County budget OK'd

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

With only one remaining item in contention, the Loudon County Board of Commissioners approved Thursday a $65 million budget that will include no pay raises in 2012-13 but an increase in the amount employees must pay toward insurance premiums.

After Commissioner Steve Harrelson made a motion to adopt the county general fund for the new fiscal year, Commissioner Bob Franke made an amendment that would maintain the current salary level for commissioners - $8,000 for each commissioner - until the full board could discuss the issue in a workshop.

The budget committee previously recommended that the board cut the total salary for all commissioners in half, from $80,000 per year to $40,000.

Commissioners Don Miller and Sharon Yarbrough dissented on Franke's recommendation.

"I felt it was the least - as far as the  leaders in this county - that we could do under the circumstances," Yarbrough said. "It's a very tight budget. The revenues are very tight. The expenditures are very conservative, and we hear what not only employees but citizens of the community are saying to us. This seems to be a step that we can take to show that we are earnestly trying to do our job."

Miller said Loudon commissioner salaries are higher than most counties in the state, lower than only Knox and some other larger counties.

"I think we're clearly out of line, so clearly out of line that it just jumps out at you, and, secondly, I think if we're asking our employees to make sacrifices we should be willing to do the same," Miller said before making his "no" vote.

Franke's amendment passed 7-2, with Commissioner Austin Shaver abstaining.

Harrelson recommended that the board reinstate $15,000 previously cut from the Loudon County Fire & Rescue budget. The station had requested $100,000, while the budget committee recommended the county fund $85,000.

Franke said Fire & Rescue had not pursued other funding avenues as have other departments, which use a subscription plan to allow residents to pay dues for certain services.

"They've had the opportunity to go out and do subscriptions and have never pursued that opportunity to do that," Franke said.

"Although they do have that opportunity, so do the other fire departments, and yet we're increasing their budget and decreasing Loudon County Fire & Rescue," Commissioner Brian Jenkins said.
"Doesn't make sense."

Miller said other department budgets were much lower than Fire & Rescue because they get funding from different sources in the county.

"In most cases, it's subscriptions, and I guess we'd kind of like to see the Loudon County Fire & Rescue do something like that, at least give it a shot," Miller said. "If it doesn't work, then I would support them for whatever they need."

The vote to reinstall $15,000 in funding for the department passed 7-3, with Miller, Yarbrough and Franke voting against.

In other business, the board:

● Set the health insurance premium rate for county employees at 15 percent, which is a 3 percent increase from the current fiscal year. The goal is for the rate to increase by 3 percent each year until it reaches a 25 percent employee contribution. The vote was 6-4, with Jenkins, Harrelson and commissioners Harold Duff and David Meers dissenting.

● Approved more than $1.6 million in recommended funding for various nonprofit organizations in the county.

● Declared Shaver's seat vacant as of July 16. Shaver, who works for the Baker Donelson law firm, previously accepted a position at the company's Nashville branch. He served on the board four years. The seat will remain vacant until November. For more information on the seat, call the elections office at 865-458-2560.