Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
BYLINE: Bob Fowler
ROCKWOOD – On duty since December, Rockwood City Administrator Jim Miller will be out of a job by July in Mayor Jim Watts’ proposed new budget.
The spending plan also calls for a 25-cent property tax hike – from 75 cents to $1 for each $100 of assessed value.
Miller, former Crossville city manager, said Watts “has some bizarre ideas” when it comes to budgeting.
“He’s using the excuse of the financial plight of the city as a reason,” Miller said of his proposed ouster, “yet he’s also proposing giving the newly hired city recorder an almost 30 percent pay increase.”
Miller said the mayor’s new budget plan also allocates money for a new position – director of parks and recreation.
Watts said he’s proposing to boost the pay of Becky Ruppe, former Morgan County executive and now the Rockwood city recorder, by $10,000 to $49,500 a year. He also wants to increase her job duties.
The city charter requires a city recorder but not a city administrator, Watts said. “And from what council has told me, they want a full-time parks and recreation director,” he added.
Tom Pierce previously held that job as part of his public works director duties before he quit in the wake of a scandal over alleged improper use of a city credit card.
Under Watts’ budget plan, the public works director’s salary would be reduced from $57,600 to $42,000, and $40,000 would be set aside for the new parks and recreation director’s post.
Even with the proposed tax hike, the city’s budget would still be more than $300,000 out of balance, Watts said.
The planned sale of some city property and the elimination of overtime pay will help erase that shortfall, he said.
Watts said the city’s financial dilemma arose because the tax rate has been too low for too long.
“We’ve just been getting by every year on a shoestring,” he said. “The cost of doing business has gone up so much it’s eating up our reserves. We’ve been working on the concept that gasoline was $1.10 a gallon.”
Watts said the city’s tax rate has been unchanged for eight years.
He said Rockwood City Council will have a workshop on the $6,562,959 budget proposal on May 22, when first reading of the proposal may be considered.
“I’m going to get enough heck out of having to raise taxes,” Watts said, “but I’ve got to look after the good of the city.”
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