By Brad Hicks

Although in the earliest of stages, work to hash out Unicoi County’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget is now underway.

A projected fund balance is unknown at this time because anticipated revenue figures won’t come in until next month. It may be mid-June before officials know how much each penny on the county’s property tax rate will generate in the new budget year, as property tax assessments are ongoing in what is a reappraisal year.

What is known, however, is the amount of funding each officeholder and the heads of various county agencies are seeking in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Several of these budgetary requests were generally discussed during a May 2 meeting of the Unicoi County Commission’s Budget & Finance Committee. That meeting marked the panel’s first to begin work on the county’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Officeholders and department heads submitted their budget requests in early April or sooner, giving members of the County Commission at least a month to review the requests ahead of last week’s meeting.

No changes were made to these requests during the Budget & Finance Committee’s May 2 gathering, but the committee could call for cuts as the budget development process moves forward.

Several officeholders, including County Trustee Paul Berry, Circuit Court Clerk Darren Shelton, Assessor of Property Teresa Kinsler, Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey and Sheriff Mike Hensley were on hand during last week’s meeting to briefly discuss their requests and answer questions posed by county commissioners.

Officeholders across the county are set to receive state-mandated raises in the 2017-18 fiscal year. But, despite these pay bumps, the budget requests for nearly all of the county’s officeholders more or less fall in line with the amounts originally budgeted for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

A total of $268,970 is being sought for the Unicoi County mayor’s office in 2017-18. The amount initially budgeted for 2016-17 was $263,379. Not included in the budget for his office but being sought by Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch is $15,000 in funding that would be used to bring in an additional part-time employee. In an April letter addressed to members of the Unicoi County Commission, Lynch wrote his office is currently understaffed, adding that each of the three employees in his office has so many duties and responsibilities of her own that they would be unable to “adequately cover an employee who is absent, especially for an extended period of time without neglecting their own duties.”

“I think it is crucial that we bring someone in to learn the various responsibilities and procedures of this office now, rather than wait on some event to take place that could cause a lapse in the services of this office, which is crucial to the administration of our County government,” Lynch wrote. “Most all of the duties of this office are legally charged and time sensitive to the point that any interruption in these duties could potentially harm Unicoi County and our employees.”

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley is seeking $1,806,888 for the 2017-18 fiscal year, up a little more than $4,000 above the $1,802,4000 budgeted for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The majority of the increase – $3,997 – is due to Hensley’s stated-mandated pay bump.

Hensley has requested $790,429 for the Unicoi County Jail in downtown Erwin, down from the $796,468 originally funded for the current fiscal year. This difference reflects a $6,039 decrease in the amount being sought for guards in 2017-2018. The sheriff is seeking $519,601 for the Jail Annex in the upcoming fiscal year, up from the $513,556 originally budgeted for 2016-17. The increase – $6,045 – is for additional guards at the Jail Annex.

The 2017-18 budget request for the office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property is up around $6,000 from the amount originally funded for the current fiscal year. The office is seeking $253,562 for 2017-18. Around $7,000 in additional funding is being sought for an office deputy, while no funding in 2017-18 has been requested for postal charges and dues and memberships, two expenses for which a total of $6,250 was budget in 2016-17.

Unicoi County Clerk Mitzi Bowen has requested $269,342 for her office for the 2017-18 fiscal year, up a little more than $3,000 above the originally budgeted for the current year. The increase is primarily due to Bowen’s mandated salary increase. In a letter addressed to Lynch, Bowen wrote that she will utilize funding from the department’s reserve account, which does not represent new money, to provide in 2017-18 each of her office’s three deputies with a $1,560 and to cover expenses related to maintenance and repair, office supplies, communications and equipment.

A total of $442,383 is being sought for Unicoi County Circuit Court in the new fiscal year. The funding originally approved for the 2016-17 fiscal year was $435,759. For General Sessions Court, $119,560 has been requested for the 2017-18 fiscal year, up slightly from the $118,185 budgeted for 2016-17. The funding being sought for Chancery Court in the new fiscal year is $158,001, up from the $152,194 requested for 2016-17, and the funding requested for Unicoi County Juvenile Court – $52,326 – is up exactly $2,000 over the amount budgeted for the prior fiscal year.

The funding requested by the Unicoi County Election Commission for 2017-18 is nearly $14,000 less than the amount approved for the prior fiscal year, as the only election that will take place in the budget year is the County Primary is May 2018. The Election Commission is seeking $186,705 in the new fiscal year.

The office of Unicoi County Register of Deeds is seeking $193,828 in the upcoming fiscal year, an increase over the $184,768 originally funded for the 2016-17 fiscal year. In a letter addressed to the Budget & Finance Committee, Register of Deeds Debbie Tittle wrote the increase is mostly due to the need for $5,000 to purchase new record storage racks.

“It has been many years since the office purchased the free standing racks in the center of the deed room,” Tittle wrote. “This year we will need to append to the rack for additional book storage. This sum includes additional shelving, shipping and handling fees and installation.”

For county buildings, $130,802 is being sought in the upcoming fiscal year, an increase over the $119,302 originally budgeted for the current year. Lynch wrote $7,500 of the increase is for maintenance and repair services for necessary repairs to county facilities, as well as costs associated with the county website and any needed I.T. work. Natural gas and utilities costs have each been increased by $2,000 in the new year.

The Unicoi County Commission is seeking $52,236 in the new fiscal year, up slightly from the $51,871 originally approved for the panel in the 2016-17 budget year.

Berry is seeking $193,773 for his office in the new year, up from the $187,015 initially budgeted for 2016-17. Among the increase is $1,000 additional dollars sought for temporary personnel and $1,500 for data processing services.

The Unicoi County Health Department has requested $80,950 for the new fiscal year, the same amount originally budgeted for 2016-17. The Unicoi County Animal Shelter is seeking $159,351 for 2017-18, up from the $136,104 approved for the current fiscal year. Much of the requested increase pertains to funding for additional part-time personnel.

A total of $132,000 is being sought in the new year to pay the annual subsidy of MedicOne Medical Response, the county’s ambulance services provider. This is the same amount approved for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

For industrial development, $91,079 is being sought for the 2017-18 fiscal year, up from the $65,000 budgeted for the 2016-17 fiscal year. A total of $28,000 is being sought for employee benefits, up from the $25,000 budgeted for 2016-17. The $3,000 difference is due to an increase in workmen’s compensation insurance.

The county’s overall 2016-17 budget, as approved by the Unicoi County Commission in August, reflected projected revenues of around $7,150,000 against approximately $7,210,000 in projected expenditures. Unicoi County’s projected fund balance to begin the 2016-17 fiscal year was approximately $569,000, and a tax increase was not included the County Commission’s approval of the current fiscal year’s budget, marking the fourth consecutive year with no increase to the property tax rate in Unicoi County.

The Budget & Finance Committee is set to next meet on May 16 at 1 p.m. to continue discussions regarding the county’s 2017-18 budget.