Budget hearing concludes without a single public comment

Published 2:01 pm Wednesday, June 22, 2016

County Budget Graphic

Monday’s public hearing for the proposed Carter County fiscal year 2016-17 budget may go down in the record books as one of the shortest public hearings in history as it only lasted about a minute.
Budget Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler called the public hearing to order at 5 p.m. Culler announced to the budget committee that no citizens had filed a written request to speak at the hearing, which is required by state law.
Culler also announced that the committee would waive the written request requirement and would open the floor for anyone wished to speak. Though there were several people in attendance, no one asked to be recognized to speak.
After asking twice if anyone would like to speak, Culler called the public hearing to a close.
While no one spoke at the public hearing regarding the proposed budget, the budget was brought up during the public comments portion of the County Commission meeting that convened at 6 p.m. on Monday.
County resident Roy Livingston, who was present for the public hearing but did not ask to be recognized, had questions regarding a proposed three percent raise for county employees and school system paraprofessionals. Livingston said some commissioners and other county officials had made the claim that county employees had not been given a raise in 10 years.
Livingston handed a piece of paper to Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey which he said was documentation from the Carter County Finance Department under the previous Finance Director Ingrid Deloach that showed county employees had received a raise in 2012.
Humphrey looked over the paper and said it appeared there was “some validity” to Livingston’s statement.
Carter County Finance Director Christa Byrd clarified that in 2012 a small raise was given to those county employees who had been on their job for more than a year.
During a budget committee meeting held on June 2, the committee voted 5-2 to provide a three percent raise for county employees and school system paraprofessionals, which includes positions such as bus drivers, cafeteria staff and school book keepers. The motion to approve the raise was made by committee member Buford Peters and was seconded by committee member Nancy Brown. Peters and Brown were joined in voting in favor of the motion by committee members Ronnie Trivett, Ross Garland and Culler. Committee members John Lewis and Robert Carroll voted against the raise. Committee member L. C. Tester was absent during that portion of the meeting.
The committee had previously voted to fund raises to five county employees that would be impacted by a new federal labor regulation set to take effect in December. Those five employees will be exempted from the 3 percent raise approved by the committee.
A new federal mandate under the Fair Labor Standards Act, will increase the minimum salary for any overtime exempt employee to $47,476.
Currently, according to Byrd, five county positions would be affected by the new rule: Planning Director Chris Schuettler, Landfill Director Benny Lyons, Deputy Finance Director Michael Kennedy, Animal Shelter Director Stacy Heiden, and Assistant Road Superintendent Shannon Burchett.
If the salaries for those positions are not increased, Byrd said the county would have to begin paying overtime for those employees. While approving the actual raises for those positions would be up to the individual committees that oversee them, the Budget Committee voted to go ahead and put funding in place for the raises so the budget would not have to be amended later when the rule takes effect.
On the subject of the proposed raises, both Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford and Carter County Director of School’s Dr. Kevin Ward spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting and thanked the budget committee for recommending the raises for county employees and school system paraprofessionals and asked that the full Commission support it when it came before them.
With the public hearing now behind them, the Budget Committee can now present the proposed budget to the full Carter County Commission during the group’s meeting on July 18.
When the full Commission debates the budget they will be able to vote to change any proposed funding within the budget with the exception of funding designated for the county’s debt service to pay off loans. Carter County operates under the Financial Management Act of 1981, commonly referred to as “the ‘81 Act.” Under state law, counties operating under the ‘81 Act are prohibited from changing the debt service allocation after a public hearing on the budget has been held.
The proposed property tax rate for the 2016-17 fiscal year budget remains unchanged at $2.45 per $100 of assessed property value. Despite the tax rate remaining the same, many property owners will find themselves paying more in property taxes due to the recent reappraisal process that saw home values increasing somewhat. What the increase in the reappraisal does is increase the value of each penny in the tax rate, which means even with the same tax rate the county will be bringing in more revenue than last year.

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