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A special-called session… Elizabethton City Council meets to address old business ahead of new fiscal year

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
The Elizabethton City Council met in a special called session on Monday to take care of a small slate of old business that needed to be addressed before a new fiscal year started on July 1, 2020.
In the first piece of business, the board unanimously approved the second reading of the fiscal year 2019-2020 year-end budget ordinance after no one spoke during the public hearing portion in regard to the ordinance.
The ordinance was the final budget amendment for the fiscal year for any items that were incorrectly budgeted.
With the approval, it will allow for correction to the budget for the Carter County fiscal year 2020 appropriation to the Elizabethton Library to be corrected which was incorrectly budgeted which will increase the revenues and expenditures.
Also, the Zuercher police software which was initially budgeted in a capital line will be transferred to an operating line allowed by moving the expenditures to the appropriate category.
As a result of this amendment, the estimated revenues and appropriations will increase by $9,400.
The second business item was the public hearing and second reading of the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget and property tax rate ordinance for tax year 2020.
This will allow for the city to begin the new physical year with the tax rate remaining at $1.85 which was set for the 2019 tax year without any changes to the 2020-2021 budget numbers from the first reading.
There were a couple of items that did arise from the first reading as funding for the Covered Bridge Rehabilitation was solidified with the TAP grant in the amount of $797,424 and proceeds from the settlement of the Tweetsie Railroad ROW lawsuit came in with a value of $439,047 with a recommendation made to add the project to the General Fund budget.
Also, Water Resources was in need to replace a crane truck coming in just shy of $100,000 which was not originally anticipated when the budget was put together.
It was noted that the replacement was needed for the safety of personnel as well as for setting and removing valuable pieces of equipment. The current crane truck being utilized is 19 years old and to refurbish the current vehicle would fall somewhere near the 60 percent total of a new truck.
Also, with the approval, City Council approved the addition of $182,396 ($145,917 Federal and $36,479 local) for construction on the Elk Avenue Bridge repair.
One item that came up that provided a lengthy conversation during this portion of business concerned the City Street and Sanitation Department budget in regard to staffing which is currently short four workers with another one scheduled to leave in two weeks.
City Councilman Michael Simerly questioned if this was the appropriate time to see about adding the monies needed to either keep the current workers or for getting qualified candidates in the hiring pool.
The current issue stems from the fact that workers with Elizabethton City are currently finding employment elsewhere for what they deem as higher pay without considering that many of the other locations don’t offer the employees the benefits they currently receive from Elizabethton City including retirement and insurance which is fully covered for individual employees at 100 percent.
In essence, what might seem like a two-dollar pay increase for example from $12 to $14 could actually result in the employee falling on the flip side once insurance is taken into consideration if they have to pay 20 percent of their plan plus not having any retirement benefits 30 years down the road.
City Street and Sanitization director Danny Hilbert stated that it has been hard to fill the open positions.
“We are four people down now in the Street and Sanitization department and I will be down five on the 10th of July going to the street department in Johnson City,” said Hilbert when asked by Mayor Curt Alexander about his current staffing.
“We had five people apply and they all applied for the same jobs. Once we started into looking at applications, we had one called in that said he wasn’t interested anymore he was going someplace else for more money.
“One had to be discarded because of his reference and background check it wasn’t good. We had a young man with a college degree who came in who wanted to work outside. The paperwork was sent down about him and two other guys and the ink hadn’t even got dry when he was contacted by HR and he said he didn’t want the job.
“One wouldn’t answer his phone and the other had a record that wasn’t good,” Hilbert continued.
“I say that to say this, the folks that we are getting to apply for these jobs, we aren’t getting qualified people and the last three or four times that we have interviewed, the problem has been money. I even had a guy get up and walk out after he found out what the money was saying he couldn’t feed his family on that.”
The council agreed that Hilbert and City Manager Daniel Estes would meet and look at what would be needed to help resolve the issue.
Councilman Jeff Treadway stated that his only concern would be that once this was done, it would create a domino effect in the other departments.
Possible recommendations included raising garbage pickup by one dollar and increase the pickup on commercial as well.
Councilman Richard Barker said that a pretty hefty increase had just taken place in regard to roadside pickup and didn’t think it would be good to increase again so soon.
The Council closed out the agenda by unanimously approving on second reading and public hearing the fiscal year 2020-2021 Elizabethton City Schools Budget Ordinance.