Council OKs $33 million budget with no tax increase on first reading

Published 1:27 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

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By Buzz Trexler

Star Correspondent

The Elizabethton City Council on Thursday night approved on first reading a $33,164,671 budget for fiscal year 2025 that proposes no property tax increase from the current rate of $1.65 per $100 of assessed value.

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The budget provides a 4 percent across-the-board raise for city employees and funds a 3 percent increase in the city’s health insurance premiums – both of which are good news for city workers.


“We’ve worked very hard, staff did, with our insurance broker to get our renewal with Blue Cross Blue Shield,” City Manager Daniel Estes said. “It was a double-digit renewal. It’s beginning now.” Still, Estes said, the city absorbed the increases, and the employees will see no increase to their premiums under the budget plan.


The budget also includes a $100,000 increase – 14 percent — in paving expenditures.


With a projected $27,759,184 in revenues, the budget requires $5,405,487 from an estimated $14,975,785 in fund balance, leaving $9,570,298.


Councilman Richard Barker asked whether the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury seeks a minimum fund balance of 15 percent. City Finance Director Preston Cobb said he was uncertain.


“I’ll tell you what ours is: ours is 15 percent and that’s self-mandated,” Cobb said. “We have a fund balance policy that says ‘thou shalt not,’” adding that he believes the city maintains a healthy fund balance.


The proposed budget will face a final reading and public hearing at the next regular council meeting on June 13.


Golf Course Budget Teed Up


During the budgeting process for Elizabethton Municipal Golf Course — the first since the city terminated its agreement with Hampton Management Co. in November 2023 — the Finance Department estimated the current year-end revenue at $317,041 and expenditures at $862,203, the latter of which includes invoices left from prior management. The $545,162 deficit will be covered by $139,215 in unspent funds budgeted under Hampton Golf, and $405,947 in revenue that exceeded the budgeted amount. Councilman Barker said the excess revenue is due in large part to significantly higher sales tax collections and fuel sales.


Council members amended the General Fund to include the golf course update during a first reading Thursday night. The amendment also included reallocating unspent funds for road salt and streetlight electricity to cover the cost of paving a portion of Pine Ridge Circle, from Arney Street to Spruce Lane.


Other Actions


In other matters, City Council approved:


— a resolution on two lease agreements with DLL Finance LLC, which handles leasing for ClubCar LLC. On Feb. 9, the city entered into a 36-month contract with ClubCar for 54 golf cars and two gas-powered utility vehicles (range pickers) for use at Elizabethton Municipal Golf Course. The monthly payment for the golf cars is $4,474.98, while the monthly fee for the range pickers is $789.64. The golf cars were scheduled to arrive today.


— a $17,500 agreement with Thomas Weems Architect to provide architectural design and

engineering services related to completely replacing the roof at The Tetrick Center, the former Franklin Fitness Center at 1509 W. Elk Ave. According to a summary, the roof has slowly deteriorated, water has seeped into the facility, and the estimated cost to replace the roof is about $100,000. The city purchased the facility from Mountain States Health Alliance for $500,000 in October 2023.


— closing Armed Forces Drive from East Elk Avenue to East F Street from 10:15 a.m. to noon on Monday, May 27, to facilitate a Memorial Day ceremony at the Elizabethton-Carter County Veteran’s War Memorial.


— a resolution calling for the Nov. 5 election of three City Council seats, three Board of Education seats, and the city municipal judge seat to expire in November 2028. A 1993 city ordinance changed the date of the regular biennial election to coincide with the election of state legislative and U.S. congressional representatives.


— a resolution awarding a $523,800 contract to Skilled Services Quality Construction LLC of Knoxville for renovations to the Bonnie Kate Theater. The City Council approved an Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant in 2021 requesting $500,000 for the project. The grant required a 30 percent ($215,000) match by the city. In November 2022, the city contracted with Cain Rash West Architects to provide architectural and construction management services for the project under the ARC grant at a cost of $51,000. Cain Rash West put out the bid, received three responses, and recommended awarding the project to Skilled Services Quality Construction LLC. The project is to be completed 220 days from the notice to proceed.


— a resolution to contract with Chris Mitchell Management Consultants, a firm that the Elizabethton Electric Department has used as a third-party consultant since 2010 to analyze rates, revenue, and expenses. The cost for fiscal year 2024-2025 is $17,950, which is a budgeted item and an increase of $1,000 over the current year.


— amending the Covered Bridge Park Improvements agreement with McGill Associates Engineering to facilitate a one-day design workshop at $4,800. The workshop will include city staff, during which they will review and finalize project objectives, gather initial data, use available GIS survey information, conduct interviews, conduct a site visit, prepare a conceptual plan, and develop a conceptual phasing plan to implement the overall project.


— blocking off three parking spaces on East Elk Avenue directly in front of the fountain at the Covered Bridge Park downtown entrance at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays from June 4-Sept. 17 for the Elizabethton Farmers Market.


— approved Main Street Elizabethton’s request to host the 4th annual Firefly 5K Run/Walk from 8-9:30 p.m. on Friday, July 5. The course will remain the same as previous years and will start and end at Covered Bridge Park during the regularly scheduled monthly First Friday event. A soft road closure by the Elizabethton Police Department will take place on East Elk Avenue and Riverside Drive, from East Elk Avenue to Hattie Avenue where thru-traffic will be diverted by officers for the safety of participants. The event is a fundraiser for Main Street Elizabethton.


— approved an Elizabethton Electric Department pole-usage lease to I Go Technology Inc. of Grundy, Va., a broadband Internet service provider that is installing fiber optic cable in the Milligan area. The company will pay about $1,700 a year and all preparation work.


— road closures related to the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department Independence Day celebration at Covered Bridge Park. The event, which will be held from 4-10:30 p.m. on July 4, includes a patriotic bike parade, a patriotic pup pageant, the Little Miss Firecracker Pageant, patriotic opening ceremonies, live music, and a fireworks finale.


— a resolution to the master services agreement with McGill Associates Engineering regarding additional inspection services – estimated at $25,000 — related to the ongoing Doe River Water Line crossing project.


— on second reading a public hearing a budget amendment to reflect the actual amount of Federal Projects Fund for Elizabethton City Schools, $6,644,362.


— the state highway maintenance agreement for 2024-2025 in the amount of $82,893.15. The Tennessee Department of Transportation reimburses the city for maintaining state routes within city limits.


Beverage Board actions


The Elizabethton Beverage Board on Thursday night approved a special event request by Main Street Elizabethton to serve beer at Covered Bridge Park during the Firefly 5k After Party. The event is set for 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on July 5. Permit holders Riverside Taphouse and Appalachian Sun Brewery will be responsible for serving.


The board also approved an on-premises beer permit for Puerto Nuevo Fresh Mex, 1361 U.S. 19E.