Claiborne budget back to square one – with a caveat

Published 4:39 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2023

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After some three months of dissecting the new fiscal year 2023-24 budget the Claiborne Budget Committee has adopted its proposal in readiness for the full Commission to vote – except for one caveat. The committee members are taking a ‘look, see’ attitude where it concerns the property tax rate.

Wheel tax; no wheel tax; what if we have a referendum? Set the tax rate at $2.50; set it at $2.30? Add a wheel tax to the lower tax rate, or not?

The Budget Committee spent nearly three hours on Monday evening muscling up to the plate to see just where some fat might be trimmed. When the dust settled, the budget proposal was adopted with one $150,000 cut. The committee wrestled for well-over two hours desperately searching for something to trim. The charitable contributions were the first line item to be attacked. However, several committee members said they were not comfortable with cutting the contributions because of all the good that was done through the various nonprofit agencies. They did not budge when assured that any cuts made would be for just this budget year and that the contributions could be added back next year when the current shortfall is fixed.

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After a protracted discussion, the eight members present (Commissioner Nathan Epperson was absent) managed to produce a tie vote on the motion to do away with all contributions except the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and the 4H Program – effectively producing a failing vote. Those voting in favor were Commissioners Zachary Bunch, Mike Campbell, Mitchell Cosby and Zack Mullins. Those voting against the motion were Commissioners Sherry McCreary, David Mundy, Dustin Wilson and Steve Mason.

The Claiborne Sheriff’s Office was the next in line for the chopping block. Salaries and police cars were discussed. Again, some on the committee spoke against cutting salaries of those who perform a critical service. That left the $150,000 set aside for the purchase of department vehicles, which was eventually trimmed from the budget.

Audience member Wayne Lee, who spent 42 years in law enforcement and who was employed through five CCSO administrations, spoke of past years. Lee said the Sheriff’s Office went years without new cars. He said the department’s raises averaged about three percent during his years at the CCSO.

The current budget proposal, he said, works out to five-seven percent increases in department raises.

“You’ve got to face reality. You can’t afford it this year,” said Lee.

At one point, he asked just what the committee proposes to cut from the budget.

Commissioner Mullins proposed cutting the Claiborne Commission salaries from its current $350 to $150 per meeting. The motion failed due to a lack of a second to the motion.

A few other line items were looked at but motions came and went without garnering a second.

Commissioner Whitt Shuford, who is not on the committee, pointed out that some of the funds budgeted for the various offices are routinely left in the line-item funds. Shuford suggested transferring those ‘leftover’ monies into the general fund.

“I know it’s not a lot, but we’re choking on pennies,” said Shuford.

Each ‘penny’ budgeted for the new fiscal year is worth $67,680.

As it now stands, the property tax rate of $2.30 per $100 of assessed value will hold the tax levy space in the budget until the $70 wheel tax is adopted on its second reading – due to be heard on June 20. If it is adopted a second time, the budget committee will revisit the currently proposed property tax rate with an eye to reduce the levy.

A tax rate of $2.2711 will balance the general fund, according to Claiborne Finance Director Eric Pearson. Setting the tax rate at $2.30 will allow a drop or two of cushioning.

The resulting vote was five to three. Commissioners Campbell, McCreary, Mundy, Mason and Wilson voted in favor. Commissioners Mullins, Bunch and Cosby voted against the measure. Mason changed his initial ‘no’ vote to ‘yes’ in favor of the proposed budget including the temporary tax rate.

There will be a public hearing just prior to the regular monthly Commission meeting on June 20, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Anyone from the public wishing to speak during the hearing must file a form at the Claiborne County Clerk’s Office five days prior to the hearing.