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County considers budgeting pay raises, radios, and more

The Budget Committee of the Sequatchie County Commission met Monday, June 11, to consider a draft of the budget for the next fiscal year.

CORRECTION 6/13/2018 12:26 P.M.:  The donation proposed in the budget for spay-and-neuter efforts, if approved, will go exclusively to the 501c3 operated by Jean Bryant, which is separate and different from the 501c3 managed by Debbie Hoffman.

June 11, 2018 – The Budget Committee of the Sequatchie County Commission met Monday afternoon to discuss a draft budget for Fiscal Year 2019.

I foresee no tax increase,” County Executive Keith Cartwright stated as he opened the June 11 meeting. “And we should have over $2 million in the fund balance at the end of next year.”

Topics of discussion at the meeting included a 3 percent pay raise for county employees, a car purchase for the County Assessor's Office, and improvements to emergency communications.

A thunderstorm on Monday morning caused a power outage at the courthouse, which resulted in the loss of data being logged in by Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Brenda Antal, so that only the expenditures were ready in the draft budget for last night's meeting. Projected revenues, she said, would be available at a future meeting.

PAY RAISES

The budget includes a county-wide 3 percent pay raise for full-time employees, with a handful of long-term employees getting a larger increase.  The county's share of insurance premiums also is going up from $350 per employee per month to $400.

The county will budget more money for the Election Commission this year, because there will be two elections.

Cartwright informed the committee that he had solicited bids for a Suburban to be used by the Property Assessor's Office, to cost $48,500.

Comm. Tommy Johnson, who is not on the Budget Committee, suggested from the audience that they add a line item for gasoline expenses. He also mentioned that the body armor the county bought for the Sheriff's Department was good for five years and is close to the expiration date.

Comm. Richard Harvey, who is the administrator of the county jail, said the bullet-proof vests cost from $1,100 to $4,000 each. CFO Antal suggested they could look at replacing them next year.

Comm. Harvey also urged that the county assign a different doctor to the jail. Dr. Jonathan Kerley's contract with the county is in its last year.

EMERGENCY SERVICES

A big budget item proposed for the upcoming year is a new repeater on a fire tower on Fredonia Mountain, which is expected to be a great improvement for county emergency communications.  Total cost is estimated at $177,000, with $2,000 of that to be reimbursed to the county by Bledsoe County.

Some commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with communications provider Motorola, with which they have a contract for a county-wide radio communication system.

We spent $235,000,” Budget Chairman Jeff Barger said. “Every year there are communication problems, and we're milked for more money.”

Why isn't it fixed?” Comm. Vennero asked. “Motorola needs to come tell us – Why isn't it fixed?”

The Budget Committee agreed to ask Motorola to address the commission regarding problems with their system.

The county's allocation to the five volunteer fire departments also was discussed, and a modest increase is budgeted in. Comm. Johnson pointed out that national fire department standards have become more stringent and will put a greater financial burden on small departments. He said each department needs $20,000, which would be a significant increase from the current amount of $17,500.

After some discussion, Comm. Ray Hobbs said, “I think we should leave it like it is.”

HOSPITAL

The hospital proposal has run into a snag, but Cartwright stated, “Erlanger needs to call us. We are going to stay firm where we're at. We did a letter of intent, and we're sticking close to it.”

GRANTS

Cartwright told the Budget Committee that CTAS (County Technical Assistance Service) recommended they not budget for expected grants, but rather amend the budget as the grants are awarded.

Grants for which the county has applied for the coming year include:

Commissioner Tom Vennero asked how much the total local match would be, if the county is awarded all the grants, and Cartwright said it would be about $75,000.

TAXES & REVENUES

Cartwright said that due to growth in Sequatchie County last year, the county's 1-cent tax has increased in value, from $28,200 to $28,845, and while a 92 percent collection rate is considered acceptable, Trustee Larry Lockhart reported over 98 percent collected last year, which Cartwright dubbed “outstanding.”

Cartwright also brought up the matter of the county's Valley Fest property, a 17-acre parcel on Pine Street, which involved a contract signed in 2012 in which Valley Fest Inc. agreed to make the payments of $19,000 each year.

Valley Fest has “struggled” to make that payment at times, Cartwright said, pointing out that although they normally make the payment at the beginning of the year, they are planning to pay sometime this week for 2018.

I would suggest we cut the contribution they make, to $10,000-12,000,” Cartwright said.

Other budget items discussed included:

The Budget Committee will meet again Monday, June 18, at 5 p.m. CDT, to receive completed budgets from Sequatchie County Schools and from the Highway Department. The County Commission will then meet Thursday, June 28, at 5 p. m. for “year-end clean-up.”

The next regular commission meeting will be Monday, July 16, at 7 p.m. The Sequatchie County Commission meets quarterly, on the third Monday of the month. All meetings are in the upstairs courtroom of the Sequatchie County Courthouse, on Cherry Street in Dunlap, and are open to the public.