ROGERSVILLE — As presented to the Hawkins County Commission Monday, the proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget has a $72,807 surplus, although that number will change if a wheel tax exemption for the elderly is approved.
Commissioners reviewed the second draft of its proposed general fund budget, as well as the solid waste fund and a newly created capital projects fund, which will be used to pay for major, one-time or irregular expenses.
Following a lengthy discussion, the budget proposal received a unanimous recommendation from the 11 commissioners in attendance and will be compiled into a third and final draft to be considered for approval at the July 23 commission meeting.
The current budget recommendation leaves the county with a projected $3.6 million in savings as of the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Proposed wheel tax exemption
During Monday’s budget workshop, Commissioner Mike Herrell renewed his suggestion that vehicle owners 70 and older receive one exemption per household from the $40 wheel tax increase that was approved by the commission last year.
That increase was intended to offset a $2 million revenue shortfall and set the overall price for a license plate in Hawkins County at $96, which also includes a $27 state fee.
Herrell’s motive was to offer relief to elderly people on a fixed income who might have to choose between renewing their tag or buying groceries or medicine.
The proposal was met with opposition by some commissioners including Glenda Davis and Nancy Barker, both of whom suggested that any exemption should be based on income or need, rather than age.
Commissioner-elect Larry Clonce, who also attended the workshop, said that if the commission considered an exemption, it should be conducted the same way hardship exemptions are allowed for property tax: based on poverty level criteria.
One question mark about the proposed exemption was how many people it wold affect and how much revenue it wold cost the county. Budget Committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan noted that if it reduces revenue by more than $72,807, it will throw the budget out of balance and more cuts will be needed.
Herrell said he will provide those statistics to Budget Director Eric Buchanan in time to be included in the final budget draft for calculation purposes. The full commission will then decide whether to approve an exemption for the upcoming fiscal year.
The new capital projects fund
The county will receive $721,248 for the sale of the Phipps Bend spec building. That money will be deposited into the debt service fund.
In order for the county to make use of that windfall for current needs, the state audit division has said the commission can shift seven pennies of property tax revenue, or about $700,000, out of debt service to create a capital projects fund.
The main project those funds will cover in 2018-19 is an estimated $500,000 sewer upgrade at the Hawkins County Jail to install a grinder and screen.
The state mandated similar projects for both the city and county after cloth and other garbage supposedly flushed down jail toilets by inmates clogged the sewer system and flooded some businesses on Main Street last year.
Vaughan said the goal is to build up that fund, taking a penny or two whenever possible from debt service to cover major expenses such as emergency HVAC replacement, new roofs and new patrol cars.
Motion to cut patrol car purchases fails
The proposed budget includes $425,000 for the sheriff’s office to cover the cost of purchasing and equipping at least 10 patrol vehicles.
Those vehicles are estimated to cost $35,000 each fully equipped, and the goal is to set aside any excess funds that aren’t spent toward future car purchases.
In 2012, the commission set aside $155,000 into a fund that would allow regular police vehicle purchases rather than buying them all at one, but that $155,000 was regularly cut in recent years due to budget shortfalls.
Commissioner Fred Castle made a motion to reduce the 2018-19 patrol car expenditure by $75,000 to $350,000, but it failed for lack of a second.
Solid waste fund in deficit
The county’s solid waste department operates on its own budget separate from the general fund.
The proposed 2018-19 solid waste fund is projected to have $1.5 million in revenue and $1.7 million in expenditures, and has a deficit of $180,252.
That deficit is attributed partly to the purchase of new equipment including a truck and compactors and will be offset with the use of savings. The fund is projected to end the 2018-19 fiscal year with $850,000 in savings.