The new budget calls for no tax increase and includes a 2% pay hike for county employees.
Commissioners are being asked to approve a new $42.8 million general fund budget, as well as a $70.5 million budget for county schools. All school employees will also see a 2% pay hike, along with a state-mandated step raises for teachers.
Both proposed budgets are balanced with spending cuts and reserve funds.
Setting The Tax Rate
Mitch Meredith, the county’s director of finance and administration, said recent reappraisals and equalization will result in the county’s certified property tax rate going from $2.38 per every $100 of assessed value to $2.15 per every $100 of assessed value. He told county commissioners at a workshop on the budget Friday that because property values have increased on an average by 10% countywide, the lower certified rate would still bring in the same amount of total property tax dollars as that collected in the current budget year.
County Mayor Joe Grandy said ongoing work by the Washington County Equalization Board to hear appeals of property owners to state-mandated reappraisals will not have a “significant impact” on new tax revenues.
Meredith told commissioners each penny on the tax rate will bring in $328,000. A breakdown of the new property tax rate will see 67 cents going to the general fund, 74 cents to schools, 14 cents to the county’s Highway Department, 37 cents to debt service, 3 cents to solid waste and 20 cents to the capital projects fund.
Fairness For All
Commissioner Kent Harris said he supports pay increases for county employees, but urged his colleagues to push for fairness among all employees. He said the proposed 2% hike in the new budget “helps people at the top more” than it does for employees who are earning at lower pay levels.
“I’d like to see an hourly raise that would help people near the bottom,” Harris said.
Grandy said only elected courthouse officials, who under state law have total authority over such personnel matters, have the discretion to make such decisions.
The new budget also includes $971,000 for volunteer fire departments, $4.5 million for outside agencies — such as the Johnson City/Washington County Animal Control, Frontier Health and the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Council — and $52,000 for charitable organizations, such as the Coalition for Kids, Dawn of Hope and Girls Inc.
Commissioner Suzy Williams said the city of Johnson City has eliminated such appropriations, and asked if the county has considered doing the same. Commissioner Jodi Jones noted that county officials should send charitable organizations a notice letting them know beforehand if those funds are to be “phased out” in the future.
The Bottom Line
Meredith told commissioners Friday the slow growth in the county’s revenue column could create headaches for county officials in preparing future budgets. Figures show the county has generated $379,000 in new growth during the recent reappraisal.
He said transferring funds from reserves to balance the budget this year may “catch up with you” if the county’s rate of revenue growth remains at less than 1 percent.
“Down the road, you will have some hard decisions to make,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Wheeler said that is why it is important for commissioners to partner with elected county officials to “find ways to work smarter.”