Tough budget ahead for Harriman

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There is one silver lining for taxpayers

By Cindy Simpson

Harriman residents can breathe a sigh of relief for now.

No property tax increase has come up so far during discussions of this fiscal year’s budget.

Residents shouldn’t expect any fancy new projects either, however.

“This is a lean budget,” said Councilman Lonnie Wright.

“It is the leanest I’ve had to work with,” agreed Treasurer Charles Kerley.

The budget also uses up the fund balance. Kerley said reserve funds are what is keeping the city in the black.

“(Harriman Mayor) Chris (Mason) does not want to raise property taxes, but next year we have to look at restoring fund balance,” Kerley said.

Kerley didn’t make a suggestion of how to replenish those funds, but he pointed out the city’s policy requires the city will have a fund balance which would cover approximately 10 percent of its expenditures.

A big-ticket item for the city is the cost of contributions to Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.

In 2010 the city contributed $158,000. Now it can expect contributions over $500,000.

“The state retirement system is a killer,” Kerley said. “Our rates have been increased significantly because of the cost-of-living adjustments and the low market value of the investment.”

Another problem is the fact the city has not yet been fully reimbursed for certain grant projects, namely the Cornstalk Heights Walking Trail.

There is a silver lining. A number of debts will be cleared in the next year or so, including loans for infrastructure at Pinnacle Pointe. Officials say about 35 percent of the property tax revenue goes to debt service.

Once that is over, $400,000 a year will be free for other projects.

Kerley is recommending to wait until next fiscal year to pay off a note that was used for paving.

The city will also make the final payment on its ladder truck for the fire department this year.

One large item the city will be tackling is giving building inspector Maria Nelson some money to work on demolishing dilapidated buildings.

Nelson requested $80,000 for cleanup, but she will be getting $60,000 to go toward such projects.

Sales tax continue to be a savior for the city of Harriman. At about $2.039 million collected in fiscal year 2014, it is significantly higher than any previous year.

In fiscal year 2009, the city collected $2.005 million in local option sales tax but in years since then have collected less than

$2 million until this past fiscal year.

Kerley said he’s cautious to think the city will generate the estimated $2.055 million he’s suggesting budgeting this year.

Still, the dependency on sales tax concerns Kerley, for one reason in particular. That is the lack of good-paying jobs for people to spend money locally.

“The problem we have in Roane County is the jobs and the number of dollars you (the people) have to spend,” Kerley said.

“If we can ever get some high paying jobs in significant numbers in Roane County that will raise everyone’s boat.”

The budget does include a 2 percent raise for employees, which officials said is a total of $60,000 in expenditures.

And of course, it does include $65,000 for a city manager position, which will be paid for through unfilled positions.

Officials believe a city manager can go a long way to helping the city cut costs and generate revenue.