Sullivan County Commission approves budget without tax hike

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

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s property rate won’t increase this year.

On Monday, the Sullivan County Commission officially set this year’s tax rate at the same level as last year: $2.53 per $100 of assessed value.

That will support a nearly $162 million budget, also approved Monday, which includes funding for an across-the-board 5.25 percent raise for county employees.

Departmental spending was otherwise held close to last year’s levels, Commissioner Eddie Williams said.

He is chairman of the commission’s Budget Committee.

The budget approved by the full commission Monday splits revenue generated by the property tax rate in the same manner as last year:

•General fund — 67.3 cents.

•Solid waste — 2.4 cents.

•Health — 3.8 cents.

•Highway — 4.7 cents.

•School general (shared with city school systems based on average attendance) — $1.587.

•School capital projects (also shared with city systems based on average attendance) — 8 cents.

•Debt service — 8.1 cents.

Money directed to schools from the county’s property tax rate is shared with city school systems because city residents also pay county property taxes.

The commission soundly rejected Commissioner Wayne McConnell’s proposal to shift about $800,000 in property tax revenue from education funding to the county’s highway department and general fund.

Earlier this month, McConnell had said he would seek to shift four cents of the tax rate from school spending, to be equally split between those other two accounts.

But his first proposal Monday was to shift three cents from schools, with two cents going to the highway department and one cent going to the general fund to help fund new employees for the register of deeds office and the circuit court clerk’s office.

The commission later voted to up the highway department’s budget by $500,000 this year to pay for new equipment. The money will come from surplus funds.

Highway Commissioner Allan Pope had sought more than $253,000 to hire five new employees and another $500,000 to buy six dump trucks. Both requests had been cut during the budget process, but the money for the trucks was restored by commission vote Monday.

Circuit Court Clerk Tommy Kerns has asked for $202,200 for five new employees and new off-site storage this year, and Register of Deeds Mary Lou Duncan asked for about $49,250 to cover the cost of two new employees.

Their requests were cut from the budget earlier in the process. Attempts to restore that funding failed Monday.

Kerns again told commissioners he is concerned the backlog in his office could cause legal problems for the county.

Kerns said he is grateful his current employees will get a raise and hopes the commission will consider amending his budget later in the fiscal year if revenues come in higher than projected.

“I understand it is a lean year, but I do hope we can review it,” Kerns said. “I do thank you all for all you’ve done and what you’re doing.”

The county school system’s spending this year will increase about $6 million. That figure includes new state dollars, some projected growth in local dollars, and planned use of some of the system’s multimillion-dollar fund balance.

McConnell described the school system as a “black hole” and questioned why funding increases each year as enrollment declines.

“We’re spending totally too much money over there,” McConnell said.

In other business Monday, the commission:

•Approved a plan to approach the cities to create a joint committee to look for cooperative efforts to reduce duplications or gaps in services.

•Signed off on payment of about $221,000 to a firm for an audit of Charter Communications’ payments to the county for the last several years. That’s half the money the audit brought to county coffers. County Attorney Dan Street said the contract for the audit should have been voted on by the County Commission before the firm began work late last year.

•Voted to “grandfather” decks and other structures that don’t meet county zoning codes at some private campgrounds — with a catch: Only campgrounds with a business license on file since 1997 are eligible for the “grandfathering.” That requirement was later toned down a little: Campgrounds that don’t have a license will be eligible if they get a license within 90 days.

•Approved a one-time $10,000 appropriation from the county’s general fund surplus to provide emergency water assistance to farmers for livestock. The money will be paid to volunteer fire departments that deliver loads of water to farmers. The fire departments will be paid $50 per load.

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