Budget still unsettled, tensions mount

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By Beth Braden

JELLICO—The tension is palpable in Jellico where the Board of Mayor and Aldermen still haven’t settled a final budget.
The new fiscal year began on July 1.
Unrest was evident last Thursday when the board didn’t have an agenda until Mayor Les Stiers arrived at 6:29 p.m. for the 6:30 board meeting.
Several board members began shouting at various points during the three-hour meeting with Darrell Byrge eventually telling Pam Carbaugh, “Nothing you have to say means anything to me,” when she chastised Byrge, Stiers and alderman Alvin Evans for asking to be reimbursed for a hotel stay in Nashville.
The exchange prompted more police officers to walk into the boardroom.
Carbaugh also voted against approving several sets of minutes from meetings since the end of May.
Alderman Charles Vermillion and Vice Mayor Venita “Cissco” Johnson joined Carbaugh in rejecting minutes from the July 1 meeting that ultimately deleted the property tax from the 2013-14 budget ordinance.
During the meeting, the board voted both to delete the 50-cent property tax increase, but then a motion was made by Vermillion to “delete section 10,” the section containing the entire budget ordinance. Carbaugh described it as confusing.
“[It was] another confusing item so we wouldn’t know what we were voting on,” she said.
Town attorney Terry Basista gave the board further guidance about the rejection of the July 1 minutes.
“Approving the minutes doesn’t fix the error and it doesn’t make it worse,” he told them. “You will be absolute fools if you don’t fix [the error].”
The simplest way to fix the budget error will be to write a new budget document with a tax and then have another public hearing and two meetings to approve the budget, Basista told the board.
The budget will need further work because the mayor is going to take the comptroller’s advice on lowering projected revenue from fines and forfeitures. Once again, the mayor began asking board members for their suggestions on cuts or revenue to make the budget balance.
Vermillion again suggested requiring a “city sticker” for all vehicles operated within the town.
“Property owners in Jellico can’t bear this burden alone,” he said.
Byrge suggested combining the librarian and tourism director position. He said relying on volunteers wasn’t a “good idea.”
“With that—Mark’s busy,” Carbaugh said.
“But so’s Jackie [Richardson], and she’s doing that job and this recorder job too,” he answered.
Byrge motioned to combine the library and tourism director job, but was met with silence.
“With that said, I am no longer the tourism director,” Byrge said.
“Take my name off H and R while you’re taking everybody off,” Carbaugh also said.
The mayor will have to reappoint somebody else on the board to fill those positions, he said on Tuesday. He didn’t mention any names.
Byrge also suggested cutting a library employee to save money. The mayor pressed him for a name, but Byrge declined to say which employee would be cut.
Mark Tidwell and Kimber Monday are the only two employees on payroll at the library.
Stiers suggested cutting the municipal building’s operating hours to only four days per week, a move that would take nine employees to part-time status.
At the end of the meeting, Stiers exchanged harsh words with Evans when Evans again asked Basista to file an injunction against the mayor.
“The reason the city’s in the shape it’s in is because of you,” Stiers told Evans.
Stiers claimed Evans was responsible for the purchase of a tractor in 2006 and had been receiving free garbage pick up.
Evans said he would bring proof of who signed for the tractor and of his payment for garbage fees.
Many of Jellico’s residents are frustrated with the lack of progress, but they still hold on to hope.
“I think prayer’s key to the whole situation,” said town chaplain Marvin Douglas on Monday.
 “I’m not talking negative on nary one of them,” he said. “I’d just like to see them come together and set down and not feud.”
Douglas’s wife, Betty, said the town has a spending problem.
“What have they done? We are bankrupt,” she said.
A tax increase would be unfair, Betty Douglas said. She and Marvin would consider selling their home and leaving if the property tax increases.
“I can’t afford it,” she said.
Blaming former town recorder Linda Douglas isn’t an excuse either, Betty Douglas said.
Betty Douglas’s sister-in-law, Dessie Johnson said the town’s businessmen should get together with the board to brainstorm more ideas about how to generate revenue in the town.
Brenda Buhel-Ayers is fearful the library will be closed to save money. She visits nearly every day.
According to her, Stiers said he would close the municipal building before the library was closed.
CPA James Walden and wife, Louise, believe the town should be run more like a business.
“Running the city is a business and it needs to be run that way,” Louise Walden said.
James Walden seemed unsure about the future of the city.
“We’re getting old. The young people don’t stay,” he said.
There are no jobs, he added.
Willard Smiddy hasn’t ever seen Jellico in this kind of situation.
“They try to spend their way out of debt,” he said.
Smiddy doesn’t believe the board members knew what they were getting into when they were initially elected, and he doesn’t believe the state even wants to take over.
“They don’t need more headache,” he said.
Smiddy is hopeful the town will pull out of the mess.
“It’s been blowed up. It’s been tore town, but it’s got back up,” he said. “Lord willing, we’ll come out of this and be smarter next time.”