Budget Committee to meet tonight   

By Lesley Hughes
star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  Carter County's Budget Committee will be meeting tonight at 6 p.m. to attempt creating a property tax rate for county commission approval. After months of discussion and nine budget committee meetings, a proposed property tax rate is still not ready for commissioner approval. Committee members had looked into many options including a wheel tax and a 44 cent tax increase and were prepared to address the commission at the regular July 19 meeting, but changed their minds and decided to go back to the drawing table.
  Commissioner Bill Armstrong made the motion at the July 19 budget committee meeting shortly before the 44 cent tax rate increase was expected to be considered at the 10 a.m. county commission meeting.
  County Finance Director Jason Cody recalled the meeting and said the members came to a "general consensus to be truthful" and agreed that since the property tax increase could be large, members wanted to "sit down one last time and decide do we really want this or that? I think it is a good thing.
  "It would be my hope to come to some kind of decision in the next few weeks. The longer it drags out the more uncertainty you create. It puts departments and outside agencies in tough situations. It creates uncertainty in general. (Operating on a continuing budget) puts organizations in a limbo that they can't effectively do anything if they are not sure about their funding level," Cody said.
  Each member gets paid $50 for each committee they are placed on. Monday's meeting will be the tenth meeting of the budget committee. Cody explained, "This year is somewhat unique. We have been faced with difficult and complex issues. There are a series of things that require funding. I believe they are taking their time and getting a lot of discussion. I am not surprised they have had so many meetings. They are trying to look out for the best interest of the county. They (committee members) wouldn't want to be rushed into a decision they might regret," said Cody.
   Carter County recently settled a lawsuit involving the Carter County Jail and Sheriff John Henson. The settlement requires a five pod facility be in place and in operation by September 25. To do so, Sheriff Henson said he needs to start hiring and training 16 additional jailers to staff the pods. The lawsuit claimed inhumane conditions were prevalent in the jail due to overcrowded living conditions. The jail is certified to hold 91 inmates, but averages over 200. The pods will add 96 new beds.
  Approving the budget would allow Henson adequate time to hire additional staff.
  If the committee does not create a ready for approval budget at tonight's meeting, another meeting will be called. The commission recessed from the July 19 meeting and will return from recess when the budget is ready for consideration.
  The meeting will be held tonight at the Carter County Justice Center in the Criminal Courtroom at 6 p.m.