The Greene County Commission got its first look at the 2019-20 proposed budget on Tuesday.
The proposed $25.9 million general operating budget “does not not call for a tax increase of any kind,” said Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison.
The budget reflects an improvement of the budgeted deficit by $420,819, Morrison said. Last year’s budgeted deficit was $1.7 million.
Capital projects included in the proposed budget are purchase of an emergency communication system for the Greene County Sheriff’s Department and Greeneville-Greene County Emergency Medical Service, a fuel depot for county vehicles to be located at the Highway Department and an upgraded telephone system for the courthouse and annex buildings.
The budget as proposed does not include an across-the-board salary increase for county employees, Morrison said, but the county hopes to provide a wage increase for all its employees in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
For the upcoming year, Morrison said caution has been used in projecting revenues with the uncertainty in how much will be collected in sales tax with changes to how internet sales are to be collected and in how the 911 budgetary issues may need to be addressed. A change for the upcoming year will be collection of sales tax based on the location of where an item purchased online is delivered.
In discussion of the budget, Commissioner Brad Peters asked how much additional funding would be needed for a 2.5 percent increase for county employees. The state has mandated a 2.5 percent increase in salary for elected county officials.
Budget Director Danny Lowery estimated that the wage increase would require an additional $260,000 in funding.
There was extended discussion about the 911 budgetary issues during the workshop, which was attended by about two-thirds of commissioners. The emergency communications system is facing a budget deficit of more than $400,000, which is planned to be covered with reserves, according to the budget adopted by its board earlier this month.
Both Greene County and the Town of Greeneville provide allocations from their budgets to 911. The county’s proposed budget includes the $120,000 requested in funding by 911.
However, commission members in attendance were of consensus to make the allocation restricted, requiring that measures be taken to prevent future budgetary issues before the funding would be released for use.
In discussion of the budget highlights, it was noted that there are dispatchers at 911 receiving an hourly wage that is about $8 more per hour than what is paid to a paramedic at EMS, and 911 employees receive step salary increases, which is not practiced across the board in the count.
Several commissioners expressed frustration at the budget issues at 911 and stated that it appears that spending, like on the wages, has not been held in check, creating the budgetary issues.
Others were critical of 911 officials not asking for assistance or alerting the county when it first had a budget shortfall in 2015 so measures could have been taken then.
Commissioner Tim White said that, although 911 has used its fund balance to cover the shortfall, if efforts are not made to find a solution in the coming year, the situation will be worse next year.
The question turned to what the County Commission can do to help remedy the 911 budgetary situation, which has arisen due to its funding structure. Its primary source of funding is a telephone surcharge collected by the state, which is based on what was collected seven years ago. Additionally, it receives allocations from Greeneville and the county. This year, funding has also been requested from the towns of Baileyton, Mosheim and Tusculum. Mosheim has denied the request. Tusculum has agreed to fund some of the request. (See related story, page 1A.)
In past years, the state has provided surplus funds to 911 systems, but that funding is not available for the coming years.
Morrison said it appears that the county’s best option may be to influence the budgetary decisions through its appointments to the board. The 911 emergency communications system is an independent entity governed by a board, whose members are chosen by the county. There are some vacancies on the board, and the county needs to fill those with individuals who have the same mindset as the county about the budgetary issues.
Asked what could happen if 911 did not have funds to operate is it does now, dispatching calls for the EMS, county volunteer fire departments and Greeneville Fire Department, Woolsey said the county would have to pay to establish those dispatching services itself. Currently, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department and Greeneville Police Department have their own dispatchers.
However, he said, the telephone surcharge would continue to go to 911 as designated by state law.
The workshop began with a summary of some of the increases reflected in the budget.
While the budget does not include an across-the-board salary increase, it does reflect an increase of 50 cents an hour for Emergency Medical Service employees, an increase in pay for election workers approved by the commission in April and an increase in the salary for the budget director, Morrison said.
Also proposed in the budget is adding a emergency medical technician and paramedic for the EMS and the addition of a full-time person at the Soil Conservation District. Questions about the funding for this position were asked. The county is to pay a third of the $24,000 salary for the new position with state and federal funds covering the remainder, but the county is responsible for providing benefits which could be as much as $21,000 for the position.
A new position at the Greene County Detention Center to assist with transport to court and the video arraignments is included in the budget as well as increased funding for food supplies for the jail, commission members were told by Sheriff Wesley Holt.
Morrison said the proposed budget also includes $50,000 in funding to pay the county’s share of monitoring devices for defendants determined to be indigent. The monitoring devices are ordered as a term of bond release by a judge.
The state is currently paying the cost of the devices for indigent defendants but will require counties cover half the cost beginning July 1, Morrison explained. County Attorney Roger Woolsey recommended the county seek options to lower the cost for the devices, perhaps by contracting directly with a manufacturer.
Three major projects are funded in the budget, the county mayor said.
One is a $1.1 million expenditure for a new digital radio system for the sheriff’s department and EMS, the same one now used by the Greeneville Police Department and Greeneville Fire Department. That would enable all those agencies to directly communicate, Morrison said.
A new voice over IP telephone system for the courthouse and annex is included in the budget to upgrade the existing system, he said. The cost has been estimated at $250,000 in the past but may be less.
Another expenditure is the installation of a fuel depot to be used by county vehicles, Morrison said. It would be located at the Highway Department and would include an access system that would allow it to be used any time during the day.
Starting in July, Greene Countians will have a new way to assist those who may be struggling with utility bills.
A new, voluntary, bill round-up program for Greeneville Light & Power System customers was approved Monday by the utility’s board of directors. Proceeds will be designated to provide assistance in paying electric bills for the less fortunate, GLPS General Manager Bill Carroll said.
Customers will have to voluntarily opt-in to have their electricity bills rounded up to the next dollar each month. The difference — a maximum of 99 cents per customer monthly — is donated to help those in need in the community cover their utility costs.
“We hope people will see it as a way to help their neighbors who might need a bit of help with their electric bills,” Carroll said.
Donated funds will be administered by the Greeneville-Greene County Community Ministries Food Bank. “They have always do a good job administering Project Caring,” Carroll said. “This will be separate than Project Caring and be a supplement to that.”
Project Caring is a longtime GLPS program that allows customers to provide a small monthly donation to Community Ministries, which the utility matches — up to $2,000 a month.
During talks with the Community Ministries board, its board members expressed a desire to share part of the funds received through the round-up program with the Greene County Wood Ministry, Carroll said.
Both would fit the requirement found in state law for round-up programs, he said, and it would be up to the Community Ministries Board to decide how to share with the Wood Ministry.
GLPS has an existing round-up program that provides lighting for recreational facilities. Carroll said it has been estimated that at least $2 million had been given through that program to provide lighting at park and school facilities.
However, with GLPS changing to a municipal electrical authority structure, that round-up program could not continue under the new Greeneville Energy Authority, which is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.
State law dictates that round-up programs for energy authorities have to provide assistance for community support or economic development.
The process to take the necessary steps for the conversion to the energy authority is continuing, Carroll also reported. Notifications have been sent out to vendors so that any new contracts that need to be signed can be completed, he said.
However, since the utility will continue to do business as Greeneville Light & Power System, many new contracts may not be needed, he continued.
GLPS Attorney Ron Woods said the process to transfer the utility’s properties and other assets to the new energy authority is continuing.
In other business, the board approved the the purchase of a dump truck at a cost of $65,065 and 75 transformers of various sizes at the cost of $50,010.
GLPS recently received a high score in a safety audit by the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, Carroll reported.
Of the 260 items on the checklist, GLPS was written up on four, he said. Each was a minor issue, such as missing safety latches and a hacksaw not covered while stored on a bucket truck.
The power company has also received three certificates of commendation from the American Power Association for GLPS crewmen providing assistance last year in Florida and North Carolina following hurricanes and to Holston Electric Cooperative in East Tennessee following a harsh wind storm.
Carroll also reported that the system’s new electric car has been painted with a design advertising GLPS. The car has provided excellent performance thus far, he said.
The Tusculum Board of Mayor and Commissioners Tuesday night approved a 2019-20 city budget on first reading.
Commissioners will vote on a second and final reading of the city budget at the next Board of Mayor and Commissioners meeting on Monday, June 24. A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. on June 24 before the vote.
“It’s basically a continuation budget except for a few things,” Mayor Alan Corley told commissioners.
The extras include the purchase of a garbage truck with an automated pickup feature that will require citizens who want curbside service to purchase plastic tote containers similar to the ones used by the Town of Greeneville. A new truck is needed because the city’s 2004 truck in use will soon need major repairs, Corley said.
The proposed budget also designates $7,250 to go to Greene County 911 to support its services, including a new county central dispatch system that should be implemented later this year. The Greene County 911 Board of Directors recently requested $10,000 from the municipalities of Tusculum and Mosheim and $2,000 from the Town of Baileyton to augment requested allocations of $120,000 from the county and $40,000 from the Town of Greeneville.
Corley compared the populations of Greeneville and Tusculum to arrive at what he said was a figure reflecting a fair amount from the city based on its population.
The proposed budget includes estimated general fund revenues of $733,605 and expenditures of $720,896, for a surplus of over $12,000.
Purchases included in the proposed 2019-20 budget are supported by increased sales tax revenues of about $100,000 for the coming budget year, the result of what Corley said was taxes paid by existing businesses and the openings of the Aldi supermarket on U.S. 11E and the Chick-fil-A restaurant at Tusculum University.
“It is due to the continued success of our current businesses as well as the addition of new businesses like Aldi and Chick-fil-A,” Corley said of the revenue boost.
The fiscal year begins on July 1. The city of Tusculum has no property tax. Increased sales tax revenues help the city provide services to its citizens, Corley said.
Additional funds are designated in the proposed budget to provide part-time help to the city’s Public Works Department, police department and recorder’s office. The budget includes $8,000 for a part-time worker to work two hours a day to help with police department and recorder’s office paperwork. It also earmarks $2,500 for a public works part-time employee to work eight hours a week April through September, during mowing season.
“The rest of it I pretty much consider a continuation budget,” Corley said.
Corley said he consulted with city department heads and the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service in preparing the budget with Recorder John Lamb.
The city would buy the garbage truck, likely over a five-year term, on a lease-purchase basis. The truck will cost about $250,000, Public Works Director Warren Cutshall said.
“We continue to have problems with the 2004 (garbage truck)” and major repairs will be needed to keep it in service, Cutshall said.
The lease-purchase plan would cost the city about $60,000 annually until the truck is paid for, Corley said.
The truck now in use requires a driver and another worker to pick up garbage at curbside. The new truck with the automated system only needs the driver to pick up trash, freeing up the second worker for other duties.
“It would increase safety for our employees and it would allow us to collect garbage with one man, not two as we do now,” Corley said.
Corley said that about 600 to 700 city residents use the free weekly curbside trash pickup service. Cutshall priced the purchase of 1,000 of the plastic bins similar to those used in Greeneville that would be sold to the public for about $55 each at no profit to the city. Corley said it’s likely the city would purchase about 700 of the totes that could be used with an automated truck.
The cost to the city on that basis would be $38,500.
City officials are in discussion with Mack and other vendors that would provide the truck chassis. The truck could go into service later this year. Citizens must purchase one of the totes or use ones they already own to participate in curbside pickup, Corley said.
John Waddle, a county commissioner and a member of the 911 Board of Directors, recently sent letters to Tusculum, Mosheim and Baileyton municipal officials requesting they contribute to the 911 operating budget to help make up for projected budget shortfalls.
The Mosheim Board of Mayor and Aldermen recently denied the funding request. Tusculum officials agreed that $7,250, based on the city’s population compared on a per capita basis to Greeneville, is an appropriate amount.
“I think it’s a fair figure for that,” Vice-Mayor Barbara Britton said.
Corley, a former chief of the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department, said county 911 provides a vital service to the community and should be supported.
“That’s an important operation out there for everybody,” Corley said.
In other business:
The Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen has some homework over the next few days to finish 2019-20 fiscal year budgeting.
The board held its last budget hearing on Tuesday afternoon, and at the end of the session, City Administrator Todd Smith asked the board to review the proposed budget and requests from departments to prioritize what they would like to see funded in the year ahead.
The proposed budget given to the board members reflects the same allocations that each department or agency received in the current fiscal year’s budget, minus one-time funding for security cameras included in Greeneville City Schools’ 2018-19 funding, Smith explained.
In looking at projected revenues for the upcoming fiscal year, it appears the town will have $173,000 more than last year, he said.
Originally, it looked as if there might be a shortfall, and department heads were asked to go back and make cuts of items that were not essential in the upcoming year, he said. They were able to make $200,000 in cuts. The proposed budget in its current form would have the town operating on about $5,000 less than it is, Smith added.
The list of priorities will help give direction as the final proposed budget document is prepared, he said.
The board meets in regular session next Tuesday, but it was decided that aldermen need additional time to review the budget and requests. Smith said that the board could call a meeting in addition to its two regularly scheduled meetings in June to provide for the budget’s two required readings prior to July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
The board was in consensus to scheduled a called meeting on June 11 to consider the budget on first reading. It is then to be considered on second, final reading at the regular June 18 meeting. A public hearing will also be held at one of the meetings for public comment on the budget. All of the budget hearings have been open to the public.
Board members can provide further direction at the June 3 meeting into the budget document, Smith said.
At the budget hearing Tuesday, the board heard requests from Greeneville City Schools and other government and non-profit agencies seeking funding from the town.
The school system, which is a projecting a budget shortfall of $191,194, is seeking additional funding from the town to fund two teaching positions — a kindergarten teacher at EastView Elementary School due to enrollment increases, an additional special education teacher based on an increasing number of students that need more individualized instruction and $66,000 to share costs to replace the gymnasium floor at Hal Henard Elementary School.
The school system has been approached by private individuals offering to pay a third of the cost if the district and town pay the other two-thirds.
For additional information about Tuesday’s budget hearing and the town’s 2019-20 budget preparation, see Thursday’s edition of The Greeneville Sun.