Unicoi County budget committee sets to work

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated May 20, 2020 at 9:45 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission’s Budget and Finance Committee settled down to work Tuesday in the first round of agency and departmental presentations lined up for what is shaping up to be a challenging budget season.

County Property Assessor Teresa Kinsler delivered good and bad financial news to the committee.

On the upside, Kinsler said, new additions to the county tax rolls have resulted in another $100 increase in the penny value of its property tax rate, and pending additions will likely increase that value again before the end of the current budget year.

The bad news from Kinsler was that a $3,000, four-wheel drive truck bought for her office last year to make it possible to visit and assess county properties is no longer drivable and is in need of repairs that exceed its value.

Kinsler told the committee her office is also in dire need of a part-time employee in review years and full-time staff member in re-assessment years to allow her and her employees to “at least lift our heads.

“We definitely need it,” she said.

A new vehicle for the assessor’s office was one of several budget challenges that caused the committee members to look to a recent $637,000 state grant for capital projects. Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said a list of eligible capital projects compiled from needs submitted by all county offices was currently at about $500,000.

Road Superintendent Terry Haynes’ first heads-up to the committee was a $461,000 shortfall in his department’s $1.86 million budget for the current budget year that resulted from a decline in gasoline tax collections related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Haynes’ department is also faced with approximately $500,000 in road and bridge repairs stemming from widespread flooding in the county in January and April.

While the county will qualify for federal funding to help with those repairs, Haynes said he was reluctant to pay for the repairs out of his departmental reserves and wait for reimbursement because of delays in reimbursement for projects in other local municipalities that have dragged out for many months, and in one case for more than a year.

“That has to be paid back. We have to be sure,” Haynes said.

Evely noted state tax collections came in ahead of projections for the first nine months of the current fiscal year and expressed optimism that revenues for the road department will be restored.

Other funding requests

• An additional $10,918 for the Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue Team to attain the level of training needed to respond to all urban and rural disasters in the county. Combined with the annual $5,000 in county funding provided to the team, the total funding request came in at $15,918.

• An increase in the $500 in county funding budgeted last for the Unicoi County Heritage Museum to help with an ADA-mandated upgrade to the museum parking area.

Editors Note: This story has been updated to omit an incorrect estimate of the cost a parking area upgrade for the Unicoi County Heritage Museum.