Committee approves 4 cent tax increase, additional funds for animal shelter

Published 11:00 pm Monday, May 22, 2017

Members of the Carter County Budget Committee approved a 4 cent property tax increase, a 1 percent raise for county employees and additional funds for the animal shelter Monday evening.
Committee members on a split vote of 5-3 approved setting the county’s property tax rate for the upcoming 2017-18 fiscal year at $2.49 per $100 of assessed property value. This is an increase of 4 cents over the current property tax rate. Commissioners Dr. Robert Acuff, Mike Hill, Ronnie Trivett, Ross Garland, and Budget Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler voted for the 4 cent increase. Commissioners L.C. Tester, John Lewis, and Robert Carroll opposed the tax rate.
While the tax increase will bring in more revenue, Carter County Director of Finance Christa Byrd said the increase is still insufficient to cover all of the county’s expenditures, and the county will once again have to tap into fund balance in order to cover all of the expenses.
“We started a half a million dollars in the hole,” Byrd told the committee. “You all have to find a better way to balance your budget. Taking money out of fund balance year after year is unfair to the citizens.”
The committee was tasked with finding ways to fund state-mandated raises for elected officials and the rising cost of employee health insurance. Many department heads and office holders had also requested raises for employees as well as additional revenue for other expenses.
The committee voted to give a 1 percent raise to county employees. Many of the departments submitting their budget were not granted all of the funds they had requested.
Members of the Committee approved additional funding for the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter, but not the full amount Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey had asked the group to allocate.
When debating funding for the animal shelter, some members of the committee expressed their concern as to whether or not the City of Elizabethton would continue to contribute 50 percent of the shelter’s funding. Humphrey attempted to ease those fears by reminding the members the County feels it has a valid contract with the City regarding shelter funding. Last month, the City of Elizabethton voted to decrease funding to the shelter as opposed to increasing it as requested by Humphrey.
“Whatever this Commission says, the City is bound by a contract,” Humphrey said. “There is nothing to discuss in this matter. It doesn’t matter what they voted.”
Culler said she did not feel the County could rest assured it would receive the funding from the City.
“There is a great possibility we will not get the $100,000 from the City, and we cannot afford a 4 cent increase to fund the shelter,” Culler said.
Humphrey had requested the County approve a budget of $404,550.51 for the Shelter.
Lewis made a motion to fund the shelter at the full request with the contingency that the City pay half of the operating cost. The motion was seconded by Trivett but ultimately failed on a vote of 3-5. Lewis, Trivett, and Carroll voted for the motion while Acuff, Hill, Tester, Culler, and Garland opposed it.
Acuff made a motion to fund the shelter $331,294.34, with a stipulation that the shelter can approach the committee for additional funds at a later time if needed. Trivett provided the second for the motion.
Humphrey said the shelter could not operate on that budget.
“If you pass this budget, if the full Commission validates that, this Mayor will cut those services,” Humphrey said. “I’ll cut it to the bare bones. I’ll cut the staff.”
Culler remarked “that sounds like a threat” following Humphrey’s statement.
“That’s not a threat, it’s a promise,” Humphrey said in reply.
The motion passed on a split vote of 5-3 with Acuff, Trivett, Hill, Garland, and Culler supporting the idea and Tester, Lewis, and Carroll opposing the motion.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox