Commissioners reject $4K bonus for county employees, set tax rate

Published 1:24 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2022

 BY ROBERT SORRELL
Star Correspondent
The Carter County Commission decisively approved a balanced budget without a tax increase on Monday evening, but rejected pandemic-related bonuses for county employees.
After more than an hour of back-and-forth discussion, a compromised budget motion passed by a 21-2 vote. Commissioners Isaiah Grindstaff and Aaron Frazier voted against the motion, which was made by Commissioner Randall Jenkins. One commissioner, Austin Jaynes, was absent Monday.
Commissioners were first presented with a budget that would have required the county taking money from the fund balance. The commission voted against the presented motion, but began discussing ways to make an adjustment of $306,000, which would have been taken from the fund balance.
Several commissioners and county leaders spoke of various changes that could be made.
In the end, Jenkins made a motion to take $120,000 from the maintenance of the Workforce Development Complex, which will be taken over by the state during this fiscal year. The motion also included a reduction of $86,000 from the highway department’s budget and $100,000 from county schools.
Carter County Highway Superintendent Roger Colbaugh told commissioners that he had a line item to purchase highway vehicles, which he said was not necessary this year. Carter County Director of Schools Brandon Carpenter said he would be able to take $100,000 from his budget. Carpenter recently joined the system and told the commission that he was working to improve the system’s budget by making various adjustments and cuts.
The approved budget allowed commissioners to also keep the property tax rate at $2.03 per $100 of assessed value.
“We have balanced the budget without raising taxes,” Commission Chairwoman Ginger Holdren said after the votes were cast.
County Finance Director Carolyn Watson told commissioners that there were a couple reasons that the budget increased this year, but those expenses would not be necessary in the following fiscal year. The election commission requested additional funds to pay for two elections. She said additional funding was also requested to send new commissioners to Nashville for orientation and training for others.
The approved budget included a $2,000 raise for employees, but a separate motion to give eligible county employees a $4,000 bonus did not pass. The budget committee presented a motion to provide bonuses to employees who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds would have come from the American Rescue Plan Fund for a total expense of approximately $1,183,888.
Twelve commissioners voted against the motion.
Commissioner Nancy Brown made the motion to approve the bonuses. She said the county’s employees are the backbone of the county and families can use the money in the current economy.
Several commissioners, however, questioned whether the ARP funds should be used for other projects, such as water projects in the county. Commissioner Robert Acuff said he thought approving the motion for the bonuses would be premature. Other commissioners were concerned the bonuses would not be given to school employees, such as teachers, cooks, and bus drivers that worked during the pandemic.
The commission overwhelmingly approved a motion to provide financial assistance to low-income elderly taxpayers, totally and permanently disabled homeowners and disabled veterans in addition to tax relief already provided by the state.
Commissioners also approved a motion to appropriate $87,292 to demolish two county buildings located near the courthouse. As a result, buildings previously used by the county probation office and county planning commission will be demolished.

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