After several motions, Loudon County Commission set a basically flat budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The County General Fund will have an estimated beginning fund balance of about $4.7 million after Monday’s changes, Tracy Blair, county budget director, said. Going into the meeting it was about $4.5 million.
Estimated revenue is about $19.6 million, while proposed expenditures are about $21.4 million.
“This year it has just been a challenge because if you look, this commission and this budget committee, they’ve been very fiscally conservative and we’ve trimmed and trimmed and trimmed,” Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, county mayor, said. “It’s not like we have a lot of extra here in the county. We run on a bare minimum budget and bare minimum skeleton crews for the most part and this year was just hard. We knew last year coming in with the adjustments we made as far as getting the sheriff’s department up to where they need to be and things were going to be challenging. Certainly nobody saw the COVID pandemic, and so it’s just been a rough one.”
The property tax rate will remain at $1.8035, which features a redistribution of property tax pennies by fund, including a reduction of the amount assigned to Education Debt Service Fund 156. That results in a change in the rate within Lenoir City from $1.5835 to $1.5897.
Commissioners Kelly Littleton-Brewster and Van Shaver motioned and seconded, respectively, and the budget passed unanimously.
Commissioner Gary Whitfield at one point tried to motion for taking 2 pennies from the County General Fund and moving it to the General Purpose School Fund, which was seconded by Commissioner Matthew Tinker, but the motion failed 5-5. Commissioners Shaver, David Meers, Bill Satterfield, Henry Cullen and Adam Waller opposed.
The effect would have been a reduction of $362,906 from the County General Fund, with Loudon County Schools getting about $237,600 and the difference to Lenoir City Schools, Blair said.
“I really believe that our teachers deserve the 1 percent raise across the board, and I knew that the subject of bonuses had come up, and if we address those bonuses in December for the county employees, I knew that we wouldn’t be able to address those for our school employees because you can’t make that adjustment in the middle of December,” Whitfield said. “So I had to make a motion to move those pennies at the beginning for any chance of those employees getting a 1 percent increase.”
Shaver and Littleton-Brewster motioned and seconded, respectively, to approve appropriations for various funds, departments, institutions, offices and agencies in the county, which passed 8-2. Commissioners Tinker and Harold Duff opposed.
Before a vote was taken, commissioners mulled three amendments.
Waller and Meers motioned and seconded, respectively, to remove a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for county employees and review it again in December. The vote passed 7-3, with Whitfield, Duff and Littleton-Brewster opposing.
“We’re already going to dip into the fund balance a good bit without the raises and with 9 percent unemployment as of the 25th in the county, no adjustment for ... cost of living adjustments for Social Security, it’s just hard,” Waller said. “It’s a wrong message to send all of my constituents who are worried about finances. ‘We’re going to keep spending money we don’t really have only to kick the can down the road with their property taxes.’ I think we need to look at the overall picture next year and say, ‘Guys, we can’t keep eating into the fund balance’.”
Littleton-Brewster and Whitfield then motioned and seconded, respectively, to give county employees a $200 bonus for full time and $75 for part time, excluding elected officials and appointed board members, in time for Christmas. The total amount would have been less than $50,000, Littleton-Brewster said. The vote failed 4-6, with Commissioners Satterfield, Cullen, Duff, Shaver, Waller and Meers opposing.
“I feel like that our county employees need a supplement, need some raise, which is not a raise, it is just a bonus, a one-time bonus,” Littleton-Brewster said. “I feel like with their insurance going up a certain percent, if we’re not doing any kind of raise for them, they needed something to try to help offset that, especially with the COVID and everything.”
At one point commissioners discussed giving money to the Loudon County Board of Education for raises in December, but no decision was made. Blair said she was not aware of a “mechanism” for that to occur.
“I’m not against the county employees, and I think the raises should have been reviewed in December, and they will,” Cullen said. “... If this COVID starts going south like it is, hang on. I’m betting the revenue comes back. The problem is, June 30 ends this year’s budget. So in order to pass next year’s budget we had to pull from the fund balance. Hopefully the revenue will cross over and come back in the first half of next year and we’ll be fine.”
Duff and Tinker motioned and seconded, respectively, to restore $1,500 to Loudon County Education Foundation for the 2020 Run LoCo to match $2,500 funded in previous years. The vote passed 6-4, with Shaver, Satterfield, Waller and Littleton-Brewster opposing.
“The reason I did vote in favor is because we had cut schools, we continue to cut schools, and last year Run LoCo donated $20,000 back to our schools,” Whitfield said. “So I thought it would be a good trade-off if the county could fund them an additional $1,500 to help us continue to get the $20,000 a year donation from them back to our school system.”
Included in appropriations was $120,000 for the Loudon County Visitors Bureau. One full-time employee will be added in the county accounting department, one part-time employee will become full time in the county clerk’s office and one temporary position will be added in the county clerk’s office. The county will also use a recent one-time state grant of $911,423 for computers, servers and other technology typically funding through operating budgets.
Waller and Tinker motioned and seconded, respectively, to make appropriations to nonprofit organizations serving the county, which included Duff’s change to LCEF. The vote passed 10-0.
In other news, Loudon County Commission:
• Denied rezoning 14.4 acres on Hickory Creek Road from R-1 Suburban Residential District to R-1 Suburban Residential District with a PUD overlay.
• Denied rezoning 38.1 acres at 5378 Steekee Creek Road from A-2 Rural Residential District to A-1 Agriculture-Forestry District with T-1 overlay.
• Approved amendments to County General Fund 101, Public Libraries Fund 115, Recycling Centers Fund 116, Highway Department Fund 131, General Purpose School Fund 141, School Federal Projects Fund 142, General Capital Projects Fun 171 and Highway Capital Projects Fund 176.
• Reappointed Satterfield to the Tellico Area Services System committee.
• Approved a ThreeStar resolution for the Loudon County Economic Development Agency to obtain grant funding.