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Town of Unicoi BMA OKs budget, does not provide funds for SRO

In addition to approving the town’s 2018-19 budget, the members of the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen, pictured above, approved matching funds for grants and passed a resolution supporting the upcoming July 4 Freedom Fest. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

In its Monday, June 18, meeting, the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved on second reading of the ordinance for the 2018-19 fiscal year budget.

The total revenues reflected in the budget amount to approximately $3.2 million, with approximately $2.7 million in expenditures, leaving a fund balance of $462,650.25. The separate fund created for the Mountain Harvest Kitchen breaks even with both expenditures and revenues amounting to $452,552.47.

The budget shows expenditures of $93,848 for public safety, $481,727 for public works, $119,995 for parks and recreation and $181,219 for debt service.

Prior to a motion being made to approve the budget ordinance, Alderman Jeff Linville took a moment to speak on issues he felt needed clarification. Linville distinguished that the budget on the table was for the Town of Unicoi, not Unicoi County, and said that the town still pays more than its fair share to the county through land taxes. He stated that the average home in Unicoi is valued at $145,000 compared to the $126,000 in the rest of the county.

He also spoke on a matter of previous contention regarding the placement of a school resource officer in Unicoi Elementary.

“The budget does not include anything for a school resource officer because it is too early in the process,” Linville said. “No one that I know of is against an SRO.”

Linville said that each gubernatorial candidate has promised the Town of Unicoi funding for an SRO in the near future.

“In the budget, there is money for the bike trail that has been in our long-range plan for years,” Linville continued.

Linville was referencing the Town of Unicoi Buffalo Valley Connector Trail and Bike Route that will run from the Pinnacle Fire Tower trailhead and go down to the Town of Unicoi Visitors Center and across the street to Maple Grove Restaurant. The bike trail follows Unicoi Drive down to Erwin Town Hall. An ARC POWER Grant provides about $300,000 and requires $128,815 in matching funds from the town, for a total project cost of $428,815.

Linville also mentioned that the town will once again be contributing another $5,000 to the Unicoi County 911 Board, the same amount he said the town put forth last year.

“The fire department submitted a request for an amount and we have included that entire amount in this budget, as we have always included everything the fire department has asked for,” he said.

The budget shows $35,600 allocated for the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department, a slight decrease from the $45,000 that was requested last year. Linville said he was informed by the department that an insurance office rating increase up to a level five is anticipated.

After Linville spoke, Alderman Roger Cooper moved to amend a line item in the amount of $9,800 for the salary of the city recorder to carry out financial duties. His motion to amend the line item was seconded by Alderwoman Kathy Bullen.

“The reason being, we have Rodefer & Moss coming on board and they are going to charge us $1,000 a month,” Cooper said. “I really don’t feel we need to spend another $9,800.”

Linville responded that the $9,800 was budgeted as an “as needed amount” that doesn’t necessarily need to be spent by the town unless it is needed.

“I’m hoping it’s a zero, it could be a $1,000, it could be $8,000,” Linville said. “But the $9,800 will cover it.”

Cooper’s motion to amend the budget failed with Linville, Vice Mayor Doug Hopson and Mayor Johnny Lynch voting in opposition. Bullen and Cooper voted in favor.

“If you’re going to keep money in, even though you’re not going to spend it, it doesn’t hold water for the SRO, but it does for paying someone?” Bullen asked.

Cooper also moved to remove a line item just over $5,000 for the city attorney’s TN Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) payments and payroll taxes. Cooper made a motion to remove the line item and his motion was seconded by Bullen.

“Our personnel policy says you have to be a full-time employee to be able to get on and stay on the TCRS program,” Cooper said. “I think this is a little premature that we do this.”

City attorney Lois Shults-Davis said that she was told she could not pay her own TCRS anymore. She also stated that previous audits and TCRS indicated that this was the preferred way to pay the retirement funds.

“Basically, the town is not paying extra for it, she is contributing to her own TCRS,” said Town of Unicoi City Recorder Michael Borders.

Cooper’s motion failed with Linville, Hopson and Lynch voting in opposition. Bullen and Cooper voted in favor.

The ordinance to approve the budget as presented passed with Bullen, Linville, Hopson and Lynch voting in favor. Cooper voted in opposition.

• • •

In other business the BMA:

• Unanimously approved a low bid from Mark Ramsey for the 2018-19 Interstate 26 mowing and litter pick up. His bid for mowing came in at $5,600 a month, with another $925 a month for litter pick up.

• Unanimously approved the town’s engagement with Rodefer Moss, public accountant and business advisor, for their services beginning July 1.

• Unanimously approved a financial audit proposal from David M. Ellis, which Borders said will cost the town an additional $2,000 more next year, but will provide the benefit of having a certified public accountant on board each month.

• Unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the town to enter into an agreement with the State of Tennessee for a Health Access Grant amounting to $85,000, with an estimated $29,000 of in-kind contributions from the town. The grant is aimed at promoting healthy lifestyle choices and the fund will be used to construct a new farmer’s market pavillion.

• Passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to accept Community Transportation Planning Grant funds for a corridor study to focus on State Route 107. The grant provides $125,000 in funding and requires the town to put forth a 10 percent match, not to exceed $12,500. Bullen, Hopson, Linville, and Lynch voted in favor. Cooper voted in opposition.