Jellico board raises fees, further action needed to stabilize town finances

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By Beth Braden

More than 60 people packed into the Jellico Municipal building to see the board discuss last week’s failure to meet payroll for Jellico’s 21 employees.

“I wanted this bit of agenda to really address the group and everybody here, because I am the mayor and I dodge no bullets,” said Jellico Mayor Les Stiers.

On Oct. 15, town employees learned they would not receive their checks due to a $16,000 check to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee being mailed early.

“Our payroll on Monday was $10,400, so when that check went out, that negated being able to make payroll on Monday,” Stiers said.

The comptroller mandates towns are to have a three-month contingency fund to prevent situations like this one. Stiers acknowledged that Jellico does not have a rainy-day fund at all.

“We operate from payday to payday, so we’re flying under the radar for the comptroller,” he said in an interview before Thursday’s board meeting.

“This council has got to address the issues of revenue,” Stiers told the council.

While Stiers is opposed to raising taxes, he believes the sale of surplus land and property, as well as annexation are viable options to bring more money into Jellico.

“We aren’t overspending,” added Alderman Darrell Byrge. “We’re just don’t have the money we had before.”

Jellico received $150,000 less in property taxes because of the now-defunct Rarity Mountain development. Beer taxes have decreased since Corbin approved the sale of beer.

“I hope we can come to an agreement of what to do,” Byrge said.

Brenda Hale, an employee at Beech Tree Manor, approached the podium during the grievance process.

“We didn’t elect you all up here to fight with one another,” she said. “How are we going to do anything with the city of Jellico with you acting this way?”

Raising rates

Citizens who live outside the town will now pay an increased rate for fire protection from the Jellico Fire Department.

“There’s roughly 30 to 35 people on the outside city fire service. They pay $100 a year for fire service, and businesses pay $200,” Stiers said.

Byrge motioned to raise the rates to $200 for residential service and $300 for businesses, seconded by alderwoman Pam Carbaugh. Alderman Alvin Evans and Alderwoman Venita “Cissco” Johnson cast the only dissenting votes.

While the increase could bring several thousand dollars more to the city, the town cannot make outlying citizens pay the fees for fire protection.

The board also raised sanitation fees from $12 to $15 per month for residential customers. Sanitation fees can only be used for the sanitation department, and in this case, the money could be used for a new garbage truck.

“I don’t know if everyone’s aware, but we’ve got one garbage truck that’s 18 years old,” said town recorder Linda Douglas.

The town recently spent $3,600 on parts for the truck.

“If this does pass, can you give us a report each month on how much sanitation money we’ve got so we don’t use it for something else?” Evans asked.

“The sanitation fund should be in a separate bank account, and I have no problem with that, they’ve just never done it because of having to print up different checks,” Douglas answered.

The motion passed unanimously.

Selling land

The mayor announced during the September meeting that he would use his executive privilege to declare the 70 acres of land behind the hospital as surplus and then sell it. After speaking with MTAS, the selling of acreage instead came up for a vote.

“I’m okay with this, but I don’t want to give it away. We need to have a number we don’t want to go under,” Byrge said.

Town attorney Terry Basista warned the board about the dangers of declaring parts of Jellico as surplus and then selling the parcels.

“Let me make one other little comment that everybody needs to be aware of. I can see it much easier than you all can: You can’t start selling the city piece meal to make ends meet,” he said.

Basista went on to tell the board not to listen to the same handful of people that show up because the greater majority of Jellico’s residents understand increases in taxes and rates.

“The vast majority of those 2,500 [residents] are good people. They’re not stupid, and they know things go up, but they don’t come out to say that,” he said.

“I have to oppose this sale of property, of this particular lot anyway. I believe it’s an asset to the city,” Vermillion said.

Evans asked that the property be appraised before the town spends money on surveys.

“The appraisal is the first thing we’ll do,” Stiers said.

The motion to declare the land surplus resulted in a tie with Evans, Johnson and Vermillion casting dissenting votes. According to Jellico’s charter, the mayor is allowed to vote to break a tie.

“The mayor votes yes,” Stiers said.

A second resolution to declare another parcel on Douglas Lane as surplus property was tabled until the November meeting pending answers about rights from HUD.

Moving forward

On Monday afternoon, the mayor said he had mixed emotions about the progress made during last Thursday’s meeting.

“There were some issues addressed,” he said. “You saw there was an increase in outside fire service, but that’s a minimum increase.”

A special called meeting scheduled for tomorrow was postponed due to early voting.

However, Thursday’s meeting took place despite the fact early voting began the day before.

When the meeting is called, board members are expected to review finances from the last several months and discuss ways to sustain operations in Jellico.

“Until we can get together and talk about this, it’s not gonna go away, and selling property’s not the answer,” Evans said.

Other board members could not be reached for comment before press time.