County employees express desire for cost of living raise at public hearing

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

If there were an extra $150,000 in the Carter County 2003-2004 budget, many would agree where it should be placed, and that's in the pockets of county employees.
   Many county employees attended a public hearing held by the County Budget Committee Monday evening and expressed the desire to receive more than a 1.5 percent cost of living pay increase. Though it would only take $150,000 to calm down certain county commissioners, there are still additional problems many Carter Countians would like to see changed before the budget is voted on by the County Commission on July 21.
   Ralph Potter, from the 2nd district, spoke about the school system and said, "We are on the very bottom of education in the state of Tennessee. Let's look at Unaka over here. Last year, the state said if you people don't straighten up we're gonna take it over."
   He referred to the low teacher-student ratio and how many believe that it makes education more personal for students. Potter disagreed, saying that even though the county has a low teacher-student ratio, it is not making a difference in the quality of education children are receiving if the state has already said it will place the school on probation for low standards.
   Potter also said if commissioners have control over money, they have control over everything. "Follow the money and you will find the crooks," said Potter. "I hope you will look at it, see where the money is all going. Because we are getting a lot of the money coming in, and we are getting very little benefit."
   County Trustee, Randy Lewis, asked the budget committee to reconsider how much money they are cutting from his office. The committee plans to cut $7,860 from the trustee's budget which goes toward paying part-time employees, travel expenses and office supplies. Lewis said he could deal with a $5,000 cut, but asked that the committee leave him $2,860 to pay his part-time employees. "I have a wonderful staff. A couple of them have years of experience working in that office, and I am afraid I might lose them," said Lewis.
   Commissioner Tom Bowers curiously questioned Lewis as to whether he would rather see a 3 percent pay raise for courthouse employees or the 1.5 percent increase included in the proposed budget. Lewis replied, "Personally, I would like to see at least 3 percent. My people work hard. I know this is a crunch time; I understand that. I am just speaking for the trustee's office."
   Another supporter of the 3 percent pay raise was Tracy Guy of the Circuit Court Clerk's office. Bowers told her that if the current 1.5 percent proposed raise passes, then it could actually put her into a higher tax bracket which, in turn, could actually cost her more money in taxes.
   Bowers wanted to know what process would amend the proposed budget, saying that he wants to change the budget before it goes before the County Commission. County Executive Dale Fair cited the County Financial Management System of 1981, which states that once the proposed budget is approved by the budget committee and sent to the county commission, if the budget is amended, the public is entitled to another hearing before the budget can be voted on and passed.
   Subsequently, the budget must be advertised in the newspaper for ten days prior to the vote and the public is given another chance to state their views if they submit in writing a request at least five days before the hearing.