Budget committee holds line on property tax rates, nixes increase for rescue squad

Published 8:35 am Friday, May 29, 2015

Members of the Carter County Budget Committee voted to leave the property tax rate unchanged, took a pay cut on their own salaries, denied additional funding to the Carter County Rescue Squad and took issue with an out-of-balance Highway Department budget.

Several members of the committee expressed a desire to not raise property taxes and to fund the county offices and outside agencies at the same levels as during the current fiscal year.

Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler stepped down as head of the committee and passed the gavel to Vice-Chairman Buford Peters so she could present her own motion to set the property tax rate at $2.45. The motion was seconded by Robert Carroll.

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On a vote, the tax rate passed by a margin of 5-2 with Carroll, Culler, Peters, Ross Garland and Ronnie Trivett voting in favor. John Lewis and L.C. Tester cast the two opposing votes. Nancy Brown was absent from the meeting but her seat was later filled by fellow 2nd District representative Mike Hill who attended the meeting.

During the previous budget workshop, Brown had directed County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach to look at what savings could be created by cutting the salaries of the County Commission.

On Thursday evening Deloach reported commissioners currently receive $100 for each meeting of the full Commission they attend and $50 for each committee meeting. The minimum payments allowed under law for Carter County would be $35 for each full Commission meeting and $17.50 for each committee meeting.

Currently, the projected annual salary cost for the Commission is $57,600. Dropping the salaries to the minimum amounts would lower that number $21,160, creating a savings of more than $36,000 each year, Deloach said. The budget committee could also set the commissioner salaries at a flat monthly rate rather than paying per meeting attended, she added.

Culler made a motion to set the commissioner salaries at a flat rate of $150 per month rather than paying per meeting attended.

“Unfortunately we can’t give some money to some people, but we are going to step up and cut what we are making for what we’re trying to do,” Culler said.

Deloach said the change recommended by Culler would set the annual salary expense for the Commission at $43,200.

Culler’s motion received a second from Carroll and passed on a vote of 5-2 with Culler, Carroll, Garland, Peters and Trivett voting in favor. Lewis and Tester opposed the proposal.

Discussion of funding for the Carter County Rescue Squad came up during the committee’s look at funding for outside agencies.

When the Rescue Squad presented their budget to the committee, they requested $387,000 in additional funding. If additional funding is not received from Carter County and the City of Elizabethton, the agency said it will have to sell its operation to an outside company.

“We think you do a wonderful job and we appreciate everything you do,” Culler told Rescue Squad representatives in attendance at Thursday’s meeting. “Unfortunately, we are up against a wall. We can’t come up with $387,000 to give you.”

While the county is unable to provide additional funds, Culler said she would like to see the county and city work together with the Rescue Squad to help the agency with its billing practices, debt collection and “financial management.”

The committee voted to leave outside agency funding at the same amount as last year’s allocation with the exception of a contract-mandated increase for pathology services.

The budget for the Highway Department was sent back to Road Superintendant Roger Colbaugh for a second time to be reworked after committee members took issue with the budget being severely out of balance.

If revenues and expenditures follow the Highway Department budget, the county would need to take $632,620.16 from the department’s fund balance in order to cover the cost of all the expenses. While the imbalance seems large, Deloach said, it is an improvement over the 2014-15 budget which was predicted to dip into the fund balance for a sum of $821,159.34.

When Colbaugh presented his budget initially, the committee asked him to rework the budget and bring it into balance. On Thursday, Colbaugh told the committee the only way to balance the budget would be to cut services or employees.

“To reduce the budget any more would be eliminating snow and ice control and road resurfacing, or cut bridge programs and lose that state money or eliminate employees,” Colbaugh said.

A motion to send the budget back for reworking failed on a 4-4 split vote on the first attempt. Following that vote, a motion was made to approve the budget and allow Colbaugh to take the shortfall out of the department’s fund balance. That motion failed on a vote of 4-2 with two abstentions.

Ultimately, the committee voted 7-1 to kick the budget back to Colbaugh for revision.

“Do you want a budget that eliminates employees,” Colbaugh asked the committee. “I’m going to lay that on the committee. Vote on that.”

Culler directed Colbaugh to rework his budget as best he could and bring it back to the full committee.

The budget committee will next meet on June 8 at 6 p.m .at the Carter County Courthouse.