Second try for budget in Rockwood

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By Cindy Simpson

Rockwood City Council will once again be considering a second reading on a budget this Monday, Nov. 15.
“Basically what I’m doing, I’m putting the budget we passed on first reading right, putting it on the table and I’m going to allow the council, if they have any amendments to that, I’m going to allow them in accordance with the law make recommendations,” said Mayor James Watts.
The suggested budget has some employees getting a raise while the rest are only up for a bonus.
This didn’t sit well with several Rockwood City Council members during discussion of the budget at a meeting last week.
“There seems to be an objection to providing raises to our finance people and to our Public Works manager,” Watts said. “If they, in fact, want to adjust that, they have the right as a council person to do that,” Watts said.
Watts said he had drafted a budget which gave raises to Public Works Director Tom Pierce, reorganized Rockwood City Recorder Jim Hines to a city coordinator position with a raise, and boosted the salaries of a handful of office staff “to get them in line with what others are being paid.”
Other than that, $45,000 was budgeted to give each remaining employee a bonus of around $700.
“That is for this year,” said Councilman Bill Thompson. “They have no guarantee they’ll get something next year.”
A second reading of the city budget was soundly defeated last Monday.
“I am against — 100 percent against — giving the increased salary to, I guess, four or five people if we cannot give an increase in salary to all our employees,” said Councilwoman Peggy Evans, who led the disagreement during both the first and failed second ordinance readings.
“There is no one I know of that works any hard than Tom Pierce, but I’m still against the raise,” she added. “It is not fair. I don’t care what kind of hat you wear.”
Evans said there are employees in the recreation department who make more than some people in the police and fire departments.
“I’m totally against any type of budget that much out of whack,” she added.
Watts said Evans was referring to former management workers whose salaries were not changed by a previous council when they were no longer in management.
Discussed again with more support was Thompson’s opinion the city should take steps to exceed the certified tax rate of 75 cents per $100 valuation, instead staying at the former 85 cents per $100 valuation.
“There is money there according to what we do with the tax rate,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the city cannot continue to struggle along and just get by.
“We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can get by with 75 cents,” Thompson said.
“I agree with Mr. Thompson on the property tax rate,” Councilman Harold Ishman said.
The problem, he said, is the time it would take to hold the meetings to exceed the certified rate and how that would impact city revenue, which would normally already be coming in.
One item Thompson said he was concerned about was losing more than $700,000 in grant money for improvements at the airport that the city would only need to match $75,000.
Collecting back property taxes are not a big concern, but City Attorney Elmer Rich told council he working toward a city tax sale, a threat to just a few property owners that are delinquent.
They include Victorian Square.
“They are way behind on taxes,” Peggy Evans said.
Rich said he hopes the thought of a tax sale will be enough motivation for people to pay.
“They are quite a ways behind,” Rich said. “They paid a year recently. Our back taxes are in excellent shape, except for that one and one other family that won’t pay.”
In addition to a failed budget, the city approved a resolution to accept a loan from U.S. Department of Agriculture not to exceed $697,000 and a grant of $253,000 for upgrades to the Rockwood Sewer Plant, creating an oxidation ditch.
These improvements are because the utility is on notice with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Interim Manager Willard Mead, who will be resigning Nov. 19, spoke along with Jack Southard of Fulghum & MacIndoe Associates Inc.
Both said the work was because of an order requiring a corrective action plan for violations at the plant.
“We’re certain the corrective action plan will need to be revised and cost estimates will have to be renewed,” Southard said.
“We cannot afford not to do this. We’re under a timegun on this,” Ishman said.
Watts said this would not fix all the problems but would allow the city to continue providing sewer.
Somewhere down the line the city will have to consider either talking to the county to provide sewer service or take the plant and go out to the main channel of the lake with it, according to Watts.
‘I don’t think we’ll be around here when that comes down,” Watts said. “I hope not.”
Ishman said getting out of the sewer business would be ideal.
He said he doesn’t believe the business would ever be profitable, pointing to the continued additional costs that come with more oversight.
The meeting to discuss the budget will begin at 7 p.m. in Rockwood City Hall.