By Keeli Parkey
After several weeks of meetings, the Unicoi County Commission needed less than five minutes to vote on the proposed budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year on first reading.
In a special called meeting held at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Monday, Aug. 6, the county’s governing body voted 8-0 to approve the budget and have it printed in a newspaper of general circulation in the county. (The budget appears on page 5-A of this issue.) This approval will send the budget to a second vote, which according to officials, will most likely take place during the panel’s next scheduled meeting on Monday, Aug. 27, at 6 p.m.
During the Aug. 6 meeting, Commissioner Glenn White made a motion to approve the budget, which was seconded by Commissioner Gene Wilson.
“I think you all did a great job on this budget,” Wilson said following his second. “… There will be no tax increase in Unicoi County.”
White and Wilson then joined commissioners Marie Rice, Jason Harris, Kenneth Garland, Bridget Peters, Loren Thomas and Todd Wilcox in voting “yes” on the budget; Commissioner John Mosley was absent.
This budget keeps the county’s property tax rate at $2.6838 per $100 of assessed property value for 2018-19.
Also included in the budget is a one-time bonus for county employees. There will reportedly be a $550 bonus for full-time employees and a $250 bonus for part-time employees. The Erwin Record previously reported that a portion of this will be funded with $30,000 from Unicoi County Highway Department funds and a portion will come from the general fund.
The budget also allows for $141,659 in contributions to non-profit and charitable organizations, the largest of which – $55,000 – will go to the county’s volunteer fire departments.
The governing body also chose to fund county departments at levels less than the previous year, but still faced an approximate $150,000 shortfall. Last week, the Unicoi County Budget & Finance Committee decided to cover that by drawing from the general fund and from funds the county received from the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital. Also being utilized is approximately $45,000 in reserve funds from the County Clerk and Property Assessor’s offices.
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The budget approved Monday does not include many items Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley had requested in the approximate $1.3 million budget he proposed to the Unicoi County Budget & Finance Committee when meetings began. This budget included requests by Hensley for new staff positions and patrol cars. Throughout the meetings between the committee and Hensley, the two parties debated which of his departmental requests could be funded.
The Erwin Record previously reported that Hensley wanted funds for two-and-a-half deputies funded by the county, an investigator, $60,000 in overtime pay, a part-time nurse for the two jails and a commitment to bringing the fence at the jailhouse annex up to standards, as well as installing repeaters on the county’s communication towers and two new camera systems for the jails.
“We don’t have it,” County Commissioner Loren Thomas said during a recent meeting about the $60,000 in overtime pay. “I don’t see how we can fund two-and-a-half more deputies. … I do feel like we ought to help fund the nurse.”
The committee did agree to provide $20,000 in overtime pay and a new patrol car and requested that Hensley use funds from selling extra equipment and grants to purchase two other vehicles.
The sheriff has previously said that he does not plan to sue the county over the budget. But, with the cuts he most likely will no longer be able to house state prisoners in the Unicoi County jails, which generates approximately $600,000 in revenue each year.
Hensley was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting; however, he did provide a comment to The Erwin Record on the budget after the vote, saying: “I will work with what they give me. When I see I’m running out of money for food and medical, either they can give me more money in those line items, or I will send the state inmates to the penitentiary.”