The first two hours of the meeting were devoted to recommending the funding levels for the outside and independent agencies that the county government annually supports. It appears there will be no requirement to raise property taxes next fiscal year, and that was reflected in the committee approving several funding increases to some of the agencies.
This was particularly true for several departments of the city of Elizabethton that receive country funding. City officials have been critical for several years about the county’s amount of contributions to such city departments as the Parks and Recreation and the Elizabethton-Carter County Public Library, saying the majority of the users are county residents, but the county pays only a small proportion of the operating funds to these city departments.
The Budget Committee addressed these complaints by unanimously approving funding increases to these departments. The recommendation for the largest increase will go to the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Board. The recommendation was to more than double the amount the county donates to the city parks, adding $13,000 to the $12,000 the city has been given, for a total recommendation of $25,000.
The library was also the recipient of the committee’s generosity. The committee voted to increase the county’s contribution to the library by $9,400. That would bring the total contribution by the county to $75,000. One other city department did not see any immediate increase, but the committee held out a promise to discuss the matter with city officials. That was in the new request to make a contribution to the Elizabethton Fire Department.
The county normally makes contributions to each of the county’s seven volunteer fire departments and also to Johnson County’s Butler Volunteer Fire Department, which serves a portion of Carter Country along Watauga Lake. The committee unanimously approved a $5,000 increase, bringing the total donation to the seven departments $420,000.
The committee rejected a motion to provide a $10,000 contribution to the Elizabethton Fire Department. The vote was 3-5. Committee member Kelly Collins, who represents the 8th Commission District, which is entirely inside the city limits of Elizabethton, argued strongly for providing support for the Elizabethton Fire Department. “The people of Elizabethton pay county taxes, too,” Collins said.
After the motion failed, Commissioner Robert Acuff, who is not a member of the Budget Committee but was observing the proceedings, said he has talked with City Councilman Michael Simerly about the possibility of holding a joint discussion with city and county officials about “who pays for what.”
Following that, the committee voted for a motion by Isaiah Grindstaff to not fund the city fire department at the present time, but to work toward holding such a funding meeting. That motion passed, with only Collins voting against it.
There were some losers in the committee’s decisions. The biggest was the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, which the committee voted to cut in half, dropping its funding from $40,000 this year to only $20,000 next year. The remaining $20,000 would go to a line item in the budget that would hold the money until the Carter County Joint Economic Development Board has its charter amended so that it can receive funding.
Another loser was the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine’s Pathology Department to pay for autopsies of Carter County victims of murder and other unexplained deaths. The funding dropped by $11,078. This year the country is paying $124,681.04 for the autopsy services. Next year, the county would pay $103,603.04.