Second reading of City 17-18 budget to include 3-cent tax hike: Property tax rate to be raised for one-time employee bonuses

Published 9:21 pm Thursday, May 11, 2017

City of Elizabethton employees could soon see some financial relief pending a decision in June.
City Council met Thursday evening and approved the first reading of the 2017-18 proposed fiscal year budget and property tax rate. The property tax rate that will be on the docket for the June 6 City Council meeting, which includes a second and final reading along with public hearing, is pegged at $1.82, a three-cent increase from last year. If the budget passes in June, it will go into effect in July.
The budget did feature a bevy of amendments that came from recent budget workshops. Council members approved changes to various items, including moving up funding to the Carter County Rescue Squad to $120,000 and moving the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter down from $127,000 to $100,000.
While those items were agreed on by consensus during the last budget workshop, City Council did vote unanimously to approve a recommendation for full-time employees with the City of Elizabethton to receive a $1,000 bonus, an increase from the $500 bonus which was approved last year.
Bringing up the Street and Sanitation Department, Councilman Sam Shipley added that there are some categories of workers were receiving government assistance and that the city needed to look at taking care of their employees.
The issue of employee payment was brought up during the previous budget workshops, where Council made the recommendation for City Manager Jerome Kitchens to come up with a classification plan for city employees, which would be assisted by the City’s Personnel Advisory Board. The recommendation came after Water, Electric and Streets and Sanitation stated they each were having trouble maintaining well-trained and experienced workers due to competitive pay out for other entities, including in-house.
Following deliberation, Council presented the motion of one-time $1,000 bonus for full-time employees and gave change for part-time employees to see their bonus go up from $250 to $500. The motion was presented as a one-off proposal as the City works at developing a classification plan for employees in the coming fiscal year.
The three-cent property tax increase will fund the additional $75,000 to $85,000 to handle the bonus. The amendment for the financial assistance for City employees was made by Jeff Treadway and seconded by Richard Tester.
After a little over a week of raucous debate, either in person or on social media, “cooler heads prevailed” when discussion of canopies in downtown Elizabethton was brought up during the public comments portion of the meeting where Carter County Car Club President Bob Livingston spoke for the awnings. Later in the meeting, Councilman Tester added that the City’s significant funding showcased that the City is taking the necessary steps to revitalize downtown and that the downtown merchants were always in favor of keeping the awnings. The proposed 17-18 budget includes $140,000 for a capital project involving the awning throughout downtown.
Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission Chairman Paul Bellamy addressed the Council and stated the proposal was just a recommendation, brought up the discussion, and that the commission never went on to say they wanted the canopies to be destroyed. With canopy talk effectively squashed, the Planning Commission and City Council are reportedly going to have a better line of communication between the groups for further plans moving forward.
Animal Shelter funding once again reared its head early in the meeting as Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey encouraged City Council to follow the contract the county has with their files, which reportedly has the city in a five-year agreement to fund half the shelter’s operational costs. Humphrey added that the “30-second soundbites” and falsehoods in the media don’t paint an accurate picture of the animal shelter while adding during his time as mayor that he posted a conservative record for spending. After his talk during the public comments’, Robin McKamey with Appalachian Tails provided City Council with documents showcasing the shelter operations spending more money going out of the area instead of staying local to utilize volunteers and rescue operations. McKamey added that her and Brittany Madden’s Appalachian Tails Foundation has been unable to get off the ground due to the lack of support from the mayor’s office.
In other business, City Council gave the first round of approval for the inaugural BBQ, Blues & Brews fundraiser to be held Sept. 23 from 4 to 8 p.m. The event will be held after the Race for Wandell.
City Council approved the location of the event, which will be Covered Bridge Park, and authorized the Foundation to have the ability to sell alcoholic beverages at the festival – pending state approval. While clearing its first hurdle, other approvals will be needed before becoming a reality.
Elizabethton Police Department Chief Jason Shaw commended the efforts of Officer Doug Combs, who was promoted to sergeant Thursday night. Deborah Kessler, City Clerk and Finance Director, provided the oath of office while Officer Scott Whitmire pinned Sgt. Combs.

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