City Council passes budget without property tax rate increase: City mayor takes stand supporting shelter staff

Published 9:57 pm Thursday, June 8, 2017

Elizabethton residents won’t see a property tax rate increase as the new fiscal year starts in July.
City Council convened Thursday evening and unanimously passed the 2017-18 budget proposal, which featured a last-minute change.
City Mayor Curt Alexander raised a concern before the vote that raising the property tax “one time” for employee bonuses would be a burden to residents, citing a possible tax-rate increase looming from the county for this year. The mayor also added there is uncertainty due to the city’s position classification study, which is expected to take place this year and could see salaries within different departments drastically raised – meaning possibly a higher tax rate for next fiscal year.
“That’s the concern I had,” Alexander said. “I’d hate for us to both raise taxes this year.”
The mayor made the recommendation of pulling the roughly $78,000 from the general fund balance to cover the additional $500 bonus for full-time employees – an overall $1,000 bonus – and an additional $250 for permanent part-time employees – an over $500 bonus – for the one-time increase.
With the change, the proposed property tax rate of $1.82 was bumped back down to the original $1.79 as first discussed during the budget workshops.
Before being passed unanimously, the budget also received an amendment from Councilman Sam Shipley, wanting the $120,000 for the Carter County Rescue Squad be recognized as the recurring amount of funded by the city for the years to come and wanted the motion to be noted in the written minutes.
The Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter’s appropriation of $100,000 remained the same with the passage of the budget, but Alexander took a few moments during Thursday’s meeting to reaffirm the city’s support of the staff at the facility and support of animals in the community. The discussion took place as the City Council looked at passing an agreement to help move a contractual understanding between both parties forward.
Alexander added that the city is under the impression their contract, which was signed by both parties in February 2012, is no longer valid after Council voted to renegotiate the contract before the five-year expiration.
Alexander added the city has the September agreement, which the county is abiding by is the original contract but that an amendment in 2014 reference the 2012 contract as the original.
Renegotiating the contract is imperative, Alexander added, especially after seeing a $200,000 increase to the shelter’s budget, which would have made the city fund half of the operation.
Council alluded that the 50-50 split puts a larger load on city residents, who also have to pay the share of the county’s funding. According to information provided by the city, a city resident pays five times as much as a county resident would with a 50-50 split ($17.62 compared to $3.52).
But instead of working together, Alexander added, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey hasn’t sat down with the city to hash out a new contractual agreement between both entities.
“We’re getting taken to task for wanting out of the contract altogether, and that isn’t the case,” Alexander said. “We want to renegotiate a contract that is equal for everyone. We support the shelter staff 100 percent, but we have to have accountability, and that hasn’t been the case for Mayor Humphrey.
“We’re all trying to work together here,” he continued. “A leader leads. They don’t intimidate people.”
Alexander cited editorials and Facebook posts written by Humphrey were not painting the whole picture of the situation.
“We want to work together … Council and County Commission can’t go down to the shelter without permission. It’s a public building, that shouldn’t be the case,” Alexander said.
Robert Acuff, County Commission for Stoney Creek, addressed Council during public discussions and stressed the importance of both entities working together and having a straight line of communication in matters like the shelter. During shelter talk, Acuff told the Council his vote during a recent committee meeting was contingent on the county mayor and attorney meeting with the city. And with that reportedly not being the case, Acuff added it would be brought up during the county’s budget meeting on Monday.
Councilmen Jeff Treadway, Sam Shipley and Alexander each praised the efforts of the staff at the shelter and added they were working under stressful and intimidation measures with the Humphrey spearheading the charge.
“We want the power of the shelter to go the Advisory Board and the director,” Alexander said. “We are not in a position to lead and Mayor Humphrey has shown he can’t.”
After the discussion, which received supportive applause from attendees during two different occasions, the Council voted to table the agreement with the county pending talks with the entity.
“A good leader leaders and brings people together,” Alexander said. “We (Council) disagree at times but at the end of the day, we come together. It doesn’t matter if its something I say, or anybody else, we come together to do what’s right for the citizens.”

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