ROGERSVILLE — All 21 Hawkins County commissioners are scheduled to begin looking at the county's proposed 2018-19 general fund budget when three days of public hearing begin on May 7, but the school board's budget won't likely be ready for review until June.
Director of Schools Steve Starnes explained that as of Monday the Central Office hasn't received its first of four Basic Education Program (BEP) state funding estimates that are used to generate revenue projections for next fiscal year's school budget.
"The state hasn't passed its budget yet," Starnes told the Budget Committee on Monday. "I think it was around April 14 of last year that we received our first estimate. I've not heard a lead time out of Nashville about when they're going to approve their budget, so we could potentially be doing our first draft, and only have our first estimate for a few days (when the BOE receives the first budget draft) May 7. We'll get a (BEP) estimate in April, May, June, and final in July."
In a separate meeting, the Board of Education will see the first draft of its budget on May 7, and it’s scheduled for BOE approval at the June 7 meeting.
The school budget will then be presented to the County Commission's Budget and Education committees on June 18 and then be presented with the full County Commission for final approval at the commission's June 25 meeting.
Why is the full County Commission holding budget hearings?
Traditionally the commission’s Budget Committee has conducted budget hearings, with each office holder, department head, or contribution recipient appearing to answer questions about their budget requests.
The committee would then generate a budget proposal to present to the full commission for approval.
In light of the potential for another budget shortfall, and frequent dissent that occurs between some commissioners and the Budget Committee, the full County Commission will preside over this year’s budget hearings, which are scheduled for May 7, 8, and 11.
The hearings are open to the public and will be held in the Hawkins County Courthouse beginning at 8 a.m. each day.
What’s the deadline to approve this year’s budget?
A new law goes into effect this year that allows the school system and County Commission to operate on a continuing budget using the previous year’s figures until Aug. 31 if a new budget isn't approved by the time the 2018-19 fiscal year begins on July 1.
Hawkins County isn't under the same order that was imposed by the state last year to have its budget approved by July 1 or face a state takeover of its budget.
Nicole Buchanan, county finance director, explained to the Budget Committee on Monday that because the commission approved the $40 wheel tax increase last year, there is a recurring revenue stream and the general fund budget isn't in danger like it was this time last year.
But the county isn't out of the woods either.
Wheel tax hike revenue below projections
The wheel tax increase wasn't implemented until Oct. 1, which means three months of revenue were lost. After its implementation the wheel tax has been generating new revenue well below what was needed to offset a $2 million revenue deficit.
The latest report shows the new revenue around $712,000 below projections for the first seven months of the fiscal year, as of the end of February.
Buchanan said she and her staff are still gathering budget information, and the first complete draft of the proposed 2018-19 budget might not be available for commissioners to review until the week before the budget hearings.
Every county department is required to submit its 2018-19 budget proposal by April 1, which includes 2016-17 actual figures, the 2017-18 projections and next year's budget proposal.
Buchanan said commissioners are welcome to receive any budget documents, although she admitted some offices have missed the April 1 deadline.
Budget Committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan said he's encouraging all commissioners to start their research now if they have particular budget issues they're interested in.
"I think some of them feel like they've been left out of the budget process, even though every commissioner, whether you're on the Budget Committee or any committee, holds the same authority," Vaughan said. "As budget chairman, I have no more authority than any other commissioner. We're all one vote. Any chairman of any committee is just to run the meeting and conduct the business of that meeting.”
He added, "I don't have any special powers. But I'm hoping that by doing these budget hearings and bringing all 21 on board, that will be a way to get them involved in the budget process."