The Cleveland Town Council held a work session last Thursday to finalize the town’s FY2021 general fund and water/sewer system budgets. Projected revenue for the general fund for the coming year is $854,445, an increase of more than $66,000 over the past year’s projection. Almost all of the increase ($63,000) is due to revenue derived from sales taxes.
Mayor Jerry Jones said that despite the worry that Cleveland would suffer economically because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that did not happen. Local sales tax revenue remained strong throughout the summer and is expected to continue. Jones said the loss of revenue because of the fire at S&S Foods (see story on front page) would hurt, given it was the town’s “number one revenue source for sales taxes.”
Even so, the mayor was optimistic; barring any other unforeseen events, the town could get through the year “without having to get into reserve funds.” The budget also allows for a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for fulltime employees if the council approves. The matter of salary increases will have to be approved after the first of the year. The water/sewer system budget calls for a rate increase of 2 percent, effective with the November billing cycle.
The town council meeting took place immediately after the work session and both budgets were passed without dissent.
Council members shared their thoughts about the fire at S&S Foods. Mayor Jones said the Estes family (owners of the store) have been good to Cleveland. “They don’t live here, but they act like they do.” The entire council agreed. Jones also said he was glad to see the help from not only the other fire departments that responded, but from others who turned out to help in any way they could, such as handing out water to the firefighters and police officers. “It’s times like this we see how much we depend on each other.”
Councilor Tommy Swindle added, “It lets you see the good in people.” Steve Pass, chief of Cleveland’s volunteer fire department, said he was grateful for the help. “I want to thank all the departments who came to assist.”
The mayor announced the retirement of William “Bill” Ferry as police chief, but hastened to add Ferry will not be leaving the department. He will, instead, become assistant chief on a part-time basis. Pat Thomas will take over as police chief effective Nov. 1 if the council agreed. It did so unanimously. Jones praised Ferry for “turning the department into one that is first class.” Speaking to the council, Ferry said, “I want to thank y’all for what you’ve done to support me and the department. None of the good things in this town are possible without what y’all do.”
In other police department matters, the council agreed to create a new full-time police officer position and begin the process of purchasing a new police vehicle through the state bid procedure. The estimated cost of the vehicle, fully equipped, is $34,000.
In other business the council:
• approved paying $5,951.21 for the annual contract with Blount County 911, an increase of $389.33 over last year.
• voted to make the intersection of Lincoln Road and Davis Drive a threeway stop.
• agreed to place no parking signs along River Heights Drive to prevent parking on the roadway.
The council is currently made up of Jones, councilors Swindle, Doug Hill, Steve Bynum, James Sullivan, and Sherry White. All were present for the meeting. It was White’s last regular council meeting since he did not stand for re-election and his term ends next month. Jones told White, “I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to serve with you on this council.” Hill added, “You’re a good man and have worked hard to help the community.” White said he has enjoyed his time on the council and working with everyone. The council presented him with a handmade wooden pen crafted by Sullivan.
The council’s regular meeting is the second Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at the town hall. Donna McDougal will be sworn in as the new councilor at the next meeting. Meetings will no longer be on Facebook Live, but the minutes, once approved, will be posted on the town’s website at www.townofclevelandal.com.