Council passes budget on first reading

By Thomas Wilson

   Elizabethton City Council members passed the first reading of the city government's 2004-2005 budget ordinance at its May meeting Thursday night.
   The city's fiscal year 2005 general fund budget comes in at $11,944,927 - a 5.4 percent increase over the current year. The budget does not include an increase in the city's property tax rate or water and sewer rate schedule. The general fund hike accommodates increased group insurance and other fixed costs. The council voted 5-0 to pass the ordinance with Mayor Sam LaPorte and Councilman Bill Carter absent.
   Council members voted 5-0 on first reading of an ordinance to set the city's real property tax rate for the 2004 tax year. The real property rate of $2.30 per $100 of assessed value has not been increased since 1992. A fact not overlooked by Councilman Pat "Red" Bowers who commended City Manager Charles Stahl for thrift during his 10 years as city manager.
   "This is the 11th budget presented to us without a tax increase," said Bowers.
   General fund budgets approved by council members for 2003 and 2004 fiscal years included spending cuts of 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively. The 2005 budget gives city employees a 2.5-percent cost-of-living pay raise, but includes no step pay raise for the third consecutive year.
   "During the past two budgets we all know we've had to make sacrifices," said Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley who presided over the meeting.
   The council also voted 5-0 to approve the first reading of an ordinance revising the city's water and sewer ordinance. The ordinance did not raise water and sewer rates but revised the city utility rate structure to accommodate new state and federal sewer guidelines.
   In other business, the council voted 5-0 to approve the following motions and resolutions:
   * Payment of $5,000 to fund one-half of annual Appalachian League dues for the Elizabethton Twins organization.
   * Transfer to real property including East Side Elementary and T.A. Dugger Junior High School to the Elizabethton Board of Education based on new federal accounting standards that require the city to list of all municipally-owned property.
   * The purchase of property at 701 Fourth St. under the city's grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The purchase price of $66,000 will be reimbursed to the city by FEMA.