A property tax increase in Red Bank would fund a sixth straight raise for the city's 62 employees, according to a preliminary budget plan that also cuts services.
Moments after eliminating $220,400 and lowering a proposed 33 percent tax increase to 20 percent, commissioners took no action against 2 percent across-the-board pay raises.
Without the 20 percent tax increase, Red Bank would face a $260,600 deficit, records show.
The raises add up to $59,000.
In a Thursday afternoon pitch to commissioners at City Hall, City Manager Chris Dorsey said city workers' pay needs "to stay competitive" with the private sector and other governments.
"We've lost a couple to TVA and Chattanooga just recently," Dorsey said afterward. "If you lose people, anybody new you bring in, you're spending money training that person, too."
Simultaneously, commissioners voted to curtail leaf pickup and debated eliminating a code enforcement officer. Commissioner Ruth Jeno opposed the latter idea, saying lack of enforcement would attract "lower-income families who don't take care of their properties."
"Everything we're doing here, we're rolling the dice," Mayor Monty Millard replied.
The property tax increase would be Red Bank's first since 2005.
The numbers aren't set in stone, officials said. A public workshop is scheduled for May 23, but a budget won't be finalized until June.
Thursday's budget session began with cordial financial debate and ended in bickering as Dorsey pushed without success to earmark $100,000 toward construction of a new city hall.
"When I bring an executive here, I get embarrassed to bring them in the front door," Dorsey said, raising his voice.
Commissioner Floy Pierce turned red.
"I'm proud of this city," she said.
Dorsey sank low in his chair.
"I'm talking about the structure," he said.
Commissioners didn't even think about amending a $46,000 line item for "general liability insurance" - money the city pays the Tennessee Municipal League for legal representation.
"I wouldn't recommend touching that," Dorsey said.
Last year Red Bank was sued five times for a combined $15 million, all involving its photo traffic enforcement program and police department.