By LISA WHALEY
General Manager & Editor
It was a mix of good and not-so-good news for town employees as Jonesborough’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen marched ahead in its 2016/2017 budget process Monday night.
The final vote on the budget is set for June 30.
In addition to a unanimous vote at the June 20 meeting approving a new compensation package for employees that includes a 3 percent raise, the board also laid on the possible budget chopping block two town positions, as well as potential new cruisers for the Jonesborough Police Department.
“We are a different town workforce than a short time ago,” Mayor Kelly Wolfe said, voicing his support of appropriate employee compensation, something town officials had targeted in the past several years. “It’s hard to do a job well when you don’t pay them enough to begin with.”
The new compensation plan calls for four years of step increases, with a 5 percent grade increase every five years to help keep the entire plan competitive.
Town Administrator Bob Browning also pointed out that the proposed compensation includes the town’s attempt to ensure it meets with the new Department of Labor guidelines on overtime pay. Under the new standards, Browning said, an employee must make $47,476 annually to be considered exempt. To that end, adjustments have been made, for example, to the positions of director of tourism and marketing, the water park director and the McKinney Center director to reach exempt status.
Recommended salaries for the new budget year include $47, 924 for McKinney Center Director Theresa Hammons; $48,854 for the soon-to-be-vacated director of tourism and marketing position, and $48,854 for Water Park Director Matt Townsend.
Town Administrator Bob Browning is slated to receive a recommended $86,047 salary, with Town Operations Manager Craig Ford at $85,334. Chief of Police Matt Hawkins is recommended to receive $55,475 annually, with Fire Chief Phil Fritts salary set at $57,142.
As for the tougher stance on some of the budget items, that is an effort, according to Mayor Wolfe, to ensure that the town not only meets its budget, but also can plan ahead for the future.
“We need to look at everything we do,” agreed Alderman David Sell.
The new budget does not include a property tax increase, proposing instead to keep the current rate at $1.3105 of $100 of assessed value. An increase in water rates and garbage rates are currently included in the 2016/2017 budget and will be discussed and voted on at the June 30 meeting.
Wolfe proposed taking money in the budget set aside for new police cars to use for some badly needed paving in town.
“What we need to do is stretch the cars one more year,” Wolfe said. “In my opinion, that money this year needs to be looked at to pave some streets and intersections — which are in and of itself a public safety issue.”
Wolfe also recommended leaving two entry-level positions currently vacant in the town’s water department be left unfilled.
“We have frozen those positions before,” he said. “This is not our first rodeo on this.”
The money saved in salary and benefits for one year, he pointed out, could go a long way in helping to finance upcoming water department needs, including a new boring machine, new service truck and new pump for the Rockhouse Water System.
“We have to have a redundant pumping system,” he explained, to prepare the town to deal with unanticipated problems without a interruption of services.
“Seven years ago, we were at 60 percent water loss. At this point we are at 27 percent, which is good, but we’re going to get better,” Wolfe said. And part of that process involved preparing for the needed equipment.
The board voted unanimously to remove the two positions from the budget.
In further discussion, the board also emphasized a need to turn its focus on the McKinney Center to ensure an increase in its revenue, much in the way they worked with Wetlands Water Park to overcome its shortfall.