A penny stretches a long way

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

After eleven approved motions and three hours of discussion, the Carter County Budget Committee raised the proposed property tax rate to $2.66 per $100 of assessed value, a one penny increase from last Tuesday's committee meeting.
   The extra penny was approved in many different motions to fund the additional requests of a few outside agencies. The volunteer fire departments requested $29,400 to fund the 10 percent match of approved grants. E-911 requested an additional $19,250 to hire another dispatcher to field the increase in calls and for a raise for existing employees. Both of these items were approved in a single motion made by Commissioner Jeff Treadway and seconded by Commissioner Joe Woods. Commissioners Woods, Treadway, John Lewis, Wayne Holtsclaw, Jack Buckles, and JoAnn Blankenship voted yes, while Tom "Yogi" Bowers and Bill Armstrong voted no.
   Those two requests totaled $40,730, just slightly less than what a full penny on the property tax rate would fund, according to Finance Director Jason Cody. A little room was left to equal the full penny, so commissioners took advantage of the remaining money and approved motions to fund additional budget requests from the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency, First Tennessee Development District, Carter County Health Department, First Tennessee Human Resources, Elizabethton/Carter County Boys and Girls Club, Senior Citizens, Community Daycare, Dawn of Hope, Soil Conservation, Holiday Lighting, and the Historic Train.
   Almost all of these items were separated into different motions, but all were funded under the $2.66 rate. Outside agencies that did not get their requested increases were the Elizabethton Library and the Parks and Recreation Department. Their figures will remain the same as last year, according to the motions.
   In other business, the committee decided to pay out the three percent raise to county employees, which was approved in the previous committee meeting, on the first pay period of December as a bonus before the holiday season. Cody said the raise would be effective in July, but would be paid out in December. The motion was made by Woods, seconded by Bowers, and was approved unanimously.
   No salary adjustments were handed out by the committee. A motion was made to deny salary adjustment requests by the Juvenile Court Office, County Clerk Office, the Planning Office, the Veterans Affairs office, and for Jail Maintenance. The motion passed 6-2, with Lewis, Holtsclaw, Buckles, Bowers, Blankenship, and Armstrong voting yes. Woods and Treadway voted no. Another $12,340 was requested by all of these departments to fund salary increases.
   Woods tried a second motion to grant the salary increase for Jail Maintenance, but it died for a lack of a second. The maintenance load at the Carter County Jail has increased significantly over the past year because of the overcrowding of inmates and the destruction done to the building. Lewis stressed the importance of not adding any more to the ever-growing tax rate and said workers should "do it (the work) or quit. Or you say, 'Sir I'm putting my notice in and I am going home to go on welfare.'"
   The next budget meeting will be held Thursday, June 17 at 6 p.m. The Carter County Commission must approve all motions made by the Budget Committee before any final changes are made to the current $2.22 property tax rate. The next Carter County Commission meeting will be held June 28 at 7 p.m.