Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Budget Committee votes on cuts, hears from JEDB

Discussions about the Joint Economic Development Board (JEDB) of Unicoi County and proposed cuts to different county departments were the names of the game during the Unicoi County Commission’s Budget and Finance Committee three-hour work session on Monday, July 6, at the courthouse.
The budget shortfall facing the county for the 2015-2016 fiscal year is estimated at $404,332, up from the previously estimated amount of $365,219 discussed last week, which included county employee insurance coverage.
All commissioners were in attendance for Monday’s meeting.
The Commission continued work on the budget into Tuesday, July 7, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. Commissioners are scheduled to continue talks on the budget, including discussing the county school system’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Iliff McMahan, Jr., Regional Director of the Northeastern Region of the State Economic and Community Development, opened up Monday’s meeting in defense of the JEDB’s current plans in the county.
With previous experience in the executive branch, McMahan liked what he saw from commissioners.
“I was really heartened to see the involvement and the attitude of the commissioners who were present here in wanting to do the right thing,” McMahan, Jr. said. “What they do is tough; it is tough to set policy and budget at least once a month and try to prepare this county to be as competitive as possible and invest in something that they’re not sure if they’ll get the return right away.
“The way we look at it, this is an investment – not an expenditure,” he continued. “You’re investing in the future of your children and in the health of your community by trying to attract to new jobs. By doing that, you’re preparing your community to be a sustainable and viable community into the future. You’re benefiting those raising families here and those who want to retire here. I’ve seen both sides and work as a partner and meeting with the County Commission. It is a real thrill to me to see the level of commitment these commissioners have.”
The meeting with McMahan was a result of the previous work session meeting when the $81,375 proposal asked for by the JEDB for the 2015-2016 fiscal year was called into question by different commissioners, who asked if the amount would be worth it in the long run.
“It has been over 16 years since an industry came into the county and that was the tire company,” Commissioner Gene Wilson said during Monday’s meeting.
McMahan went through the meeting discussing the potential for the county with businesses potentially looking at the area for a variety of different reasons, including the favorability of being near I-26, an available workforce, the TCAT schools and partnerships with ETSU. He also produced the idea of using tax increment financing, also known as TIF, which was an item used during his time as mayor in Cocke County to help construct a Lowe's store.
“As the Commission makes this tough decision, this is the first step to allow the (Joint Economic Development Board) to do their job,” McMahan, Jr. said, “which is to prepare on the base and have it competitive in people’s minds. We’re here to always support the community. The state is here to support, but these guys make the hard decisions to drive the deal. My deal is to help drive this to the communities that are prepared; I want these communities to compete with the other states … We’re not in competition with each other. Most of the time, I’m dealing with North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Kentucky and Alabama. I don’t want jobs in those other states, I want them here. Going across the states, talking to different county commissions, I see how different communities approach this. I want to see a healthy debate like I did tonight.”
• • •
Once the talks with McMahan concluded commissioners took a five minute break before skimming through the budget to make cuts to different departments. The panel operated under the assumption that no changes to the $81,000 proposal from the JEDB were made.
The cuts the commissioners voted on were just recommendations and not official as budget talks continue in the coming weeks.
The first recommended cuts came to Circuit Court Clerk Darren Shelton’s budget. The committee voted to cut $80,000 from the budget on a 6-2 decision. Opposition to these cuts came from commissioners Loren Thomas and Bridget Peters.
“Darren (Shelton) is elected to run the office to the best of his ability,” Thomas said. “I don’t feel it's right for us to cut his budget that much without him here and how many of us can say we’ve been up there and saw what he’s done?”
Mayor Greg Lynch voiced support for Shelton’s office, saying that officeholders should be available to know if their budget will be cut.
After the discussion on Shelton’s office, which was revisited near the end of the meeting, Commissioner Glenn White had to leave the meeting for obligations at the high school.
Other offices also suffered recommended budget cuts. The Election Commission was voted to lose $3,000 from their budget by a 5-2 margin with yes votes coming from Walter Garland, Kenneth Garland, Jason Harris, Marie Rice and Peters. No votes came from Gene Wilson and Thomas.
Also, the Register of Deeds office was eyed for $5,000 in cuts by a 4-3 margin. Rice, Harris and Kenneth and Walter Garland voted yes on that, while Thomas, Wilson and Peters voted no.
The Assessor of Property office also saw a 4-3 vote in favor of a cut worth $5,600 with Walter Garland, Wilson, Harris and Rice voting yes and Kenneth Garland, Thomas and Peters voting no.
The other notable office to see a recommendation for a cut was the County Clerk for $2,500. That measure passed 5-2 with Thomas and Peters voting no on the matter.