ELIZABETHTON-The Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission drew closer to completing a proposed budget for the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year on Monday night.
Chief Deputy James Parrish gave the budget request for the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, which was the final office to report this year.
As he has during several previous appearances before the Budget Committee and the Carter County Commission, Parrish once again emphasized the pay differential between the Carter County Sheriff’s Department and neighboring departments, such as Sullivan County and Washington County.
Parrish thanked the committee for the previous employee bonuses the county has distributed this year. He said that has helped, but the sheriff’s department’s personnel situation is still critical, with 19 vacant positions. He said the starting pay for jail officers at the beginning of the year is $ 12.02 per hour. He said that made it difficult to attract new employees when fast food restaurants were paying $ 13.50 per hour. It is even more difficult when surrounding counties were paying $ 16.80 per hour and were successful recruiting Carter County’s trained corrections officers.
Parrish said the situation could become even more critical if the personnel shortage forces the county to end its contract to house federal prisoners in the Carter County Jail. He said that contract brings in $ 900,000.
Parrish did say the $ 5,000 bonus from American Recovery Plan funds for county employees who worked during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic would be a help if the County Commission approves it. Parrish said he would use the bonus by “pitching it for retention.”
Parrish told the committee that “there are hard decisions that are going to have to be made” and that the pay scale is continuing to fall behind as inflation continues to rise.
In other matters, the committee unanimously approved $ 15,000 in funds to extend water lines on the Danner Bridge and $ 60,000 on the Blevins Hollow Bridge.
The committee also voted to recommend the county return to the way the half-cent portion of the local option sales tax had been distributed in the past. Since the half-cent had been approved by a countywide referendum, the revenue had been shared with Elizabethton and Johnson City schools. At the start of the current fiscal year, that had changed and the county had not divided the revenue. County Attorney Josh Hardin said the division was mandated by state law, and said it would not be difficult to correct because none of the money had been spent. The money is designated to be used for capital projects in accordance with the specifications of the creating referendum.
The committee also reviewed the priorities that are still listed for receiving revenue from the county’s share of the American Recovery Plan funding. The largest amount is the proposed Carter County emergency communications network, which is estimated to cost $ 3,700,000. The next largest would be the extension of broadband Internet into the remote and mountainous sections of the county for $ 2,500,000. The third largest would be a $ 5,000 bonus per employee required to have worked during the pandemic from March 2020 to Nov. 21, 2021, estimated to cost $ 1,400,000.