Carter Budget Committee looking at ways to increase county employee salaries next fiscal year

John Thompson • Jan 14, 2019 at 11:01 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Commission is beginning the process of developing the county budget for the 2019-20 Fiscal Year, and some preliminary discussion worked its way into the discussions of the Budget Committee on Monday night.

Several commissioners pointed out that the county has fallen behind in the salaries being paid to county employees. Sheriff Dexter Lunceford told the committee that he had just received news that one of his canine handlers was leaving.

He told the committee that was a double hit because the county had first sent the canine officer to the police academy for standard training. The officer and police dog were then sent for canine training in Ohio.

Lunceford said his department spends thousands of dollars each year to train new officers to take the place of officers who have taken another police job at one of the several agencies in the vicinity that pay more than the Carter County Sheriff’s Department.

Several other county departments consistently lose trained employees to surrounding agencies, especially the Carter County School Department.

Budget Committee member Ray Lyons has been closely studying the problem and offered his thoughts. He said it was important that the lowest paid county employees get an extra increase because their pay is currently so low.

Lyons said the county currently has 233 employees. He took $25,000 as the annual salary where the break between the lowest-paid and higher-paid county employees should begin. He said 54 county employees make less than $25,000 per year.

Lyons said those employees should receive a 5 percent annual increase. The remaining 179 employees should receive a 3 percent increase. Lyons estimated those increases would amount to a $225,000 increase in the total cost of salaries, but a 4 cent increase in the property tax rate.

Committee member Ronnie Trivett said he would like to see the county employees get a raise, but he said the committee had to keep an eye on the increases in health insurance costs, which had several large increases in recent years.

The county is looking at ways to reduce the cost of health insurance and will hold a workshop on the matter in February. Until that time, Lunceford said it was best to not make comments about things that are not known or decided.

Lyons said he was not making a motion at this time. He just wanted everyone to keep the county employees in mind as the budget was worked out. “We need to find a way to take care of the best asset our county government has,” Lyons said.

In other matters, the committee gave its approval to the final section of the renovations to the Carter County Health Department. Director Caroline Hurt said the state will pay a 100 percent grant for the project, which Hurt said will cost $179,500.

The low bid on the project went to Construction Partners, LLC. Hurt said she checked on the company’s performance on other medical projects. She said they received praise for their work on renovations to Sycamore Shoals Hospital, performing the work while the building was occupied with patients. She said that will be the case with the Health Department.