County Budget Committee members oppose 30-cent tax increase

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Jul 10, 2018 at 10:03 PM

ERWIN — Faced with close to $900,000 in unfunded budget requests, Unicoi County commissioners in attendance at a Budget Committee work session on Tuesday appeared to be in agreement that the approximate 30-cent property tax increase needed to meet those requests is not an option.

Jamie Harris, who will take his new seat on the commission in September, summed up the apparent consensus saying, “If it is a tax increase, three or four cents is not going to hurt anybody. But the other stuff is a lot of bull,” he said.

“There are three of us (commissioners) up on the south end (1st Commission District) they would hang from the highest tree if we did that.”

The sentiment echoed around the committee’s conference table with Commissioner John Moseley saying, “Five cents is my max.”

Chairwoman Marie Rice said, “Somehow, some way we’ve got to figure out a way to make cuts.”

Mosley threw out the suggestion, “We could just give the offices the same as last year.”

“That’s what we may have to do,” Commissioner Loren Thomas said.

“That’s what we we ought to do, then come back and look at trucks and other stuff later when we know what we’ve got,” Harris said.

Moseley conceded increased expenditures for an ambulance service and for this year’s elections are unavoidable.

And Commissioner Jason Harris joined in, saying he was opposed to drawing down the county’s newly healthy fund balance for various departmental needs.

According to Rice, the shortfall stood at approximately $703,000 at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, not including a new $90,000 school bus requested by the school system last week with the submission of the its otherwise balance budget. The shortfall also did not include Road Superintendent Terry Haynes’ Tuesday request for the county’s assistance with the highway department’s need for two new one-ton salt trucks and an all-use truck at a cost of approximately $188,000.

County Finance Director Phyllis Bennett told the committee while June expenditures are still being paid, year-end departmental revenues have been reported and she will have all the information she can gather for a year-end report on the fund balance by next week’s committee meeting.

After two years of tight budgeting, the county’s fund balance last year came in at a little more than $1 million for the first time in many years of operations. The amount was below the level recommended by the state comptroller.

Bennett said the committee will “have to get down to the nitty gritty” next week when more year-end figures will be available.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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