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Town of Unicoi BMA faces $138K budget shortfall

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen met on April 27 and on May 4 to iron out a tentative 2020-2021 budget.

The proposed budget looks to have total expenditures of $2,720,036 and total revenues of $2,581,720 for a total deficit of $138,316, according to figures released by the town. Town officials reportedly plan to discuss how they are going to make up the $138,316 deficit during their next two BMA meetings.

During the April 27 and May 4 meetings, the BMA was able to trim several expenditures before narrowing the total down to the $2,720,036 amount. One of the expenditures cut from the budget was funding for a connector trail that was estimated to cost $125,000. The connector trail is a walking trail from the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail trailhead past the Unicoi Tourist Information and Visitors Center that connects to the Maple Grove shopping center.

Town officials also decided to move roughly $144,000 from the general fund to break even on the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. The MHK also received $120,000 from an ARC Power Grant and a TNECD Grant to fund the total MHK expenditures of $288,906. The MHK did receive $24,000 in revenue for the year to balance the budget for MHK.

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During the May 4 workshop, Alderman Jeff Linville proposed changing a longstanding interlocal agreement with the Unicoi County Animal Board.

“To me, it’s in everybody’s best interest of all parties to revisit the interlocal agreement,” Linville said. “It has to do with getting the service we pay for. It just needs to be revamped.”

Alderwoman Kathy Bullen disagreed with Linville.

“I respectfully disagree with you,” Bullen said. “The welfare board has never asked for a new interlocal agreement.”

For Mayor Johnny Lynch, there are two ways to measure the animal welfare board’s value.

“I view it two ways, one is being visual actually seeing them patrolling and the second is the amount of adoptions and intake from Unicoi,” Lynch said. “I do feel the amount of calls are lopsided between the towns and county. It’s easy for me to see that the three entities vary in service from the animal board. It’s not equal. The funding is equal, but the results are not equal.”

The Town of Unicoi currently budgets $45,000 annually for its share for the animal welfare board. The Town of Erwin and Unicoi County also pay into the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board. The BMA did not make any changes to the animal welfare board’s budget during the May 4 budget workshop.

Moving on, the BMA focused on flooding in the town.

“We are running into problems due to regulations when it comes to repairs,” Linville said.

One project the BMA is looking to fund to help reduce flooding in the town is a revitalization on Massachusetts Avenue.

“If we put in 14 tiles that are 18 inches by 20 inches on the left side of the road with labor included would cost $25,000 for repairs,” Town of Unicoi Attorney Lois Shults Davis said. “For both sides of the road to be repaired it would cost a total of $31,000, but the budget has $30,000 listed, so we may need to change that.”

The BMA did not make any changes to the $30,000 budgeted for this project during the May 4 meeting.

The 2020-2021 budget currently does not include any employee raises, according to Bullen.

The Town of Unicoi BMA is expected to vote on the 2020-2021 budget at its May and June meetings.