By Max Hrenda
As Carter County officials worked to balance next year’s budget, they ultimately decided all departments should take a step back … in time.
The county’s Budget Committee voted 5-3 Thursday to return every county office’s operating budget to the total they operated under last year.
According to Finance Director Ingrid Deloach, who advised against the reduction, the county remains well short of a balanced budget.
“We’re at 18.68 pennies left to balance,” Deloach said, after the meeting.
That translates to approximately $1,492,024 for the commissioners to find. Before the committee entered a weeklong recess on May 30, however, it was faced with $1,772,604.64 left to cut.
Between denying funding requests and making cuts, the committee reduced the budget by approximately $280,580.64 during its Thursday night meeting.
At the outset of the meeting, however, some commissioners said making broad cuts could be necessary in reducing costs. Commissioner Lawrence Hodge began the conversation by asking what savings would come from a sweeping 2-percent cut.
“We give, and give, and give, and raise taxes, and give ever since I’ve been here,” said Hodge. “Nobody has mentioned cuts. Now I think it’s time to cut.”
Deloach calculated the county would save $279,600 with an “across-the-board” cut, but advised against the measure. According to Deloach, there are too many variables involved in the departments to make a sweeping, “across-the-board” cut.
“There are state laws,” Deloach said. “If you cut the sheriff’s budget, the sheriff has to approve it, or you can’t cut it. That’s one example.”
In addition to state laws, Deloach added that some services could lose some of their functionality if further cuts were made.
“When you look at feasibility, the Agricultural Extension, just for instance … would have to cut positions out of his office, and therefore cut services,” Deloach said. “We talked about pauper burials last week. That was already so low, we amended it three times in the last budget to get us to the end of the year. This would put us lower than that to start with.”
While the notion of the 2 percent cut was not pursued, the first two reductions came from motions by Commission Chairman Tom Bowers. Bowers first motioned for $4,580 to be removed from the county commission budget for membership in the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Counties, and travel expenses. Bowers then motioned to reduce every department’s line item for travel by one-half.
“There’s a lot of travel that could be cut out,” Bowers said. “You could do conference calls, conference meetings, teleconferencing. We could cut out a lot of our travel if we do that.”