Living within our means

Published 10:27 am Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday evening the Carter County Commission met and voted to approve the County Government’s operating budget for fiscal year 2017-2018. As you know, the Budget Committee proposed a property tax increase of 4 cents. One Commissioner even proposed a 15-cent tax increase. I was totally opposed to a tax increase and during the course of the evening, I was asked to break a tie vote as half of the Commissioners voted for and half against the proposed increase of 4 cents. I voted NO. The final outcome, which I had no vote in, was a tax increase of 2 cents with 2 cents coming from the general fund and the remaining deficit of approximately $160,000 coming from interest revenues from investment certificates of deposits.
Carter County is considered by the Appalachian Regional Commission as a Tier 4 County classified as At Risk with 9 Distressed areas. Carter County is also considered a bedroom community with the majority of the workers who reside in Carter County commuting to other counties in the region to find work. Our population is an aging population with many of our citizens who are elderly and retirees on fixed incomes. These citizens are significantly impacted by any change in their income resulting from tax increases, not just property but any tax increase. This year these folks will see sales tax increases from the State on gas and diesel fuel. While the sales tax is supposed to decrease on food, it is estimated that food costs will increase cancelling out the sales tax decrease. Furthermore, State service fees are also increasing on vehicle registration. The Commission did approve increasing its property tax support program to qualified individuals from $20 to $40 to help with the County property tax increase, but that is only available to qualified individuals.
When I was elected as County Mayor, I took an oath to uphold the law and with that came a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Carter County. I immediately cut my budget to operate as lean as possible and have worked without an increase on the same budget since 2010. These cuts have resulted in a savings to the tax payers from my office which equates to $70,000 annually and total half a million dollars over the past seven years. I have constantly encouraged all departments in the County government to do the same, but most have continued to operate as they were. Many have regularly requested increases in their budgets while having significant amounts of monies being held in reserve. These rainy day funds that are in some of the department’s budgets and other funds that are in investment certificates of deposit equate to a considerable amount of money.
It is my opinion as County Mayor and as a business professional for the past 30 plus years that we all must live within our means, including the County government and its various departments. Asking the citizens to pay increased taxes should only be a last resort and only with clear evidence of need. With millions in certificates of deposits in local banks, with monies held in reserve in various departments, with no effort to cut individual department budgets or to look for opportunities to cut waste and unnecessary expenditures, there should be no tax increases. The County will see new revenue coming in from property assessments which is projected to result in an additional $250,000 this year alone.
I was asked on Wednesday by someone in the investment industry how much money Carter County had in certificates of deposit. During the Commission Meeting Monday evening it was reported that there was $17 million in certificates of deposit. I was told that properly invested with the best rate of return that the County should be seeing around $700,000 in new revenue from these investments. This year the deficit needed to fund and balance the budget was approximately $1 million. As you can see, the projected revenue increase of $250,000 from property assessments plus the projected investment revenue of $700,000 provided the investments receive a competitive rate of return would be approximately $1 million even before cost cutting measures are implemented. Thus, a tax increase burden imposed on our citizens is totally unwarranted.
I encourage every County Government elected official and Department Head responsible for revenues and expenditures to take a look at where expenses can be cut and revenues increased to ensure that going forward our citizens are not burdened with additional taxation. Especially, where opportunities exist to cut costs first. The taxpayers are not a reserve fund or a rainy day fund. County Government is first and foremost a business and it is not immune to budget cuts and especially for departments who have never gone through the Business 101 exercise to see where they can first reduce costs. In Business, it is not uncommon for CEO’s to mandate budget cuts of 10% or more across all departments if their projected revenues don’t exceed their projected expenses. As for my office, I will continue to operate on my same reduced budget from 2010, operating as lean as possible to not burden the citizens of Carter County. I challenge all the other departments in Carter County Government to share with you the Citizens on their efforts and results to find waste within their own departments and cut out that waste and reserves and report it to you. I think we will see that it adds up to more than just pocket change, and you, the taxpayers and citizens will be the one who benefits.
Please feel free to contact me at or by phone at 423-542-1801 if you have any questions or if I can be of assistance to you. My office is located at 801 East Elk Avenue, Suite 201 located in the County Courthouse in Elizabethton. I have an open-door policy and everyone is always welcome.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox