Sullivan budget proposal cuts $2 million, avoids tax hike

J. H. Osborne • Aug 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — No new spending.

Well, almost. Or at least, not so much.

Seven weeks into the fiscal year, Sullivan County commissioners will receive a proposed 2008 budget come Monday morning, the county’s top finance officer told the Times-News Friday afternoon.

Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey was given his marching orders about a week earlier: Find $2 million or so to cut from spending requests — while preserving a proposed 5.25 percent raise for employees and funding other increases needed to maintain ongoing contracts, and don’t tinker with the tax rate.

Bailey said he’d achieved those goals and will present a budget based on the same property tax rate used last year: $2.53 per $100 of assessed value.

There are no new employees in the budget he’ll present, Bailey said. Several department heads had asked for money to fund new hires. Gone, too, are a request for $15,000 from Second Harvest Food Bank (the money was earmarked to send food home with county school students who have little or nothing to eat at home over the weekend), and a $700 per month car allowance for County Mayor Steve Godsey (he planned to drive a personal vehicle for county business instead of an SUV paid for by the county last year).

Bailey said he first attempted to balance the budget by meeting with various department heads to identify cuts from their earlier budget requests. But that effort failed to reach the cut-$2 million-don’t-raise-taxes goal outlined by the County Commission’s Budget Committee on Aug. 9.

He said he then conferred with Godsey and Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams and they directed him to drop most departmental budgets to the same level of funding they got last year. Funding for most nonprofits was also cut back to last year’s level, he said. An exception: fire departments and rescue squads will get a 3 percent increase in their county funding, compared to last year. Earlier in the county’s budget process, the proposed increase was set at 5 percent.

A few weeks ago, members of the Budget Committee estimated it could require a property tax hike of 33 cents or more to fund all requested spending this year.

But on Aug. 9, the committee voted unanimously to keep last year’s tax rate of $2.53 per $100 of assessed value.

In most years, the county sees some “natural growth” in property tax revenues — the tax rate generates more money than the previous year because new development adds more parcels and improvements to the tax roll.

But every fourth year, state law requires an adjustment on the valuation of personal property. This is one of those years, and the adjustment pretty much eliminated any significant natural growth in property tax revenues for the county, Williams said last week.

That, combined with more than $7 million in new spending requests has made this the worst budget year that longtime commissioners can remember, Williams and others have said.

There will be no vote Monday on the budget proposal Bailey presents. State law requires it to be published in the newspaper at least 10 days before the county commission votes on it. A public hearing is also required.

Details of the budget, as well as the proposed tax rate, could change if there is enough support from commissioners to do so.

Bailey said most department heads have been cooperative and understanding about the need for cuts — even though, he said, no one had asked for anything that couldn’t really be described as a need. Those who had asked to hire new employees, Bailey said, are happy their current employees will get a raise.

The county’s budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30 totaled more than $153 million. On Friday, Bailey didn’t have an exact total for the budget proposal he’ll present Monday, but he said last week it will likely top $160 million this year.

Among budget requests and proposals:

• The county’s school system alone is projecting spending increases of about $5 million, and originally requested nearly $3 million in new money from county taxpayers for this fiscal year. The Sullivan County Board of Education approved a revised budget on Friday, which ups the system’s projected sales tax revenues for the year and calls for using at least $1.08 million of the system’s estimated $5.5 million surplus to balance the budget. 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.

• 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.

• A 5.25 percent raise for the county’s non-school employees will cost about $1.6 million — and is seen as a step toward maintaining a pay plan implemented by the commission last year as the result of a salary study of all departments.

• 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, a total of $3,480 was spent for BOE salaries, split among the seven members. That is proposed to increase to $21,600 this year.

•Earlier this year, commissioners voted themselves a $225 per month pay raise — that will 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 second jail that opened earlier this year. At the Aug. 9 Budget Committee meeting, Williams said that figure should have been more like $1.2 million. On Friday, Bailey said he’d worked with Sheriff Wayne Anderson and Anderson’s staff to trim the figure to about $1.1 million.

• Circuit Court Clerk Tommy Kerns is seeking $202,200 for five new employees and new off-site storage. Bailey said no new employees are funded in the budget proposal he’ll present Monday.

• Register of Deeds Mary Lou Duncan is seeking about $49,250 to cover the cost of two new employees. Bailey said no new employees are funded in the budget proposal he’ll present Monday.

• Highway Commissioner Allan Pope is seeking more than $253,000 to hire five new employees. Bailey said no new employees are funded in the budget proposal he’ll present Monday.

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

• Godsey asked for a $700 per month vehicle allowance. On Aug. 9, Williams said the move would save the county money in the long run, and that Godsey’s current county-owned ride will be “sold” to Pope’s department. On Friday, Bailey said Godsey’s request is no longer a part of the proposed budget to be presented Monday.

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

Each penny of the county’s tax rate was estimated to generate about $276,000 for FY07. Bailey has said growth this year amounts to only about $600 per penny.

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

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

Recommended for You

    Kingsport Times News Videos