The Signal Mountain Town Council unanimously wants to support the town’s employees with a pay increase but cannot decide where the money will come from. None of the members are happy with the options that they have, since this significant expense was added after a balanced budget had already been presented. Two scenarios are being considered: Taking $645,185 from the fund balance. That amount would include the $319,000 needed to implement the pay increases as well as items that were planned to be paid from the fund balance in the original version of the budget.
Other scenarios would be to raise the money from either a six-cent property tax increase or a combination of the two.
A pay scale study was recently done that revealed the town’s personnel are underpaid and that leads to difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees. After seeing the report, the personnel committee recommended implementation of a new pay scale. This leaves the town in a “lose, lose situation,” said Council member Vicki Anderson with no good choice for where the money to fund the increase and to pay for the study will come from.
"It was poor planning, but we cannot fix the past," said Mayor Charles Poss, referring to the timing of when results of the salary study were received. The report was really too late for this budget, said Councilman Andrew Gardner. "All we can do is get past this situation and do better next time," said Mayor Poss.
At the meeting Monday night, Councilmembers Anderson and Gardner both felt that it was too quick to implement a tax increase to cover the added costs because the citizens of Signal Mountain had not been notified of it with enough time to respond. Councilwoman Anderson made a motion to take the money out of the fund balance rather than raising property taxes.
"It pains me to take money from the fund balance," said the mayor. "We have to come up with $319,000 to pay for the study plus implement the pay increases."
Commissioner Dan Landrum believes it would be a mistake to take the money from the fund balance because it would cause next year to start with a deficit of $319,000. He said he believed it was “time to move forward and take our hits.”
Councilwoman Anderson suggested working backward by being made aware of upcoming large expenses in enough time to allow the council time to study and plan. Town Manager Boyd Veal said that is done most of the time. The variable in this case was timing of the delivery of the study and that was because the study should have been requested earlier.
A vote on the motion to take the money from the fund balance failed with a split of Gardner and Anderson for and and Landrum and Mayor Poss opposed. Vice Mayor Susannah Murdock, who was absent, will break the tie.
The council is dealing with two timelines. The 2022 budget must be passed by the end of August and setting the new tax rate and having it approved has a deadline of Aug. 20. The dates for meetings to decide both issues also have to allow time to be advertised. The first vote for setting the new tax rate will be held at the Monday, Aug. 9, council meeting. The second vote and public meeting on the tax rate is scheduled at a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 12.
The vote on a new rate for stormwater fees has been postponed to give 30 days to advertise the meeting. Mr. Veal said because of the timing, this year the stormwater fees can be billed separately and sent with explanations.
An application for a grant from the Tennessee state library and archives was approved for the purchase of library and digital materials. This grant comes from the American Rescue Plan COVID funds and is not to exceed $20,000. Signal Mountain will be responsible for a five percent match of $1,000. "This is a good opportunity to build up the library without using city money," said Councilwoman Anderson.
Two appointments were made to the Municipal Planning Commission - Brin Woodrow and Brent Morris.