Budget without warning: County Commission points out lack of time to review budget amendments

Published 8:19 am Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Monday evening’s County Commission meeting sparked some discussion about proposed budget amendments as budget season approaches, both about specific items as well as their availability entirety.

Commissioner Mark Blevins was the first to mention the lack of availability to read over the amendments prior to the meeting.

No one on the County Commission received a copy of the proposed budget amendments they were supposed to vote on until 9 a.m. Tuesday, only nine hours before their meeting began at the County Courthouse.

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“It was irritating to me,” Commissioner Mike Hill said. “There has been an increasing frequency in this.”

Hill said he tried to pick up a copy that morning but was told they were not available, meaning the earliest he could acquire them was 3 p.m.

Several commissioners pointed out their inability to truly understand what they vote on during these meetings without the necessary time to look them over in great detail, a sentiment shared by community member Roy Livingston, who spoke during the public comments section 30 minutes prior about the same subject.

“People have no clue what they vote on,” Livingston said. “We need to try and be sure what we are talking about.”

Members of the Financial Management Committee spoke up about the miscommunication about the amendments.

“We can take responsibility for that,” Commissioner Ross Garland said. “The amendments have been available at the last Financial Management Committee meeting.”

Commissioner Ginger Holdren said the delay came from their efforts to clarify some information with Nationwide Insurance prior to their report, but acknowledged the harm being late does to the commission.

“I encourage us all to do a good job while we are here,” Holdren said.

Garland told those present it would not happen like this again.

Among the budget amendments they discussed Monday was a proposed salary increase for Planning and Zoning Director Chris Schuettler by a total of $17,359, with $3,921.60 in benefits. County Mayor Russel Barnett said the director’s workload has increased dramatically in recent months.

“Economic development is hot right now,” Barnett said. “He has done a great job.”

He cited the recent resort development deal at Watauga Lake as one of several cases of this work.

After a discussion, the commission voted 10-11, and the motion failed. Among those voting in favor were Robert Acuff, Mike Hill, Bradley Johnson, Jerry Proffitt, Austin Jaynes, Ross Garland, Randall Jenkins, Sonja Culler, Robin McKamey and Kelly Collins. Those in opposition were Willie Campbell, Mark Blevins, Nancy Brown, Patty Woodby, Charles Von Cannon, Isaiah Grindstaff, Layla Ward, Ginger Holdren, Gary Bailey, Travis Hill and Aaron Frazier. Ronnie Trivett, Ray Lyons and Rick Richardson were absent from the meeting.

Despite her vote in opposition, Holdren said the commission should reconsider this in a future vote.

“We ask him to increase his job while giving him nothing,” she said. “Let us please reconsider that.”

Other motions included Title 3 grant money going towards the Sheriff’s Department, a portion of which they plan to spend towards drones.