County Mayor Joe Grandy said the Budget Committee has dealt with the new budget for more than 90 days. He said committee members are now giving other commissioners “an opportunity to ask questions and prepare for Monday night’s vote.”
The Budget Committee has proposed a balanced $42.1 million general fund budget that includes a 2% pay increase for all county employees in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. The committee has also approved a $70.5 million budget for Washington County schools that includes state-mandated step raises for teachers and a 2% salary hike for all school employees.
Commissioners will also vote Monday on a new certified county property tax rate set at $2.15 per every $100 of assessed value based on the latest property reappraisals and equalization. Grandy said the new county budget is balanced through spending cuts, and by transferring money from debt service and the fund balance.
“We’ve reduced expenses and made the hard choices,” Grandy said of the Budget Committee’s efforts. “We are not asking for any additional tax dollars.”
The committee continued its work on Thursday following a public hearing on the new budget that saw no residents speak on the proposal. Committee members, however, had something to say on at least one portion of the new budget. Commissioner Jim Wheeler said he was troubled by the amount budgeted to cover legal services in Washington County.
Wheeler, an attorney himself, said the budgeted legal costs in Washington County are nearly $100,000 more than those billed in counties of comparable size. He said the County Commission should “get a handle on the cost of legal services” through the budget process.
Grandy said the county is returning to a legal representation plan that existed before its former in-house attorney left for a new job in Knoxville last year. He said that departure meant Thomas J. Seeley III, who is contracted to serve as the county’s attorney, was asked to pick up some of the slack.
The mayor said Allyson Wilkinson, who was hired as the county’s staff attorney earlier this year, is now handling many of the day-to-day legal issues coming from commissioners and county officials.
Commissioner Freddie Malone said the staff attorney should be “ the first line of defense” when it comes to fielding basic legal questions.