By Kendal Groner
In a meeting of the Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee on July 10, Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman and Budget and Finance Committee member Marie Rice said the county was already “in the red” $703,000. After factoring in unfunded requests of the school system and highway department, a 30-cent tax increase would be needed to meet the unfunded demands that are now approaching $1 million.
“There are three of us (commissioners) that would be hung up on the south end if we did that,” Jamie Harris, a newly-elected commissioner who will take his seat in September, said about a potential tax increase.
Commissioner John Mosley voiced his agreement with Harris that a major tax increase should be avoided and Unicoi County Commissioner Jason Harris said he was opposed to dipping into the general fund balance, especially for any recurring expenses.
“Five cents would be my max,” Mosley said about a tax increase.
Both Mosley and Commissioner Loren Thomas favored the idea of funding the various county offices the same amount as last year.
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Unicoi County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes attended last week’s meeting to discuss the Unicoi County Highway Department’s budget, which currently has expenditures coming in at $2,200,437, approximately a $286,000 increase from last year. The department’s total revenues amount to $2,495,372, about a $150,000 decrease, this year. The department’s ending fund balance as of June 30 comes in at $3,153,117, compared to $2,858,182 for last year.
After having two employees retire, Haynes was able to give a 2-percent pay increase to his remaining staff.
Haynes also said last week that his department is in need of three new salt trucks, which are expected to cost approximately $184,000.
“I’ve taken care of my employees and now I’m having to replace these vehicles,” Haynes said. “We’ve got to have some trucks. This salt has eaten them up.”
Haynes also said he is placing the older trucks out to bid on government deals. He also noted that he is in need of a paver; however, he is going to look into leasing options as opposed to purchasing one.
“Those trucks are the main objective. I know that I’ve asked for quite a bit and what you can give I’ll take and if you can’t I’m not going to argue,” he said. “I just can’t keep jumping into my budget and buying equipment.”
The trucks Haynes said he is looking to buy are two one-ton trucks, estimated to cost $48,000 each and one 10-ton truck, which costs approximately $88,000. Haynes also mentioned that a Tunnel Creek Bridge replacement is on the horizon, a project he is currently sorting out with the state.
“Everything has to be on site to replace that bridge in 16 hours,” he said. “The state has done condemned that bridge and shut it down.”
Rice asked about reimbursement from the state for the Higgins Creek bridge replacement. Haynes reported that the department has received $50,000 thus far, with more funds on the way. For the $888,000 project, the state will ultimately be funding over $600,000.
When the committee moved back to the topic of funding Haynes’ requested trucks, he once again displayed his willingness to work within the county’s funding to the best of his ability.
“You guys can get one I’m good to go, get two I’m better, and if you get three I’m tickled to death,” he said. “I’m not hard to get along with. I understand that there are other officeholders who need help too.”
Mosley questioned what Haynes would do if the county was unable to provide funding for the trucks and Haynes stated that he would have to somehow figure it out within his budget because there was no way to avoid the need for the trucks.
After hearing from Haynes, Thomas expressed appreciation for his work at the department, especially with recent bridge repair and securing state aid. No decision or recommendation was made regarding the trucks until more of the county’s budget requests have been examined.
The Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday, July 18, at 6 p.m. in the conference room at the Unicoi County Courthouse.