published Thursday, May 10th, 2012

East Ridge fixes budget glitches, ready for vote

IF YOU GO

East Ridge City Council will hold an agenda session at 5:15 today at East Ridge City Hall, 1517 Tombras Ave. The council meeting starts at 6:30.

The budget that East Ridge City Council members are ready to hold their first vote tonight has seen a number of significant overhauls since it was first drawn up and -- as of Wednesday -- still contained some errors.

The proposed budget, given to council members April 12, has seen several versions. Council members have vacillated on how to handle property tax collection and recently directed City Manager Tim Gobble to include a 44-cent property tax increase to replace the city's monthly $15 sanitation fee.

A Times Free Press review on Wednesday found several thousand dollars' worth accounting errors in the latest version of the document, including one that showed the city paying $8,000 less than the actual amount for a councilman's health insurance.

The city will pay $11,659 for Councilman Jim Bethune's family health insurance plan, Gobble said. The budget had that payment listed at $3,000.

Bethune, 66, said he opted into the city's plan after retiring last month. He is eligible for Medicare, but his wife is not yet.

"It worries me that that figure was wrong in there," Bethune said. "I've also found some redundancies in the budget."

The city also budgeted $630 for unemployment insurance for the councilmen. Though they technically are city employees, Gobble said they should not be eligible for that benefit.

Gobble said he was unaware that the city had been paying unemployment insurance for councilmen for years. He said the payment had been broken out by a payroll function on a computer program that his staff would have to override.

The newspaper also discovered $9,000 figure allotted for worker's compensation in one department had been repeated.

"Looks like you just saved us money there," Gobble told a reporter.

Budget manager Diane Qualls said she would make corrections before tonight's meeting.

Bethune said he planned to try to get the initial vote tabled so council could hold a public budget workshop.

"We're going way too fast, and there's some things in there that I've got questions about," he said.

The council has not held any public budget workshops so far this year. One had been scheduled for Monday night, but council members instead spent the evening discussing property tax collection and sanitation fees.

Gobble said he has spoken to several councilmen individually or in emails.

Frank Gibson, head of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said it is not uncommon for councils to hold budget workshops between the first and second readings.

A public hearing will be held on May 24 before the second reading.

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