Committee hears budget requests from landfill, outside agencies

Published 10:25 pm Monday, April 3, 2017

During the first budget hearing of the year, members of the Carter County Budget Committee heard requests for an additional quarter of a million dollars in funding for outside agencies as well as a request for an increase of nearly $47,000 for the county’s landfill operations.
While Carter County Solid Waste Director Benny Lyons explained he is seeking $46,805.84 in additional funds for the landfill and recycling center operations, he stated not much is changing in his actual budget.
“Our budget is kind of staying the same as last year,” Lyons said.
Part of the increase is due to an increase in the cost of employee health insurance and Lyons said he is also asking for a 5 percent raise for his employees.
Lyons proposed budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year includes an increase of $10,000 for evaluation and testing. That increase is to help pay for necessary testing and evaluations as the landfill works with state officials to determine the remaining life for the demo site at the landfill before it is full.
Committee member Commissioner Ronnie Trivett asked Lyons to estimate how long the landfill had left based on his experience.
“If we get seven years we’re pushing it,” Lyons said in response.
Lyons is also asking for an increase of $2,500 to the travel line item in his budget. The Tennessee Solid Waste Association has named Lyons as the East Tennessee Chairman for the organization. Due to that position, Lyons said he will have to travel to Nashville for some association meetings as well as meetings with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler pointed out the increase in travel costs is nearly offset by a $2,000 decrease in the line item for diesel fuel.
“I’ve cut my diesel budget a little every year,” Lyons said. “I’m trying to get it to where it’s realistic. I think it was padded a little bit.”
Carter County Finance Director Christa Byrd said the diesel and fuel line items for several county departments had been padded several years ago due to the price of fuel being more volatile at that time. In recent years the price has stabilized, and those departments are now able to cut their funding requests for fuel.
Several outside agencies also presented their funding requests for the upcoming fiscal year to the Committee. The total amount of funds sought by the outside agencies for the 2017-18 fiscal year is $1,253,993.04 — which is an increase of $250,657.83 over last year’s funding levels and includes a request by an outside agency not previously funded by the county.
The largest requested increase from an outside agency came from the Carter County Volunteer Firefighters Association on behalf of the county’s seven volunteer fire departments. For the 2016-17 fiscal year, the county provided $350,000 in funds to the association, which equates to $50,000 for each of the departments as, as well as $15,000 to match grant funding for the Association.
For the upcoming year, the Association is asking for a $70,000 increase in funds — for a total funding amount of $420,000 — which would give an additional $10,000 to each volunteer fire department.
Volunteer Firefighter Association President David Jones spoke with the committee regarding the request for additional money.
The annual budget for the Association, which includes all seven departments, is $829,965. If the county supplies the requested $420,000 that will still leave the fire departments to raise $409,965 from the community to meet their budget.
During 2016, Jones said the county’s volunteer firefighters spent 4,546 hours on incident scenes, 2,657 hours in training, and 4,581 hours on fundraising activities. Jones pointed out the firefighters actually spent more time raising money to keep the departments running than they did responding to calls.
The Carter County Rescue Squad also requested an increase in funding based on the results of the Commission’s EMS Task Force Report that was released last year shortly after the budget cycle was completed.
Last year, the county provided $270,000 to the Rescue Squad for rescue operations and to assist indigent patients residing in the county who required emergency medical services. That amount included a one-time additional allocation of $100,000.
“What we’re requesting is $60,000 over what we received last year,” Carter County Rescue Squad Director Terry Arnold said.
The total amount sought by the agency this year is $330,000.
Funding for the organization has been a point of contention with the Commission during recent years. Following the 2015-16 budget cycle, the Commission created the EMS Task Force to review funding needs and operations at the Rescue Squad. In August of 2016, the Task Force released its report, which the group had worked on for just over a year, and recommended the county allocate additional funds to the Rescue Squad.
One of the items noted in the report as contributing to the rising cost of operating an emergency medical service was the increasing cost of medications and medical supplies.
“Depending on the class of drug, pharmaceuticals, in general, have consistently outpaced inflation and has been the center of debate focused on one commodity that increases overall healthcare costs,” the report states. “Reviewing the CCEMS drug inventory, the overall cost increase in five years for drugs purchased by CCEMS has been in excess of a 1,700 percent increase.”
“Items mandated that must be on every BLS (Basic Life Saving) and ALS (Advanced Life Saving) vehicle has seen a significant increase plus the impact of ‘dated items’ that must be removed when they expire and replaced with items in date to meet federal and state mandates,” the report continues. “This is one of the hidden costs that patients and government officials never appreciate when considering EMS expense and the escalating healthcare costs. Likewise, the same argument can be made for soft goods — gauze bandages, transport blankets, etc. — and hard needs as well —trach tubes, IV access, and lines, etc. — these items for EMS have increased over 280 percent in the same period.”
Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library Director Renita Barksdale made a passionate plea to the Committee during the meeting to double the funding the county currently provides the library.
For the 2016-17 fiscal year, the library received $60,000 from Carter County and $534,000 from the City of Elizabethton. While the County’s contribution equaled only around 10 percent of the local funding, Barksdale said 75 percent of the library’s patrons are from Carter County and not the City of Elizabethton, which provided roughly 89.9 percent of the local funding.
The library also receives money from the State of Tennessee, but those funds could be in jeopardy if local funding is not increased, Barksdale told the Committee.
The Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library is classified as a “Level 5” library by the state based on the county’s population size. The state has a list of standards that libraries must meet in order to qualify for state funds.
“According to Tennessee standards, I need to have nine full time and nine part time staff,” Barksdale said. “I can’t afford that.”
If the library continues to fail to meet the state standards, Barksdale said the state could pull its funding, which she said includes money to add to the library’s collection and improve technology. It could also result in the library losing access to the Tennessee Reads digital library of e-books and audio e-books which library patrons currently have the ability to use.
The next budget hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 10, at 6 p.m. in the courthouse when committee members will hear budget requests from several of the county’s departments as well as the Carter County Health Department.

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