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Unicoi County officials continue budget talks

The Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee tries to minimize any unnecessary departmental spending to prevent a property tax increase during a meeting on June 6. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

The Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee met on June 6 to review various departmental funding requests and discuss ways to curtail spending to prevent the 58-cent property tax increase that would be required to meet the current expenditure demands.

Teresa Kinsler, property tax assessor, said the penny value of the property tax rate is down $380, taking the amount each penny on the county’s property tax rate brings in from $31,106 to $30,726. One of the major reasons for the decrease was cited to be the demolition of a Nuclear Fuel Services building.

“I think it’ll be up a little from that so that’s a positive for you guys,” Kinsler told the commission.

Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White inquired as to what the state of the fund balance was. Phyllis Bennett, county finance director, stated that there were still three pay periods left for this month, but the fund balance was “holding steady” at approximately $1 million.

“When people start paying their property taxes then the revenue starts building back up,” said County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice. “We do know that we took out around $200,000 out of the fund balance so far.”

With a five percent employee pay raise for all county officeholders currently mandated by the state, Unicoi County Commissioner Todd Wilcox suggested the committee wait to approve any other pay raises until the committee analyzed more of the budget and had more information on the future of the county’s ambulance service.

The committee began by discussing Register of Deeds Debbie Tittle’s budget. Tittle said she is requesting a total of $198,254, slightly higher than the previously budgeted amount at $194,909.

Tittle had requested a $5,000 increase for a pay raise for her deputies; however, as with other offices, the general consensus among the commissioners was to hold off on the raise requests. There was also a $500 increase for data processing costs and a $2,000 increase for travel costs due to required training.

A $50,000 line item within the County Building’s budget for maintenance and repairs was knocked down to $40,000, making it a $13,000 increase from the previous budget.

“Most of that was for the HVAC,” Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said about the need for repairs to the building’s heating and cooling system. He also said some of the increase was to cover the installation of LED lights to cut down on the utility bill.

In County Trustee Paul Berry’s budget request, which totals $194,859 compared to the previously budgeted $188,504, the committee decided to decrease the request for temporary personnel from $3,000 down to $2,500. There were other slight increases for state retirement, life insurance, data processing and travel costs.

“If he gets in trouble and needs more he can come back to us,” White said.

The committee decided to leave the Circuit Court budget as is, which is requested at $484,251 and includes small increases for county official and administrative office staff, part-time personnel and maintenance and repair services.

The General Sessions Court requested budget was also left alone and comes in at $142,985, which includes a $23,434 raise in the judge’s salary.

“The county attorney will be having a resolution on this in the next county commission meeting,” said Lynch.

The Unicoi County 911 budget request remains at $536,354. Currently, the county pays the director’s salary, budgeted at $42,848, one full-time employee and then the county splits the full-time staff and part-time staff costs. The total cost for dispatchers is budgeted at $295,000 and the cost for part-time personnel is budgeted at $49,920. 

“The way the agreement reads, we could be responsible for their benefits, but they have been giving us $70,000 for that,” Bennett said. “That has really benefited us the last few years on the revenue side.”

No new information was reported on the ambulance issue during the meeting other than that there has been one ambulance service provider bid on the request for proposal that will be out until June 20.

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 19, in the mayor’s conference room at the courthouse, the committee will hold another meeting with Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley to discuss his proposed budgetary increases, which amounted to more than $1 million.

The committee will discuss the budgets of the Unicoi County School System, University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension Office and the Industrial Development Board on Tuesday, June 26, at 1 p.m.