By Ty Butler
The Unicoi County Commission held a special called meeting Monday, July 11, in the Unicoi County Courthouse to pass the county’s 2022-23 operating budget.
“We started this budget process about two-and-a-half or three months ago, and we’re glad to get it finished up with a pretty much balanced budget and a slight surplus,” said Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely.
The mayor noted that the budget would include a 2% pay raise for county employees. In addition, he noted that the county will be paying more toward health insurance for all employees.
This was all done without raising property tax rates. “In fact, the new Certified Tax Rate is 50 cents lower than the previous year’s rate,” Evely said.
This year was a reappraisal year, according to Evely, which means property values increased based on current market value. When the reappraisal is completed the State of Tennessee gives local governments a new Certified Tax Rate based on the new values.
The $8,569,767 budget was subsequently passed on a 5-2 vote, with commissioners Matthew Rice and Brian Delp being absent from the meeting.
The board also came together on a 6-1 vote to halt any increase on the tax rate, which has been set at $2.35.
The mayor explained that the Certified Tax Rate is the rate that will bring into the county the same amount of property tax dollars as the previous year.
“We used the Certified Tax Rate in the new budget, which means no property tax increase was included,” Evely said. “The new Tax Rate for 2022-2023 is $2.35 which is 50 cents less than the previous year’s rate of $2.85.”
Evely also announced that the Unicoi County Public Library’s Toney Foundation was approved for a $34,000 grant that will be funded by the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) fund.
“The library has five heating and cooling units and four of the five were down,” Evely said. “They were trying to get some maintenance to replace some of the units.”
UCPL director Selena Harmon thanked the county’s efforts to help with the HVAC replacement costs, but noted that the library’s Toney Foundation — a 501c3 organization tasked with maintaining the library’s facility — is still seeking funds to fully cover the expenses.
“Even with their generous gift, we are still $24,000 shy of being able to complete the project,” said Harmon. “The Toney Foundation Board is researching other avenues for funding. Staff have suffered two winters without any heat in their offices and only partial heat is available.”
Harmon said that the library’s lack of maintenance for the last two decades has contributed to its expensive problems of today. She also noted another infrastructure issue that the UCPL will soon face.
“Next, we will be looking to secure funds for a new roof,” Harmon said. “The current one has no underlayment and frequently leaks, which is a huge problem for our collections’ health.”
However, Harmon’s ambition to refurbish the roof may present a challenge for the future since updating the UCPL infrastructure could disqualify the facility from maintaining historical status.
“To maintain the building’s place on the historic registry, we would need to restore the authentic terracotta roof, which easily prices at over half of a million dollars,” Harmon said.
“Opting for an affordable option, like asphalt shingles, means disqualifying the building’s historic status,” she noted.
Despite the obvious hindrances, Harmon said that UCPL is carefully considering all possibilities in regards to future decisions.
Evely noted that the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce was also included in the budget after experiencing troubles similar to the library’s.
“We approved the Chamber of Commerce about $4,400 at the last meeting,” Evely said. “Their heating and air was down, but we paid for half the cost.”
In addition, the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department will also be included in some ARPA funds after Evely announced that certified personnel will have a $3,000 raise. He explained that the raise is an effort to get salaries comparable with those surrounding agencies.
Other nonprofits are set to be included in a share of the ARPA funds as well.
“All of the other nonprofits that received funds from the county last year will be receiving at least the same amount,” Evely said.