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Reversal of fortune: Hawkins 2018-19 budget looking good despite slow wheel tax collections

Jeff Bobo • May 8, 2018 at 8:31 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission's 2018-19 budget hearings got off to a good start Monday morning with a report from Budget Committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan that the first budget draft is showing $3.4 million in savings and a spending deficit of almost $56,000.

That's a far cry from where the county general fund budget was at this time last year when the commission was staring down the barrel of a $2 million spending deficit and a possible state takeover if it didn't approve a balanced budget by the end of June.

"Our first draft that our budget director has prepared for us we are looking at ending the 2018-19 budget year with — with no new expenditures — around $3.4 million (in savings)," Vaughan told the commission Monday. "That's attributed to savings in the current (2017-18 fiscal year) budget. The Budget Committee, the mayor's office, your office holders, all worked extremely hard to only spend or purchase what they need to, and that has proven positive for the county budget.”

Vaughan added, "It's showing that they work with us and they don't just spend because it's in a line item. Some of that money is coming from a grant where expenditures were made last year, and the revenue is coming in this year. We're $56,000 to the red going into this budget cycle, which means our expenditures on the first draft are only $56,000 more than our revenue."

For the first time, the full county commission is hosting full-day budget hearings on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. In the past, that task fell on the Budget Committee, which would hold budget hearings and then present a budget proposal to the full commission for approval.

After last year's $40 wheel tax increase, Vaughan opted to involve the full commission in the budget process to see firsthand the issues the Budget Committee was facing.

The first decision made by the commission on Monday was to adjust how emergency contributions are budgeted with the additional wheel tax money for fiscal year 2018-19.

In the current budget (FY 2017-18), the mandatory $175,000 E-911 contribution was budgeted with the discretionary contributions — including fire departments, EMS and rescue squads.

The commission agreed to begin budgeting E-911 from within a general fund line item because it falls within state maintenance of effort laws and can't be cut.

Last year, the commission agreed to use $10 of the $40 wheel tax to provide a reliable source of revenue for public safety contributions, but this fiscal year that $10 was used to balance the budget.

This coming year, the $10 is expected to pay for public safety contributions and leave about a $12,000 surplus to begin a savings fund for future public safety needs.

In removing E-911 from the contributions list, the commission agreed to add the humane society and Red Cross to the services covered by the $10 set aside in the budget for public safety.

That $10 also protects revenue for the rescue squads, volunteer fire departments and EMS.

The bottom line

Total estimated general fund revenue for 2018-19 is $17,532,461. Total estimated expenditures are $17,588,449, for a spending deficit of $55,988.

The estimated fund balance as of July 1 is $4,485,974. With $931,054 set aside for mandatory expenditures, the estimated savings as of June 30, 2019, is projected at $3,498,932.

Among the officerholders who were heard Monday were:

Register of Deeds Judy Kirkpatrick, who didn't request extra funding, although she will be using more money from within her own budget for part-time help and to map storage and protection equipment.

County Clerk Nancy Davis, who isn't seeking additional funding.

EMA Director Gary Murrell, who isn't seeking additional funding.

Highway Superintendent Lowell Bean, who noted he will keep up his streak of not seeking additional funding since 2006.

Other points of interest regarding the 2018-19 budget:

* County employee health insurance is budgeted to increase almost 8 percent beginning in November.

* The state mandated 5 percent raise for all elected officials will cost Hawkins County about $40,000.

Hearings continue Tuesday morning in the county mayor’s office, with more officeholders and some non-profit contribution recipients making their budget requests.

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