Outgoing County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Tuesday morning that his final budget to the County Commission does not include a property tax increase.
He noted that the county schools did not ask for a tax hike, and he said county general government will not either. Spending in the current fiscal year is at $833 million.
The county fund balance (rainy day fund) is at $130 million. That is after a $16 million payment for McDonald Farm in Sale Creek.
To get to the balanced budget, he said $31 million had to be cut from $42 million in higher spending requests from the various departments and agencies.
The budget does not include the $71.4 million that the county is getting in American Rescue Plan funds. The county has gotten about half of that and is due to receive the remainder this month.
Thus far, the county has used $28,181,000 on Water and Wastewater Treatment projects, $3,325,000 on EMS ambulance upgrades, $656,000 for broadband expansion and $300,000 for the Lighthouse Collective.
County Mayor Coppinger said that employee compensation is the number one budget concern, including higher pay to recruit and retain employees in Emergency Medical Services, the Sheriff's Office (primarily corrections) and nurses, Highway Department workers, etc.
He said Highway Department employees "are woefully underpaid." The budget is to include funds to raise those employees to at least $31,000 per year. Some now are paid $23,000. The minimum pay will be above $15 per hour.
Sheriff Jim Hammond said earlier that he needs over $6 million to raise the pay of correctional officers at the Silverdale Detention Center. He said correctional officers are leaving faster than new ones can be hired to take their place.
County Mayor Coppinger said there were many expenses associated with dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but all of those will be covered by federal or state funds. He said the Health Department is beginning to ramp down from its high staffing levels during the pandemic.
The county is projecting a $4 million growth in property tax collections and $2.6 million in the sales tax. The county, with fewer bed spaces for inmates, had a $2.5 million drop in boarding federal and state inmates. The county also lost a $1.9 million state grant for infrastructure. The county mayor said that will no longer be available.
A request had been made for an additional magistrate to handle cases at the jail. County Mayor Coppinger said that is not to be funded, but the budget includes $40,000 for fill-in magistrates.
He said the county will have a savings of $134,000 per year since payments to General Sessions Court Judge David Bales for disability will end in September.
Major increases were listed as capital outlay $15 million, debt service $2.85 million, volunteer services (fire departments) $2.25 million and the county attorney's office $497,000 (to deal with additional lawsuits, including many dealing with the jail).
Salaries and employee benefits are 54 percent of general fund budget requests.
Requests for additional employees include 17 EMS (absorbing East Ridge ambulance service), five at Parks and Recreation and two in the County Commission office. The Health Department will drop 27 employees hired to deal with COVID.
There will be no increase in health insurance costs.
Currently there are 2,015 full-time county employees. Requests are for 2,013.
The average salary of a full-time county employee is $48,778.