Loudon County Commission talked at length Thursday regarding preparations for the upcoming county budget.
Some key highlights of the proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget include:
• Keeping the current property tax rate of $1.8035.
• Offering 29 percent of the hotel/motel tax to the Loudon County Visitors Bureau.
• Appropriating $1,000 for preservation of records.
• Providing one new full-time employee each at Loudon County Planning & Codes and Loudon County Animal Shelter, along with one part-time position at the Loudon County Veterans Services office.
• Giving a 2 percent cost of living adjustment, wage adjustments for chief deputies for offices pertaining to assessor, chancery, county clerk and register of deeds and adjustments to bring employees to $25,500 annually at the convenience center, animal shelter and public libraries.
• Maintenance of effort funds for schools and the highway department.
Commissioner Matthew Tinker asked for the county to consider offering growth money to Loudon County Board of Education.
The board could get about $9.6 million in maintenance of effort funds, which is $3,391 more than last year’s appropriation. MOE allows the school board to receive at least the same amount of money received from the county the year before. An exception can be made if there is a noticeable drop in enrollment.
County Budget Director Tracy Blair estimated there will be about $500,000 in growth money.
“We talk about ... we want to run the county (and) increase as the growth increases, but so the schools will also rely on that growth money as well because their expenses are the same as ours, the same as ones for the county,” Tinker said. “Salaries go up, insurance goes up, electric goes up, gas goes up. There are costs to keep doing things (that) go up and in order for them to maintain the status quo or improve, in my opinion, growth money is important.”
Director of Schools Jason Vance in May formally requested $750,000 in new money for the 2018-19 year to the county budget committee, but was unanimously denied 4-0.
Tinker asked for commission to still consider something.
“There are some things in here that just hurt my feelings, if nothing else — $1,000 for records request, and we know that’s kind of not been going so hot, and that one went in. That’s in there,” Tinker said. “Somebody at planning, maybe that’s questionable. Animal shelter, maybe questionable. Some different raises here and there and just nothing for — $16 million on the jail and schools zero.”
Commissioner Harold Duff questioned why the school board wouldn’t get growth money.
“Remember, whatever we give them, if we give them $100 more this year we’re bound to give them that for eternity,” Van Shaver, commissioner, said. “MOE, maintenance of effort, was a terrible — I understand why they did it but it puts you in a scary place. If we have a good year like this year or next year or last year, whatever it was, and we wanted to say, ‘Let’s give the board of ed a half million dollars just because we haven’t in three or four years,’ that would be a fine gesture, but now we have to give them that extra half million forever.”
Shaver emphasized the school board should show fiscal responsibility.
“I think that we do need to consider the fact that if we’re asking the schools to step up and have higher test scores and to meet some of these standards then we’re going to have to start looking at sitting down with the school board and saying, ‘Hey, give us a plan. Let us look at it and let us help you all to meet those efforts’,” Kelly Littleton-Brewster, commissioner, said.
Commissioners also discussed a proposed additional full-time position at the county planning office, which County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said would be a “hybrid” position to help Director of Planning Laura Smith and Director of Codes Enforcement Jim Jenkins.
“It’s going to be some of these things that clarify that we can check on the front end to make (Smith’s) job a little bit easier for her,” Bradshaw said.
A new position would cost $25,500-$30,000 depending on educational level, Bradshaw said.
Smith was hired four years ago and currently has a salary of $61,200.
“The problem we have at the planning office is not an overworked employee, it’s an unqualified employee,” Shaver said. “Ms. Smith can’t do the job. Ms. Smith has been overwhelmed since she got here and she’ll be the first to tell you she’s overwhelmed. ... If we’re going to do that, if there’s any thought whatsoever of spending $80,000 in that office, let’s go hire one qualified planner. That office has got to have somebody that can do what they’re doing.”
Bradshaw said Smith hadn’t been given a “fair shake yet.”
“I hear some bad and I hear some good, but I hear that with every department in here except for Tracy’s,” Bradshaw said. “... I’ve had planning commissioners come and defend her as well.”
Littleton-Brewster emphasized the new position needs to have someone with experience.
“You’re going to have to keep in mind if you go out and hire this person that’s got this experience, you’re not going to get them for $30,000,” Leo Bradshaw, commissioner, said.
In a follow-up interview, Smith said the position would help her around the office, including answering questions, looking up information, putting packets together and doing meeting minutes. She declined to respond to Shaver’s comment.
“I have a lot of things that I still need to do, so it would be an asset to have an additional person that could for instance answer phone calls and check on zoning maps and tell people what districts are and things like that,” Smith said.
If approved by commission, chief deputies in the offices of assessor, chancery, county clerk and register of deeds will receive a wage adjustment of $4,971 to bring salaries in line with similar positions held at the offices of trustee, circuit and sessions, Blair said. The adjustment totals about $20,000.
Shaver said the decision to make the changes comes after County Trustee Chip Miller a few years ago gave his chief deputy a roughly $5,000 raise. He worries the budget as proposed could set a bad precedent.
“So if we adopt this budget and any one of these department heads gives their chief deputy another $5,000 raise then I guess next year we’ll be inclined to have to give them all another $5,000,” Shaver said. “... We can’t dictate to the elected officials what they pay their employees. Once they get their salary agreement, they can divvy up their money however they want to as long as they stay in it. They can have little side agreements all day long and not worth the paper they’re written on. I won’t say it’s been used to do this sort of thing but it’s worked masterfully the way they’ve done it because about every five years one of them gets their chief deputy up higher, then everybody else wants their chief deputy brought up.”
The county Geographic Information System mapper is also scheduled to receive an increase in pay of $4,015, but Blair said the final salary would not include a 2 percent increase. The current salary is $41,600.
A public hearing on the budget will be 6 p.m. June 18 at the Loudon County Courthouse Annex. Budget adoption is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 25 at the annex.