MOUNT CARMEL — After hearing some stern rebuke during citizens’ comments Thursday, members of the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen vowed to take whatever step necessary to prevent cutting the Parks and Recreation program from the 2018-19 budget.
That might mean a higher property tax increase for 2018-19.
A workshop is scheduled at City Hall on Thursday to discuss the proposed 2018-19 budget, which comes up for its final vote on June 28.
The BMA did, however, vote 6-1 Thursday in favor of the first of two required readings of the 2018-19 budget with a 29 cent property tax increase and cutting $100,000 from Parks and Recreation spending.
That was the proposal that came form the last BMA budget workshop that included cutting Parks and Recreation from $130,000 to $29,750, which includes the $72,000 Mount Carmel contributes to the Joint Recreation Board it shares with Church Hill and Surgoinsville.
That’s not what the final budget proposal will look like
Board members acknowledged that the budget was approved Thursday to get that first reading out of the way, but it will be amended before the final vote next month. Vice Mayor Carl Wolfe expressed opposition to the property tax rate in the first draft and cast the only no vote.
The Joint Recreation Board contract signed by Mount Carmel, Church Hill and Surgoinsville requires a one-year notice to leave, and Church Hill Mayor Dennis Deal said Thursday he will enforce the contract.
But some Mount Carmel BMA members said that when the final budget draft comes up for a vote, Parks and Recreation funding will be restored.
"There's some room here we can go in and discuss, and we can fix some of these things,” said Alderman Eugene Christian. “This is just to set it so we have something in place, but after we have the next workshop, we can go in and fix some of these problems."
With regard to the Joint Recreation Board, Mayor Chris Jones noted, "We ain't getting out of our contract."
"Parks and Recreation is going to be funded this (coming) year," Jones said.
Community opposition to cutting Parks and Recreation
Among the local residents who spoke out against cutting the Parks and Recreation department was soccer coach and parent Mindy Fleishour, who said Mount Carmel is a community that does very little for the children.
"What we do have is about to be taken away because you guys can't get a budget put together," she added.
"The Rec Center is the only extracurricular activity that a lot of these kids have access to," Fleishour said. "Sports builds confidence, discipline and respect. It teaches you to be competitive, team building and working with others. It helps with our children's social skills. It helps with their anxiety and stepping out of the box. It also helps with depression, and these kids make lasting friendships."
She added, "Why would you want to take this away from them? Why is it the kids who always have to suffer? What else do we have in store for the kids if Parks and Rec gets taken away?"
Sessions Judge Todd Ross is also a coach, parent and former park board member, and he warned the BMA that cutting Parks and Rec will have a long reaching impact on local children.
Ross said children on the teams he's coached have mothers and fathers who are both in prison, who are being raised by grandparents who aren't able to go out and play with their kids and take them places. But they can take them to practice and games where they're exposed to adult mentors.
"If you guys can't figure out a way to save Parks and Rec, then you all need to just step aside and let someone else (do the job)," Ross told the BMA. "You guys are going to make a decision that's going to affect a lot of children. They're going to grow up, they're not going to have anything, they're going to be like the kids I see every day — 14, using meth — and they're going to come to (his courtroom), and you can't fix that."
Mount Carmel needs revenue to pay for services
Restoring Parks and Rec funding to the 2018-19 budget might mean a bigger property tax increase. The budget draft approved Thursday had a 29 cent property tax increase, which for a home valued at $100,000 would mean an annual property tax bill increase of $72.50.
Last year, Mount Carmel balanced its budget by using about $500,000 in savings, but it could only sustain dipping into savings at that level two more times before savings would be depleted.
Mount Carmel's economy is stagnant. Expenses keep rising at the normal rate of inflation, but revenue has basically stayed the same for the past decade.
Mount Carmel’s property tax revenue increased only $7,000 over the past year.
In 2007, overall city revenue was $2.23 million. In the current fiscal year, it is projected at $2.39 million.
That lack of growth is partly due to very little housing being constructed in Mount Carmel, combined with no substantial growth in commercial and retail sales.
With only one side of Main Street available for commercial growth, and that growth hampered by the proximity of the railroad tracks to Main Street, there’s almost nowhere in town for new sales-tax-generating businesses to locate.