ROGERSVILLE — The consequences of Hawkins County failing to approve a balanced budget by July 1 could quite literally be a matter of life and death.
It would mean a state takeover of the budget, which would include cutting 100 percent of all county contributions to fire, rescue, EMS and animal control agencies.
Tennessee Comptroller Chief of Staff Jason Mumpower said Monday that Hawkins County's budget situation is currently the worst in the state, and the consequences of a state takeover would be dire.
If there is a state takeover of Hawkins County's budget, Mumpower noted that on top of a property tax increase there would also be the elimination of 100 percent of all contributions, affecting funding for all volunteer fire departments, both rescue squads, Hawkins County EMS, the Hawkins County Humane Society and the Red Cross.
Other non-mandated spending on the block would be veterans services, industrial recruitment, the county's agricultural extension agency, senior centers, libraries, Of One Accord, the Chip Hale Center and many others.
But those cuts wouldn't be enough to balance Hawkins County's budget. As of Monday, Hawkins County still faced a $1.6 million revenue deficit in the proposed 2017-18 budget.
Even after all non-mandated spending was cut, the state would also likely impose a property tax rate increase, Mumpower said.
A wheel tax increase has been touted by commissioners and citizens alike as the preferred mode of generating new revenue because it spreads the burden to more of the population and not just property owners.
That leaves Hawkins County with two choices.
It can either approve a wheel tax increase and balance the 2017-18 budget on its own and possibly maintain funding to its fire and rescue agencies. Or it can allow the state to come in and cut all funding to fire, EMS and rescue agencies and still face a property tax increase.
Having already failed seven times, there was no wheel tax resolution placed on the agenda for the May 22 County Commission meeting.
But after hearing Mumpower's presentation Monday, Budget Committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan said he will introduce an out-of-order resolution on May 22. Out-of-order resolutions require 100 percent approval from the commission to be added to the agenda, and a single no vote can shoot it down.
Mumpower appeared before the County Commission's Budget Committee on Monday to ensure that there was no misinterpretation of his message.
He told the packed committee meeting room Monday that the commission really has only one job, and that is to approve a balanced budget. He told commissioners they need to do their job.
"If July 1 comes and goes, we will have no choice but to act very quickly," Mumpower told the Budget Committee. "We will work to get you back into compliance with state law very, very quickly."
Mumpower added, "I've heard from many of you that the contributions that you make are very important to you. I will also tell you that they're the easiest thing to eliminate, and we will eliminate 100 percent of them because they're 100 percent discretionary. I understand why you like them and why you would want to keep them, and what I would tell you is, if you think they're important and you want to do them, then fund them ... whether it’s the fire halls, or the animal shelter or the libraries."
Mumpower said he hopes that the County Commission will resolve its budget crisis in-house and state intervention won't be necessary.
He said it will be much better for the citizens of Hawkins County if commissioners approve a balanced budget, which will mean some tough decisions must be made.
"It is hard to see how there is enough to cut and have this budget completely in balance, recurring revenue to recurring expenditure; non-recurring revenue to non-recurring expenditure," Mumpower said. "Probably that means if the state comes in, we will cut first before we look at raising any revenue, but it will probably have to be a combination of the two before it's over. If these commissioners ask the state to come in and address their budget situation, it is likely that they will lose 100 percent of their discretionary funding, things like the fire hall funding, and they will have some kind of property tax increase on top of it."