Sullivan budget shortfall may force double-digit tax increase

J. H. Osborne • Jul 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - Sullivan County property owners could be looking at a tax hike in the double digits, based on the shortfall between projected revenues and requested spending by county departments for the fiscal year that began July 1.

That's if county commissioners fund all those requests.

The county's school system alone is seeking nearly $3 million in new money from county taxpayers for fiscal year 2008, which covers county finances through June 30 of next year.

An increase in state funding is projected to cover a portion of the school system's estimated $5.1 million overall new spending for fiscal year 2008.

Glenn Arwood, director of the county's school system, officially presented that request to the Sullivan County Commission's Budget Committee in a called meeting Thursday.

The school system's proposed budget includes a 5.25 percent raise for professional employees and support staff, accounting for nearly $1.7 million of the $2.9 million sought in local funding.

The budget also includes a proposed increase in pay for the seven-member Sullivan County Board of Education. For the fiscal year that just ended, $3,480 was spent for BOE salaries - total, split among the seven members. That's proposed to increase to $21,600 this year.

"We've already got requests for more than $5 million more than we're going to take in," Commissioner Ralph Harr said. "Where's it going to come from? Each penny (on the tax rate) brings in $275,000."

"We've got between $5 million and $6 million requested over revenues right now," said Commissioner Eddie Williams, chairman of the Budget Committee.

"That's a dilemma," Arwood said.

"We've got more requested than we've got money," Harr said. "How much can people stand on the tax rate?"

"It just sounds to me like the cost of government is going up," Arwood said. "Mr. Harr, I agree 100 percent. I just don't want my staff to talk about other departments. We're conscious it's out there. As you say, the people who pay for the government are the citizens."

Arwood said education contributes more to economic development than it costs.

"As far as the education portion of the $5 million to $6 million, I can only say I think it's money well spent," Arwood said.

Harr, a longtime member of the commission, said he can't remember another year when the gap between revenues and requested funding was so large.

The county's budget process this year was put on hold in May after Arwood told the Budget Committee it would be weeks before the school system's budget request would be ready.

If the County Commission fails to submit an approved fiscal year 2008 budget to the state by Oct. 1, the state will withhold state funds.

Sullivan County's property tax rate for the year just ended was $2.53 per $100 of assessed value. Each penny of the county's tax rate generates about $275,000. Eleven cents would generate about $3 million.

It would take more to generate $3 million for the school system, however, because tax dollars designated for school spending must be split with city school systems because city residents pay county property taxes. Information distributed to commissioners Thursday showed the split for fiscal year 2007 was 56.45 percent for county schools, 26.68 percent for Kingsport City Schools, and 16.87 percent for Bristol Tennessee City Schools. The split is based on average daily attendance within each school system.

The Budget Committee is next scheduled to meet Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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