City budget increases

By Thomas Wilson

   After two consecutive years of double-digit budget cuts, the city of Elizabethton's proposed 2004-2005 general fund budget contains a modest increase of 5.4 percent to accommodate group insurance and other fixed costs.
   Elizabethton City Council members reviewed the city's proposed fiscal year 2005 budget with City Manager Charles Stahl and Finance Director Brad Moffitt at a workshop held Wednesday night at City Hall.
   The 2004-2005 proposed general fund budget comes in at $11,944,927. The increase reflects fixed costs of rising group health insurance for the city's 200 employees, higher fuel prices and a higher surcharge for city retirees assessed for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System among other fixed costs projected for the coming year.
   Stahl told council members the budget included no property tax increase and no rise in water and sewer rates. He also said the city dodged a major group insurance rate hike initially projected at 32 percent over the previous fiscal year.
   "Thanks to some aggressive work by our risk manager and insurance agents, we only absorbed a 7 percent jump in health insurance," Stahl told council members.
   Although the general fund budget edged up slightly, Stahl said $1.2 million was effectively tossed out of the proposed budget, including existing expenditures and capital requests from departments. Three personnel positions in city government will not be filled and no new hiring is planned under the budget proposal. Capital project requests made by city department heads were recommended for funding on a priority basis.
   "The budget does have some capital this year, but not what was requested by every department," Stahl said.
   The budget comes in less than 7 percent - roughly $150,000 - of shared revenues city officials expect to be withheld by the state government for the second straight year. The state-shared revenues typically fall into the city's general fund.
   The city expects sales tax revenues to rise after the new Wal-Mart and Lowe's superstores open their doors later this year. City officials do not expect those revenues to boost local revenues until the 2006 fiscal year.
   A financial drain to the general fund includes state-mandated subsidies from the city to remediate the old Sugar Hollow Landfill. The city entered into a consent order with the state government to initiate cleanup of the landfill, which has been closed for more than 30 years.
   The general fund has subsidized the city's solid waste fund to cover the Sugar Hollow clean-up project to more than $300,000 in recent years. The multiyear Sugar Hollow Landfill cleanup project could cost upwards of $650,000 according to city officials.
   Council members also agreed to restore initial cuts in special appropriation funding to independent entities including the Carter County Health Department, Soil Conservation District and Carter County Rescue Squad. Council members kept the city's appropriation to the Carter County 911 Communications District at $80,750 instead of the $85,350 requested. Council members lowered the city's 2004 appropriation during the current fiscal year to match the Carter County government's $80,750 appropriation.
   Wednesday's workshop gave council members an opportunity to review the budgetary requests. The completed budget will likely come to the council for approval in June. The new fiscal year begins July 1.