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Erwin budget passes on first reading

The proposed 2015-2016 fiscal year budget for the town of Erwin made it through a first reading during the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on Monday, July 27, but not without opposition.
After months of work sessions, the BMA voted in favor of passing the proposed budget, which features a 33-cent property tax increase, with majority support from the board. Two members of the board voted against the proposed ordinance – Alderman Michael Baker and Alderwoman Sue Jean Wilson.
Voting in favor of the first reading of the budget were Mayor Doris Hensley and aldermen Gary Chandler, Gary Edwards and Virgil Moore.
“It hasn’t been an easy year,” Hensley said. “The increase is a necessity to keep the town running and keep the bills paid.”
Seating at Town Hall was almost at full capacity with senior citizens in attendance voicing their displeasure for funding cuts to the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center.
Town officials agreed to cut $66,548 from the town’s overall contributions to welfare and social services in the proposed budget for 2015-2016 during a work session held July 2. In the line item, 19 of the 22 services received a 50 percent cut to funding. The $31,000 allotted to the senior center was trimmed to $15,500 in the proposed budget.
Near the conclusion of the meeting, town resident Jennie Bailey rose to address the board. Bailey stated that since her husband’s passing, the center has provided her opportunities to get out of her home and that a cut to the facility would only have a negative outcome.
“It was a very, very tough decision,” Hensley said during the meeting. “Thirty-three cents, I know, is going to be a hardship not only for working families but to the elderly, too.”
Chandler also added that the tax increase is just the second by the town during the span of 14 years and that the board still has a second and final reading to go for discussion on the budget. Following the meeting, attendants still were vocal about their opinions.
“Many of us that go to the center are single … widows,” Becky Trotter said. “And this is the only place we get to go to have fellowship and to eat a meal, one a day. For them to do this is unbelievable. We are the taxpayers, the majority of people in Unicoi County are senior citizens and they’re taking our money and cutting it.”
Resident Mary Wiltrout voiced concerns about an increase in her mortgage with a tax increase saying she lived by herself because her husband and two sons are deceased and was an avid attendant at the center.
“We really need the help down there,” Bonnie Barnett added, saying she and husband, Roy, attend the facility during the week. “They don’t need to cut us one nickel. We need the money to make a go of it … we work hard down there. I go down there five days a week and work at the center. I said if they would just take a little bit of the money that they’re making mudholes up and down the streets with and contribute it to our senior center … this town would be far better off and a lot more beautiful.”
Hensley stated the board will meet at the end of the 2015 calendar year to revisit the budget. Any incoming revenues from the potential sales of property owned by the town, including the Morgan Insulation building, and the estimated revenues from liquor sales could allow the board to allocate additional funds for social services.
Town employees are also absorbing a blow from the tax increase, Hensley added.
An estimated 15-percent anticipated increase in health care coverage was whittled down to 6.8 percent for employees. Employees will not receive any raises; however, according to the mayor, the board implemented a $75 monthly pay increase for all town employees across the board to aid workers with family coverage to meet the $75 increase in monthly premiums.
The 33-cent increase will raise the current $1.0796 tax rate to $1.41 per $100 of assessed property value and assists the town to combat a $411,686.33 difference between expenditures and revenues.
The ordinance will go into effect pending final passage through the second and final reading scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 10 at Town Hall. A public forum for discussion will also be allowed for residents to voice opinions on the budget at that meeting.
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In other business, the Erwin BMA:
• Voted unanimously to purchase trail safety equipment, including an ATV and trailer, in the amount of $12,000 for the police department. Funding for the purchase will be absorbed from the funds the town received Mountain States Health Alliance’s purchase of the county hospital;
• Voted unanimously to reappoint Gary Edwards and Scott Charles to the Erwin Board of Public Utilities;
• Voted unanimously to appoint Kathy Thornberry and reappoint Linda Mathes to the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board to represent the town;
• Voted unanimously for the reappointment of Clyde Griffith and Sue Jean Wilson to the Erwin Planning Commission.
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Prior to the BMA meeting, the board convened as the Erwin Beverage Board.
During this meeting the panel approved a beer permit for Lisa Bradley-Lewis for Rendezvous Bar and Grill, located on Watauga Avenue.