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Decisions await Elizabethton City Council as budget workshops conclude

John Thompson • Apr 25, 2019 at 9:43 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Two months of Thursday afternoon workshops on the 2019-20 budget came to an end for the Elizabethton City Council Thursday. The council now begins the task of approving a final budget before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

Although the actual numbers of the budget were not decided during the workshops, the council members did make clear to City Manager Daniel Estes what they favored and did not like in the proposed budget for the new fiscal year. Some items rose to the top of the must-fund priorities.

One that carries a federal mandate is a transition plan to bring city buildings into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Estes said $31,000 is needed to complete the plan. He said the time to complete the actual upgrades is dependent on such factors as the public use of the buildings, with city halls and court houses having the highest priorities. 

The next highest priority is for the acquisition of a records management system for the police department. The system would cost $198,475.

The most expensive of these capital projects is one that reoccurs every year. That is the money set aside for repaving city streets. This year, the council is considering spending $400,000 on repaving.

Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander said that during a particularly lean year, the city decided not to do any repaving that year. He said the decision was very noticeable to drivers.

Not all requests for increases in the budget have mandates. One request the City Council appeared to have a consensus not to fund is a request from the Elizabethton City Schools to increase the city’s contribution to school system operations. 

This year, the council provided $2,485,000 in local revenue for the school’s operations. That is in addition to the half-cent sales tax revenue for capital projects. The Board of Education has asked the council to increase its donation by $85,000. The council has traditionally been reluctant to increase the donation. It has done so only once in the past dozen years.

One of the reasons for the reluctance is that under Tennessee “maintenance of effort” rules, if a local funding body increases the amount of local funding for a local school system, it must continue to fund the system at the higher level in following years. There are exceptions, such as a decline in student enrollment, but for most cases, the council would have to fund the school system at the higher level.

The council is also reluctant to increase the city’s funding to the Carter County Animal Shelter. One of the main reasons is a perception by council members that city taxpayers are paying taxes on the shelter twice, once when they pay city taxes and again when they pay county taxes.

On personnel changes, the full implementation of the salary compensation study undertaken last year would require an increase of $114,880. Added to that would be a 1 percent increase in the salary floor, with an additional $47,680. That would be offset by a move of leaf collection operations from the Street Department, funded by property taxes, to the Sanitation Department, funded by enterprise funds.

The next move for the council is to create the 2019-20 budget and come up with the tax bill for Elizabethton property owners.

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