Red Bank Commission Majority Removes Spending Sought By Mayor, Vice Mayor; No Decision Made Yet On Possible Tax Increase

Tuesday, June 22, 2021
From left are Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton, Ruth Jeno, Mayor Hollie Berry, Attorney Arnie Stulce, Pete Phillips and Ed LeCompte.
From left are Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton, Ruth Jeno, Mayor Hollie Berry, Attorney Arnie Stulce, Pete Phillips and Ed LeCompte.

After still another stormy, confusing budget session, the majority on the Red Bank Commission voted Tuesday night to remove extra spending from the budget sought by Mayor Hollie Berry and Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton.

Voting against the spending were Pete Phillips, Ed LeCompte and Ruth Jeno.

No decision has yet been made on whether or not to keep the current $1.39 tax rate even after reappraisal figures are in that normally would require lowering the rate to prevent a "windfall" from the 40 percent appraisal increases.

Vice Mayor Dalton said it would not be an overall 40 percent hike for Red Bank residents, saying that county government is going to roll back to the certified tax rate and Red Bank citizens would not face any additional taxes on the county level.

At the last meeting, the commission expected to vote on the slimmer budget, but found they were still voting on the one with the mayor and vice mayor's version. Commissioner Phillips said rather than have another special meeting that budget was approved on first reading with the plan of trimming it down with amendments at the second and final reading.

Commissioner Jeno did so, reading out a long list of budget line items that were cut from the mayor and vice mayor's version. She said it was "getting back to what was originally submitted" by former City Manager Tim Thornbury and department heads. 

She said, "Last week was a total fiasco."

Commissioner Jeno said of discord on the panel. "I'm sick of this baby stuff. I'm just tired of it."

Mayor Berry said the amended budget "excludes all of the things I advocated for. I'm the only one who should have heartburn."

Commissioner Phillips said better decisions on extra spending could be made in August. He said, "Right now we're kind of shooting in the dark."

Concerning acrimony on the commission, Mayor Berry said, "No one else up here is saying they don't like anyone else." 

Mayor Berry made a motion to raise the pay for part-time Red Bank firefighters from $11.30 per hour to just over $13 an hour. She said she was compromising because she initially sought $15 an hour. She said the upward pay adjustment would also flow through to higher paid Red Bank firefighters.

Commissioners Jeno and Phillips said they would also like to increase fire pay, and said commissioners would know more about the budget in August. They said there might be enough funds identified by then for that and other increases.

Commissioner Jeno said the most important factor was having a balanced budget. She said, "We have to live within our means."

She said most of the Red Bank part-time firefighters are Chattanooga firefighters working second jobs.

Commissioner Jeno said the lowest paid Red Bank firefighter earns $37,013. She said they also get an $800 in-service training payment as well as a Christmas bonus. She said they get a package of benefits worth $15,000. Mayor Berry said, "You can't pay your rent or buy groceries with benefits."

Cost of the firefighter pay amendment was $53,684.

The amendment was denied with the same 3-2 vote.

After hearing from a line of disgruntled citizens, the commission then approved the slimmed down budget that did not include such extras as the city purchasing 50 library cards and setting up a curbside recycling program. Commissioner Jeno said the city's recycling center is moving to a five-day-a-week schedule.

The budget includes a two percent pay increase for employees.

There was discussion about a $14,000 increase in the budget relating to a pickleball court. John Alexander, longtime finance manager, said, "I was told to put it in. I didn't do it on my own accord. I'm not a pickleball player." That amount would pay for making off a pickleball court on an existing tennis court, but there was also discussion about building a new pickleball venue at a cost of $400,000.

In citizen input, former state Rep. Richard Floyd hit the fact of "thinking about raising taxes by 40 percent in this small community. I'm really scared to see the momentum that is swinging to the left."

Another citizen said he saw an ad for Red Bank firefighters and "I was shocked and kind of embarrassed by how little we were paying them." He said he was not afraid of bearing a share of additional taxes.

Another speaker said she was "embarrassed" that the commission meetings could be viewed on YouTube. 

A coffee shop manager said he pays 17-year-olds more than Red Bank part-time firefighters earn.

Greg Jones said, "I'm embarrassed to be in a city with the leadership we have."

Susan Bell, who called herself "a refugee from California," said that state "is a poster child for what lack of research and poor decisions can do."

Kathy Lennon, former school board member, said Red Bank should be vibrant, but nothing is going on. She said, "You don't want to change. You want to stay stuck not doing anything different. What's wrong with having curbside recycling for pity's sake?"

Mr. Alexander said the city commissioners may have the opportunity on July 13 to undergo "civility training" so you "can work together better." 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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