Johnson City Press: Washington County approves budget, employee raises

Washington County approves budget, employee raises

Robert Houk • Jun 25, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Washington County commissioners voted Monday to approve a budget and property tax rate for the new fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

The new $42.8 million general fund budget includes $345,000 to cover a 2 percent pay raise for county employees. 

Commissioners also approved a balanced $70.5 million budget for Washington County schools that includes a 2 percent pay increase for all school employees.

The county’s Board of Education took $1.8 million from its general fund reserves to balance the budget. The budget includes $1.1 million to cover pay raises for all employees and a 1% mandated step increase for teachers.

Commissioners also set the tax levy Monday based on recent reappraisals and equalization that sees the new certified property tax rate going from $2.37 per every $100 of assessed value to $2.15 per every $100 of assessed value.

Mitch Meredith, the county’s director of finance and administration, told commissioners at a workshop Friday each penny on the new 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.

The new budget 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.

Commissioners also approved three key amendments during Monday’s debate on the budget. Commissioner Kent Harris made a motion to pay all full- and part-time employees a minimum wage of $10 an hour.

“How do we keep people at $8 an hour,” Harris asked his colleagues.

Harris also amended the budget to lower an expenditure for the county attorney from $40,000 to $6,000. A third amendment, which was moved by Commissioner Mike Ford, removed funding for the county medical examiner.

Ford said the current contract for those services with East Tennessee State University is “null and void” because an appointment of medical examiner was never ratified by the County Commission as required by state law. He asked $63,000 be placed in the budget for those services for 90 days until a new contract is reviewed.

Ford also made a motion that failed in a 7-7 vote to cut a newly created position of communications director from the budget. The position — which is budgeted at $60,000 for salary and benefits — was a need commissioners identified at a workshop in January.

“I’d hate to put another person on the payroll when I look around the county and see all our needs,” Ford said 

In other business Monday, commissioners voted to extend the purchase option yet again on the 15-acre McCoy property beside Jonesborough Elementary School. County Board of Education members originally asked for the property to be purchased, noting it would be important to its K-8 plans in Jonesborough.

Commissioner Jim Wheeler said the county needed to “keep all its options open” by extending the purchase agreement, which expires at the end of this month. He said that should include renegotiating the purchase price. 

Commissioners also voted to have a new appraisal of the property be conducted if the county finally moves to exercise the purchase option.

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