Council votes on first reading of budget today

By Thomas Wilson

   Elizabethton City Council will consider passage on first reading of the city's 2004 fiscal year budget today. For the second consecutive year, the city's budget includes a double-digit cut in the general fund.
   "It is a budget that is reflecting an anticipated loss of state shared revenues," said Charles Stahl, city manager. "We were anticipating the full 9 percent cut by the (state) budget and this budget reflects that."
   The general fund budget comes in at $11.3 million -- an 11 percent reduction from last year. The city is projecting to lose approximately $155,000 of state-shared revenues for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. Stahl said the budget proposal also reflects tax and utility losses incurred by the city as the result of the Alcoa Extrusions closure. The city's 2002-2003 general fund budget was cut by 13 percent from the previous year.
   The FY 2004 budget reflects some increases in fixed costs for the city, said Stahl, the largest being group health insurance, which will rise roughly 19 percent over last year's numbers.
   City Council passed a rate increase for city water and sewer customers in January. That decision came after the state Waste Water Finance Board directed the city in November 2002 to modify the utility rate structure to fund the water and sewer system.
   The city's property tax rate is expected to remain unchanged from last year at $2.30 per $100 of assessed value. The closure of Alcoa Extrusions cost the city roughly $200,000 in water/sewer fees.
   Stahl said the budget also included dollars to match a state grant used to fund rehabilitation of the historic Covered Bridge. Step pay increases for city employees will not be funded for the second consecutive year, he added.
   The budget also includes an expected issuance of $1 million in bonds to fund several capital projects." The capital budget is very limited," said Stahl. While the million is a sizable amount, funding the demolition of the Carter County Memorial Hospital building is expected to take up to $500,000 of the capital allocation.
   The city purchased the 5.4-acre property where the hospital stands at a public tax auction on Nov. 21, 2002. The property's owner, Wayne Graybeal, has until Nov. 21 to pay delinquent property taxes plus a 10 percent penalty to reclaim the property under the "right-of-redemption" law.
   The council also prioritized including a $230,000 pumper truck for the city's fire department under the capital project buy. Fire Chief Mike Shouse had requested a fire tanker truck with a price tag of $450,000, or the pumper truck as an alternative.
   Other capital projects prioritized under the budget included $200,000 for street paving projects on West G and Broad streets as well as paving and draining repairs around the city recreation center on Mill Street; $33,000 for a mobile command center for the fire department, and $30,000 to replace the roof on the Elizabethton Senior Citizens Center.