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Unicoi County budget committee begins work deep in red; recommends continuation of current insurance contributions

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated May 12, 2020 at 9:55 PM

ERWIN — Unicoi County Commissioners began work on the county’s 2020-21 budget Tuesday nearly $700,000 in the red.

In the first in a series of seven work sessions scheduled through early June, Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely opened Tuesday’s Budget Committee meeting with a rundown of what commissioners can expect.

Starting with the good news, Evely reminded the commissioners they budgeted for a $337,000 deficit in 2019-20 and noted that, 10 months into the current budget year, the county is still in the black with $300,000 in revenues over expenditures.

Other positives cited by the mayor included a $22,000 increase in sales tax collections for the first nine months of the current fiscal year, $113,000 in personal property tax collections that were not budgeted for in 2019-20, and about $100 more in the penny value of the county’s property tax rate than last year.

“With COVID, we got the numbers for April in. So it will really depend on May and June whether we meet that deficit or not. I am sure there will be some deficit but not anywhere near $300,000,” Evely said.

“We had nine months of great economy. Online sales taxes are helping us and … our debt service is stronger than it has to be.”

The challenge in coming budget sessions will be reining in a projected deficit of more than $697,000.

According to Evely, the projection includes recurring expenses approved in year’s budget — a mandatory $2,700 pay raise for county officeholders, a $300 raise for county employees and longevity pay raises, as well as a new Veterans Services Officer position recently approved by the commission.

Most departmental budget requests came in lower than last year, while a few, including the Election Commission that will handle three elections in the next budget year, came in with slight increases.

Commission Chairman Loren Thomas questioned Evely about a “$600,000 grant we are supposed to be getting.”

Evely said the amount is $637,000 for which applications must be submitted for individual projects.

The mayor said he asked the officeholders to omit any capital projects or other needs for which the grant funds may be available from their current budget requests and to provide him with the list. The departmental needs include a new server and computers for the county trustee's office and possibly some items needed by the sheriff’s department.

Getting to the bottom line, Evely said, “We had a shortfall last year. We are facing a shortfall this year. There are non-recurring funds we used. And the auditor did not like us taking money from our reserves.

“We have got to find a way to balance the budget with recurring funds. (To) any commissioners who have ideas, we’re open. We will look at any option,” Evely said.

In other business, the committee voted to recommend the full commission leave the country's current contribution to employee health insurance premiums at $557 for individual coverage and $1,000 for family coverage, and to set the contribution for two new coverage options available under the county’s new state health plan coverage at $557 as well.

The Budget Committee will meet again on May 19.

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