The County Commission on Wednesday morning unanimously approved a no-tax-increase budget that includes $7.2 million in higher spending.
The county budget of $672,535,000 includes a 2.5 percent pay increase for employees. City employees got 1.5 percent raises.
Chairman Fred Skillern said the county has fewer employees and vehicles than the previous year.
He said health insurance has been the highest budget item in growth by far. That expense has been covered "by growth and savings," he said.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger said, "This budget is a reflection of my fiscally conservative beliefs. We have held the line on taxes for the fourth year in a row. Homeowners will not have to worry about an increase in their property taxes, business owners know they can go ahead and budget for the next fiscal year know their tax rate remains the same as it has been since I took office in 2011.”
He said the budget focuses on "education and public safety." He said 59.4 percent of county spending is going to the schools and the sheriff 's budget is up $1.9 million for operations. The county schools will get a $5.1 million increase to $399 million.
The higher sheriff funding will allow the hiring of eight new correctional officers at the county jail at a cost of $454,000. It funds 30 new sheriff vehicles.
The county mayor said there will be four fewer employees in county government - down from 1,319 to 1,315. He said two positions are down in the property assessor's office after a reappraisal was finished. General Sessions Court Judge Ron Durby, who has been getting county disability payments, is now off the payroll. The Criminal Court clerk's office is down one employee.
County Mayor Coppinger said medical costs are up 12 percent - a rise of $2.4 million.
He said the controversial $100,000 each for the nine County Commission members for "discretionary spending" is going off the county books. It will be taken from a line of credit.
To meet the budget, $2.6 million is being taken from the county fund balance, $2 million from the county schools fund balance and $600,000 from the sheriff and Juvenile Court clerk fund balances.
The county mayor said the county in the current year set aside $3.5 million from fund balance, but wound up not using any of that amount.
The budget anticipates a rise in property tax revenue of $2.3 million, an increase in EPB in-lieu-of-taxes payments of $419,000, and a rise of $391,000 in state taxes, including the Hall Tax.
Pension costs are up $2 million, while debt service costs are down $2.67 million.