Budget committee adopts sheriff’s salary increase proposals, discusses tax options for funding
Posted at 5:46 p.m. on Friday, November 11, 2022
By Danielle Morin
The Carter County Budget Committee met one last time Thursday night to continue discussing the proposed pay raise for employees of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office.
Before appearing before the full commission board on the 21st, the committee was expected to agree on an amount to raise wages, produce specific numbers on what the raises would cost the county each year, and discuss ideas. that could be presented to the board to fund the reminders.
Many in attendance expressed grievances with the results of the committee’s previous meeting on Oct. 25 where the proposed $5 per hour increase was reversed, with some suggesting $3.50 in its place. Jim Winchester, a community member present, addressed the committee, urging: ‘You need to pay these people enough money so you can compete in the marketplace and find good people, not bottom-of-the-barrel people. .”
Mayor Patty Woodby agreed, calling the situation “an absolute disgrace.” “We have to do better for our people,” Woodby said. “Law enforcement is by far the most important department in the county. Without it, we have no community.
Sheriff Mike Fraley told the committee, “I want to show you that I’m working with you,” further explaining that he would agree to make changes to the sheriff’s office to help make implementation of the new proposal possible. .
Since his election Sept. 1, Fraley said he has eliminated eight corrections officer positions and streamlined three administrative positions. The structural changes would free up about $434,000 per year. Fraley also said he would scrap “step increments” — a raise structure within the sheriff’s office that was put in place by the previous administration. “It is quite obvious that these increases have not been applied in the same way,” he said.
Removing the raise structure would slow the rate of salary increases and allow the county to properly lock in funding without worrying about these new salaries rising in the near future.
Woodby and Fraley said the employee increases are important to Carter County’s future for a number of reasons, one being the threat of decertification of the jail. If the sheriff’s office doesn’t increase its staff, it could lose federal certification, a fund that provides $2 million each year for the building’s operating costs. Woodby explained that if the jail is decertified, it must remain so for two years before the county can apply for recertification. That means the county would have to pay around $167,000 a month for 24 months to keep the jail open, a huge cost to the county.
In addition to savings on the building, if manpower increases, the county will no longer be required to pay police academy fees for new recruits. According to Fraley, eliminating police academy costs would save the county an additional $4,400 per recruit.
Woodby also cited the impact of revenue increases on employee morale, which goes far beyond just making people happy. “We have to help these people who want to have a career here,” she said. “Not only are they going to build a career, but they’re going to keep their families here, they’re going to put their kids in our [school] system, they’re gonna flip that [money] to the community when you pay them those wages.
After much discussion, the committee decided to move forward with the proposal in two separate motions: one to deal with raises for Carter County officers and a second to deal with raises for those non-commissioned officer jobs.
While the committee is pushing for both groups to be included in the increase, there are concerns that officers would lose this opportunity if council members refuse the motion on the grounds that non-officer roles should be exempted. Budget committee chairman Aaron Frazier explained the strategy behind splitting the proposal into two motions, saying, “That way if someone doesn’t like part of it, they won’t vote. against everyone just for this part.
Commissioner Robert Acuff launched the first motion to reinstate the previously rescinded $5 hourly wage increase for officers. The motion would include school resource officers, correctional officers and patrol officers in the pay increase. The committee voted unanimously in favor of the motion which would require funding of approximately $1.2 million.
Commissioner Cody McQueen implemented the second motion, to implement the same $5 an hour increase in non-officer roles within the Sheriff’s Office. Affected personnel would include clerical staff, dispatchers, computer technicians, and cafeteria workers, to name a few. Sheriff’s Deputy Abby Frye emphasized the importance of inclusion for non-commissioned officer positions, explaining that all Carter County Sheriff’s Office employees are “certified law enforcement officers.” and should enjoy the same privileges and salaries as any other officer. The committee again voted unanimously in favor of the second motion, which would require additional funding of $272,000. Once both motions were approved, the committee was tasked with providing possible sources of revenue to fund the $1.5 million proposal.
Woodby praised the committee, saying, “I promise you I will work hard to get this county to bring a revenue stream here to pay for this.”
With the new motions in place, committee members discussed viable options for increasing revenue to fund salary increases.
Frazier introduced the possibility of raising property taxes. “Every time we raise the tax by a penny, we generate revenue,” he said. For Carter County, each penny equals approximately $108,000 in county revenue. This means that increasing property taxes by just $0.16 could generate about $1.6 million in revenue for the county and would only cost homeowners an average $50 increase in property tax expenses.
Another idea on the table was to introduce a tax on wheels. Woodby had cited Greene County’s wheel tax success at the committee’s previous meeting, presenting figures of about $4 million in revenue for the county with a population similar to Carter County.
Frazier said he’s also looking at other ways to save the county’s money that could then be used to top up funding for the revenue boost. Some schools in Carter County, he said, are overfunded by $3 million — funds that could be used elsewhere in the community. He said the county was also in talks with a 501C3 organization that would take over the Elizabethton-Carter County animal shelter. If this happens, the county can also reallocate these funds to other budget items.
Some have expressed concern about how the tax increases will negatively affect Carter County seniors, who make up 56% of the population. Frazier agreed that tax increases are hardest on retired citizens, many of whom live on fixed incomes.
But Commissioner Donnie Cable pointed out that Carter County’s tax rate is much lower than surrounding areas, saying an increase would not leave Carter County residents overtaxed. Woodby went on to say that she spoke with members of the community and found that many would be in favor of small tax increases if it meant keeping law enforcement strong in the community. “If they know what it’s for,” she said, “people will understand and appreciate it.”
At the end of the meeting, Fraley congratulated the budget committee, saying, “I appreciate everything you’ve done, because it hasn’t been easy. You’ve worked hard, and we’re almost there,” Woodby added, “I want to congratulate this committee on a very effective meeting.
The budget committee will meet with the full commission on Monday, November 21 at 6 p.m. at the Carter County Courthouse to present their motions as well as possible ways to generate funds for the proposal. If approved, sheriff’s office staff can expect to see pay increases as early as Nov. 25. Fraley says he is hopeful of the outcome. “We are one step closer. I am convinced that we are getting where we need to be.