The Signal Mountain Council has put off a budget decision, with other members not backing a 22-percent tax hike recommendation by Mayor Dan Landrum.
The town of Signal Mountain is facing increasing expenses and reduced income and the council must decide what to do. A grant that helped pay the salaries for firefighters at the new fire station will soon end and the town will become entirely responsible for those employees.
Multiple projects have increased in cost since they were begun. This leaves Signal Mountain to pay the differences from the original amounts that were planned. Paving has had one of the largest increases and, after the rainy winter that left roads in bad condition, the cost to fix them is extremely high. It now costs $220,000 to pave one mile. An additional 1.25 miles added to what was originally planned for resurfacing will cost $338,000. And, 2020 is the last year that income will be received from the Hall state income tax.
A series of budget meetings have been held that began with a proposed budget created by Town Manager Boyd Veal, based on prioritized requests from department heads. He said the budget he created is balanced assuming an additional $700,000 is generated. One way that was suggested to raise that amount was adding an $18 per month sanitation fee instead of it being paid for from property taxes as it currently is.
The recommendation of a 22 percent property tax increase came out of the budget meetings,and Mayor Landrum wanted to make decisions at the council meeting Monday night that would be given to the city manager for drafting the 2019-2020 budget. None of the council members were ready to commit to the large tax increase except for the mayor.
Additions that were made to Mr. Veal’s original proposed budget included a five percent increase for all employees except himself. The council recommended Mr. Veal to be included in the raise. A $1 per hour raise for a police officer who also serves as the town’s IT person and an additional 1.25 miles of paving was also recommended. Adding one police officer has been requested by Police Chief Mike Williams. This has been considered, partially to have an officer available for mutual aid calls with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department which provides policing services to Walden. The chief said the population of Signal Mountain has doubled since 1980 but the number of police has remained the same. With the increase of people, traffic and the number of calls have also increased.
Both Vice Mayor Amy Speek and Council member Robert Spalding had given prior notice of previous obligations and that they would not be available to meet when the budget talks were scheduled. The two suggested having another meeting when all could be present, despite the mayor pushing for decisions to be made Monday night. "Even though two members were absent, you met anyway," Ms. Speek told the mayor, and "found a solution which was to raise taxes 22 percent." She said she wanted to look at areas that can be cut back before voting for the large tax increase. Councilman Spalding would like for the public to come to the meetings and contribute to the debates.
The council decided to have another budget planning meeting in May where the public is invited to participate. The date is to be announced. After recommendations are given to the town manager and the budget ordinance is written, there will be a first vote, and a public meeting before the second vote on the 2019-2020 budget.
In regular business, the council passed ordinances relating to short term rentals in order to comply with Tennessee state laws. Short term vacation rentals will now be part of the town’s zoning ordinance so that the administrative hearing officer can hear violations and issue penalties that can be up to $500 per day. A public meeting will be held on this ordinance amendment before the second reading on June 10.
The town code was amended to do away with the $15 yearly permit fee and inspections for residents who keep chickens. The initial inspection and $35 fee will remain. After 10 years of allowing chickens, there have been no issues, said Council member Spalding. If a problem arises with no yearly inspections, they can be reinstated.
A resolution appointed Laura Malone as a member of the Signal Mountain Beautification Subcommittee. The amount of $28,033 was approved to cover added work for the removal and replacement of the water line associated with the Shoal Creek Falls Bridge replacement. It is expected that traffic will be on the bridge at the end of May. A Dodge Ram 1500 for the fire department was approved at the cost of $32,757.