in the action, saying the government has already begun increasing the payment, which for Unicoi County went from $84,000 in 2017 to $149,000 this year.

Lynch said while the payments are not earmarked exclusively for schools, the commission voted several years ago to allocate 100 percent of PILT funding to the county school system.

The board also recognized Lynch and three of its outgoing commissioners on Monday with plaques denoting the county’s appreciation for their service and a farewell reception following the meeting.

Lynch and Commissioners Bridget Peters, Gene Wilson and Kenneth Garland will be replaced by incoming Mayor Garland “Bubba” Eveley and newly elected Commissioners Jamie Harris, Stephen Hendrix and Matthew Rice in a swearing-in ceremony scheduled for Friday.

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

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