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Mayor Virgil Holder (left) and Vice Mayor Samantha Rector (right) argue about spending and the budget workshop meeting only three commissioners attended.
some text Mayor Virgil Holder (left) and Vice Mayor Samantha Rector (right) argue about spending and the budget workshop meeting only three commissioners attended.

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — As city leaders prepare to pass a budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, it's clear not all of them are on the same page.

At the South Pittsburg City Commission's June meeting, Ordinance 799, which sets the budget for the next year starting on July 1, was introduced on first reading.

"We've gone over the revenues several times with [the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service], and for some reason or another, some of our taxes and what-not are a little bit low," City Administrator Gene Vess said. "We really don't understand why." MTAS is an independent advisory service.

He said the city's next budget of $2.062 million is a "conservative figure" compared to previous budgets.

"In order to live within that budget, we had to cut some things out of the budget, reduce some of the departments," Vess said. "We looked at being a whole lot more conservative."

One of those areas affected is on "the community relations end," Vess said, but he did not elaborate on that point.

The budget does not include more money to cover expenses for the city's garbage service.

"If we don't do something, we're going to have to transfer probably approximately $33,000 out of the general fund to cover garbage [expenses]," Vess said.

The board voted earlier in the meeting to start the process to request proposals for companies to vie for South Pittsburg's garbage service.

The city's property tax rate, already the highest in Marion County at 99 cents per $100 in assessed value, will not change.

Vess said he didn't recommend any capital fund investments for the next fiscal year "unless we get into a real emergency."

The board voted 3-0 to approve the ordinance on first reading.

Mayor Virgil Holder and Commissioner Ronnie Lancaster abstained.

"I still have questions about some of the figures," Holder said.

Vess asked if the board's meeting would not be an appropriate time to discuss Holder's questions.

"No, sir," Holder said. "It's not. I'm going to go back through it [the budget] again and look because you're using MTAS' numbers, and with MTAS' numbers, we wound up $483,000 in the hole over budget last year."

Vice Mayor Samantha Rector said MTAS was not at fault for South Pittsburg's overspending.

"We bought four police cars," Rector said. "We've paved streets. We've purchased things and done city improvements that MTAS didn't know we were going to do. A budget is set for the year. You try to stay in that budget."

Holder said he understood but was "not comfortable" with Vess' budget numbers.

Rector asked Holder why he didn't attend a recent three-hour workshop on the budget.

"I wasn't here," Holder replied. "I wasn't here."

Lancaster said he didn't attend the budget workshop because no one told him about it.

"The only one that's sitting at the table who did not know anything about the budget [workshop] is Ronnie Lancaster," Vess told the board. "All you other four did know about the budget on May 24. It was sent to you electronically. You've had since May 24 to look at it."

Holder said no other information came along with the email about the budget.

"That's why we had a workshop, mayor," Vess said.

"No, sir," Holder told him. "You get the information beforehand."

Later, the board unanimously approved Ordinance 800, which is a budget amendment for the 2018-2019 fiscal year to cover last year's overages to which Holder referred.

The non-budgeted items included $157,000 for street improvements, $87,000 for engineering services, $35,000 for what Vess called a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "reprimand" for illegally burning brush, $33,000 to buy the building adjoining the Princess Theater, and $45,000 for a bucket truck and other equipment.

A public hearing along with a second and final reading of the next fiscal year's budget ordinance will take place at the board's next meeting on July 9 at 6 p.m. CDT, unless city leaders hold a special called meeting beforehand.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com

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