Mount Carmel's proposed 2020-21 budget showing $255K surplus

Jeff Bobo • May 19, 2020 at 4:00 PM

MOUNT CARMEL — While the COVID-19 shutdown has had a major economic impact on cities like Kingsport that rely heavily on sales tax revenue, property tax dependent Mount Carmel appears to be poised for one of its best budget seasons in years.

Last Thursday, Mount Carmel City Manager Mike Housewright presented the Board of Mayor and Aldermen a proposed 2020-21 fiscal year budget showing a $255,000 surplus.

The city is also projected to end the current fiscal year at least $300,000 in the black.

The 2019-20 savings figure was originally listed at $615,000, but Housewright is asking the city to use some of those surplus funds to purchase equipment, including a new excavator, before the current fiscal year ends. That would allow the city to do more major projects in-house and hopefully save more money in the long run. 

Mount Carmel is expected to end the current fiscal year with a fund balance of approximately $4.5 million.

“It's good that we have property tax”

Mount Carmel has always been a bedroom community, and although city leaders actively recruit retail development to help balance the tax base, property tax remains its primary source of revenue. As a result, city coffers haven’t yet been affected by the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I thought I'd never say this, but I think it's good that we have property tax instead of sales tax,” Vice Mayor Jennifer Williams said during Thursday’s budget workshop.

Alderman Pat Stillwell praised Housewright and his staff for being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.

“I'm really pleased with our department heads because they really budgeted their money, and they've not spent it all at one time,” Stilwell told the board during Thursday’s meeting. “Now they've saved money so that if something comes up they've got the money. We've got some of the strongest leaders right now that we've had.”

What this budget accomplishes

The budget presented by Housewright adds one police position so that there will be two officers patrolling the city overnight seven days a week instead of just one.

It also purchases one new patrol car to replace a high-mileage vehicle in the fleet.

“We're trying to get into a pattern in which we would buy one or two cars per year so that we don't get into a situation where we're replacing the entire fleet in one year,” Housewright told the Times News on Monday. “One year we purchased five cars in one fiscal year.”

This budget also covers the cost of hiring a new CFO early enough to be trained by longtime CFO Tammy Conner, who is retiring at the end of December. 

A 3% overall increase in employee salaries was also included in this budget proposal, although Housewright said it won’t be an across-the-board 3% raise for employees. Instead, each employee will receive an evaluation and will be eligible for up to a 35 cent pay increase based on that evaluation.

There’s also $160,000 allocated for a new brush truck. Currently the city has two brush trucks, one of which will be surplussed, and then the other truck will be a backup.

One cut approved by the BMA was the Senior Center contribution, which was $17,000 in the current fiscal year and was requested at $30,000 but was instead cut to $12,000 in the 2020-21 budget proposal.

“We've been fortunate this year”

Housewright attributed this year’s budget to “good department heads who have been very involved in the budget.”

“What I've explained to the budget heads is to be fiscally conservative because these surpluses are where you'll fund your employee raise opportunities; it's where you find your ability to purchase equipment you need and the opportunity to pull the trigger on larger scale projects,” Housewright said. “There are cuts, but there aren't cuts in the sense that we're eliminating any position or cutting pay. It's more of a restructuring of how we've done things, making smart decision on utilities and finding more efficient ways of doing what we do.”

Housewright added, “We've been fortunate this year compared to what other communities are struggling with that have a large retail base they rely on. Most of our revenue is property tax, so the shutdown won't hit us as hard.”

The BMA is expected to consider the first reading of this budget at its May 28 meeting. Housewright said it’s not yet known if that will be a public meeting, but when a decision is made the public will be notified.

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