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Sullivan panel expected to pass continuing resolution pending approval of new budget

June 17th, 2007 12:00 am by J. H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE - With no budget in place for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the Sullivan County Commission is expected today to approve a "continuing resolution."

That's a financial and legal maneuver to allow county government to operate at current spending levels, pending approval of a new budget, including borrowing money in anticipation of property tax revenues for the coming fiscal year.

The commission's agenda also is expected to include first reading of a call to give county employees a pay raise beginning July 1.

Sullivan County Commissioner Wayne McConnell said earlier this month he planned to ask the County Commission to give county employees the same 5.25 percent pay raise endorsed by the Sullivan County Board of Education for county school system employees.

Last week he submitted a resolution for today's agenda that "no employees receive less than a 3 percent COLA (cost of living adjustment) and a 2.25 percent pay adjustment" for FY 2008.

The resolution begins with a statement that Sullivan County "made a commitment to the employees with the implementation of the Pay Plan in 2006."

The county commission hired an outside consultant to conduct a salary study last year of all non-school departments.

That study was accepted by the commission, along with recommendations for a pay plan to "bring all employees ... to the minimum for their salary grade," along with suggestions for maintaining the plan.

McConnell's resolution - as provided to the Times-News last week - includes points for implementation of the pay plan, taken word-for-word from a page that had been handed out to commissioners before their vote on the pay plan last year:

•"Employees whose current pay rate is within the salary grade receive one of the following: If they are within their first five years of employment, 3 percent COLA; if they are above the midpoint they would receive a 3 percent COLA; if they are below the midpoint of their salary grade and have more than five years tenure they receive an additional percentage point to bring them closer to the midpoint ( 5-10 years of employment equals 4 percent, 10-15 years of employment equals 5 percent, 15-plus years of employment equals 6 percent)."

•"Employees with more than five years of employment whose adjustment to the minimum rate is less than what they would receive based on longevity will receive the difference in longevity."

Under the heading "Maintenance of the Pay Plan:"

•"Attempt to keep employees' pay current by providing annual COLA increases approximating increases in the CPI (consumer price index)."

•"Review the entire pay plan periodically (every three to five years at current rates of inflation) to ensure that the plan remains competitive."

McConnell's pay raise proposal will be listed as "new business," meaning it may not come for a vote until next month - giving it time to go through the commission's committee-review process.

On second reading today, and up for a possible vote, is a resolution to provide funding for a countywide emergency siren system.

Jerry Fleenor, director of the Sullivan County Emergency Management Agency, is asking the County Commission to include money in the county's upcoming budget to get a six-year installation plan under way.

He has estimated a cost of $180,000 per year, for the six years, to make sure there are enough sirens to saturate all areas of the county - including the cities of Kingsport, Bristol and Bluff City.

Fleenor has said he plans to encourage the cities to participate in the funding, but the issue might be one of the things where city folk say "that's what we pay county taxes for."

City residents pay both city and county property taxes.

Sirens might be viewed as a throwback to the 1940s or 1950s, Fleenor said when he first raised the issue last month, but their simplicity can sometimes trump modern technology.

"They are still probably the most efficient way to tell a lot of people in a short time that something bad is coming," Fleenor said last week.

Two well-known emergency notification methods and potential gaps - which could be filled with sirens - were outlined by Fleenor:

•Televised announcements: Only residents watching television and tuned to the right channels will get the message. Fleenor said many households today are not necessarily watching local broadcasts or even local cable feeds.

•Reverse 911: Even with multiple lines making the outgoing calls, it takes time to reach a large number of people, and it's not unusual for people to have their telephones ring straight to voice mail.

Positives Fleenor mentioned about a countywide siren system included:

•The sirens could be activated off of the countywide 800 megahertz radio system used by county and city law enforcement and emergency response agencies.

•That technology would allow any or all of the sirens to be activated for any particular emergency - whether one siren needed to be sounded for an incident in a single neighborhood, or whether every resident in the county needed to be alerted of a situation.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Monday on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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