Funding requests outpace Sullivan County budget by $3.5 million

J. H. Osborne • Jul 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - Departments and organizations funded by Sullivan County, not counting the county's school system, are seeking about $3.5 million more from county coffers for the fiscal year (FY) that began July 1.

And Sullivan County Commissioners were told earlier this year that there's virtually no growth in the countywide property assessment. That means the county's $2.53 tax rate will generate not much more than it did for FY07, which ended June 30.

The $3.5 million figure does not include any pay raises for non-school county employees.

It does include requested funding for new employees from several county departments. And most of those requests have gotten a thumbs-up from the committees during budget talks.

And it does include nearly $65,000 to fund a self-approved pay raise for county commissioners.

The county's budget process was pretty much declared on hold in May when Superintendent of Schools Glenn Arwood told county commissioners the school system's budget request wouldn't be ready for at least several weeks.

The Sullivan County Board of Education has ratified a contract with teachers for the year which includes a 5.25 percent raise.

County Commissioner Wayne McConnell has called for the same raise for employees of other county departments.

Larry Bailey, the county's top finance officer, told commissioners last week that for each 1 percent across-the-board raise given to the county's non-school employees, the county would need to budget about $305,000. That figure includes benefits, Bailey said.

McConnell's resolution to give employees a 5.25 percent pay raise cites the commission's approval last year of pay plan recommendations from a study completed by a consulting firm.

Bailey said funding for that plan cost about $1.1 million last year. McConnell says there was a belief among county employees and some other county officials that annual cost of living increases are expected to continue, based on the consultant's recommendation, approved by the commission.

As the proposal was discussed by a committee of commissioners earlier this month, McConnell pointed to a state audit that showed Sullivan County has more than $19 million in fund balances.

Commissioner Eddie Williams, chairman of the budget committee, said much of that money, however, is needed for cash flow.

McConnell's proposal is up for a possible vote Monday by the full commission.

Otherwise, the Sullivan County Commission won't be talking about this year's budget, or lack thereof, on Monday. At least not officially.

Nothing else on the Commission's monthly agenda directly addresses the creation of a fiscal year 2008 (FY08) budget.

Last month the commission approved a "continuing resolution" in anticipation of starting the budget year with no budget.

A continuing resolution is a financial and legal maneuver to allow county government to operate at current spending levels, pending approval of a new budget, including borrowing money in anticipation of property tax revenues for the coming fiscal year.

The Commission's Budget Committee met this past Thursday to review the requested increases. No action was taken.

Williams told the Times-News he hopes a comprehensive budget proposal will be available for introduction to the full commission by next month, with a final vote coming in September.

Williams said Oct. 1 is the deadline for filing an approved budget with the state, to avoid the withholding of state funding.

Among nearly $3.5 million worth of requested increases for the county's general fund and highway department:

•Earlier this year, commissioners voted themselves a $225 per month pay raise - that'll require an extra $64,800 for this year's budget.

•The Sullivan County Sheriff's Department is seeking about $450,000 to cover: overtime and a 15-cent increase in the shift differential, which is now 35 cents per hour (about $167,230 total); benefits ($161,000); $13,000 for fuel cost increases; and about $108,000 for equipment, including weapons and vehicles.

•The proposed increase in the county's jail budget totals more than $1.8 million - most of which is to cover staffing and operation of the new, second jail that opened earlier this year.

•Circuit Court Clerk Tommy Kerns is seeking $202,200 for five new employees and new off-site storage.

• Register of Deeds Mary Lou Duncan is seeking about $49,250 to cover the cost of two new employees.

• Highway Commissioner Allan Pope is seeking more than $253,000 to hire five new employees.

• Pope is seeking another $500,000 to buy six dump trucks.

For FY07 the county budgeted more than $152.3 million in appropriated expenditures - and projected total ended balances of nearly $22 million by June 30.

Each penny of the county's tax rate generated was estimated to generate about $276,000 for FY07.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Monday on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

For more information about Sullivan County government, including how to contact individual commissioners, visit www.sullivancounty.org.

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