Public hearing on proposed county budget set for Monday

Published 5:57 pm Friday, June 9, 2017

Members of the Carter County Budget Committee will present the proposed budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year at a public hearing on Monday.

The proposed budget includes a 4-cent increase to the county’s property tax rate, bringing the tax rate to $2.49 per $100 of assessed property value.

While the budget includes a tax increase, the budget still falls short of funding all the allocated expenditures.

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According to documents the Elizabethton Star received from the Carter County Finance Department, a total of $438,202.66 will have to be pulled from the county’s fund balance to cover expenditures in the General Fund portion of the budget. The Carter County Highway Department will also be operating at a deficit under the proposed budget, with $423,584 coming from the department’s fund balance in order to cover expenditures.

Among the rising costs the County faced during this year’s budget process was an 8.65 percent increase in the cost of employee health insurance.

Many of the county’s office holders and department heads also requested additional funds to provide pay raises for their employees. Many of the officials and department heads requested a percentage raise for their employees ranging from 4 percent to 5 percent in the requests. At the conclusion of the budget hearing and voting process, members of the Budget Committee voted to approve a 1 percent raise for all county employees. The Committee also voted to supply funding to the Carter County School System to approve a 1 percent raise for the system’s para-professionals — which includes positions such as secretaries, cooks, janitors, nurses, and bus drivers.

The county’s elected officials also received raises this year by a mandate from the State.

According to the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), the salary of most county officials is governed by state law, which establishes the minimum compensation for assessors of property, county clerks, clerks of court, trustees, registers of deeds, county mayors, sheriffs, and highway officials based on the county’s population. This law also provides for an automatic increase in the minimum salary each year based on the percentage increase given to state employees for the previous fiscal year.

While state law sets the salary and mandates the raises, the county receives no funding from the state to cover any cost of the salary or increase. This year, the county saw an overall cost increase of $35,640.10 in the county officials salaries.

One segment of the county’s proposed budget that has garnered a lot of attention from elected officials and citizens alike is funding for the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter.

Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who oversees the Animal Shelter operations and budget, presented a request for $441,550.51 to the Budget Committee for the upcoming fiscal year. That request is more than double what was allocated for the shelter during the 2016-17 budget process ($208,919.92).

After debating the issue, members of the Budget Committee approved an allocation of $331,294.34 for the animal shelter.

A contract between Carter County and the City of Elizabethton regarding animal shelter funding stipulates that each government entity will pay for half of the operating expenses — which with the approved level of funding would put each share at $165,647.17.

On Thursday, members of the Elizabethton City Council approved an allocation of $100,000 for the animal shelter. Council members previously voted to renegotiate the contract with the County regarding the funding split, citing it put an unfair burden on city taxpayers who also pay county property taxes.

Humphrey has told members of the Budget Committee and full County Commission on numerous occasions that the contract between the County and City auto-renewed and the City is required to continue paying half of the operation costs of the shelter. City officials contend the contract did not auto-renew. During Thursday’s City Council meeting, Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander said the city is of the opinion 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 also said Humphrey has been unwilling to meet with city officials to renegotiate the contract.

The public hearing on the proposed budget will be held on Monday, June 12, at 6 p.m. in the courtroom located on the second floor of the Carter County Courthouse. Following the public hearing, the Budget Committee will meet in regular session.