Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Cocke Finance Committee
The Cocke County Finance Committee meeting Monday continued to hammer away at the development of a new budget. "We are in a financial crisis," suggested committee chair Forrest Clevenger. "The acceptance of the various department requests would leave the General Fund with an ending fund balance of about $380,000 on July 1, 2020." Director of Schools Manney Moore said his proposed budget includes a one percent across the board raise. Teachers also are to receive a 2.5 percent increase from the state. The system will save some money with a move to a different bus, and the fact that the state is allowing a longer bus life. Moore asked for additional funding to hire six more School Resource Officers at a cost of $240,000 annually. Assistant Director Casey Kelley said the state is also increasing assistance to address mental health issues in the school. Chair of the School Board Dr. Ken Johnson again pointed out that the schools had capital needs of $20 million in 1998 and those costs now have risen to $25 million. He said that is the amount that the school system will ask for in the new budget. Clevenger said he agrees there is nothing more important than education to move the community forward. He suggested the school upgrades would add 25 cents to the property tax rate and the same amount for the construction of a jail. So he said the residents are looking at a 50 cent property tax increase or the implementation of a $50 wheel tax. Recreation Director Brian Evans asked the committee to consider donating a 22 acre site for a recreation facility with four ballfields. He suggested that grant money is available for developing such a complex. Evans also wants a truck, new bleachers and upgraded floors in the recreation building. In other action, the body agreed to transfer $20,000 from the sheriff's department overtime line item to purchase ballistic shields for the department to be used when approaching an armed subject. The shields cost $1,750 each. "The world is getting more dangerous, and you can't put a price on a life," argued Sheriff Armando Fontes. In response, Clevenger said local residents want to see reductions in the department, but Fontes said many people do not understand the cost of protecting a community. The body also agreed to apply for a state tourism enhancement grant. Up to $75,000 is available, with a small local match. Mayor Crystal Ottinger said she hopes to use the grant money to do upgrades to the rafting take-outs for private boaters on the Pigeon River. In a follow-up to the May 9 meeting of the Finance Committee, Mayor Ottinger says the salary increase for the county trustee was instituted over four fiscal years, but the salary of the finance director was not increased over that time. Ottinger says the CLB had previously agreed to tie the salary of the Finance Director to that of the Trustee, and so the current budget request has the salary increase from $70,000 to $80,000 for Finance Director Heather McGaha.

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