After more than a month of negotiation and updates to the town of Signal Mountain's proposed fiscal year 2020 budget, councilors passed a yet-again amended version 3-2 on first reading July 8.

Councilors voting "no" were Vice Mayor Amy Speek and Councilman Bob Spalding.

The second reading, including a public hearing, will be held at the council's July 22 meeting.

The budget includes a 32-cent tax increase from last year, taking the rate from 1.5665 to 1.8866 per $100 of assessed value.

Changes from previously proposed budgets include the removal of additional raises for management-level staff, who had been given 10%-24% raises to align their salaries with that of the new water director, a position which officials anticipate filling at an annual salary of $75,000, said Town Manager Boyd Veal.

The unfilled new position of youth recreation coordinator and associated revenue and expenditures were also removed from the amended budget.

Councilors also chose to reduce the $338,000 added for paving in Veal's recommended budget to $268,439.

The sanitation fee included in the original recommended budget was also removed, and funding for sanitation will come out of the general fund as it has in the past, Veal said.

The purchase of rapid intervention packs for the Fire Department was added to the amended budget, because the town received a grant to offset that $7,000 expenditure, said Veal.

Near the June 30 end of the last budget year, the town received a $5,000 donation from a citizen specified for use by the Fire Department which was also added into the final budget, he said.

Additional revenue is now budgeted for the water department to reflect the change in rates, which were approved after the original budget was produced. Capital projects for the water department, including purchasing meters and associated software, were also added into the budget, said Veal.

During the July 8 meeting, the council also discussed the process of replacing Spalding, whose resignation goes into effect July 15.

Town Attorney Harry Cash said that according to the town's charter, the council could not vote on a replacement until its next meeting July 22, after the position had been vacated. If the vacancy is not filled within 30 days of July 15, the Hamilton County Election Commission will schedule a special election at the expense of the town, he said.

Mayor Dan Landrum suggested the council take a ranked vote, as it has to fill past vacancies, to select two of the three citizens who applied to fill the vacancy. Councilors would then cast a final vote to fill the position.

Candidates include Signal Mountain Planning Commissioner Cheryl Graham, former Planning Commission Chair Melissa Cantrell and attorney Peter Harrison.

Responding to Councilman Bill Lusk's comment that he had questions he'd like to ask the candidates prior to the vote, Cash said that if candidates are asked a question about something that will be voted on in the future, that could be seen as making a decision on a candidate based on an issue, which he recommended the council avoid.

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