Sullivan County spending slashes $10.6 million surplus in half

J. H. Osborne • Jun 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County government started this fiscal year with an estimated general fund surplus of more than $10.6 million, according to the county’s budget.

That reserve could be reduced by half by June 30, when fiscal year 2008 draws to a close, according to information on file with the county’s accounting department.

From the get-go, the Sullivan County Commission agreed to use more than $3.25 million of the general fund’s fund balance to balance this year’s $162 million spending plan.

And over the course of the past 12 months, commission votes have OK’d spending another $2.14 million of that fund balance.

That level of spending from the surplus is a marked change for the county, the county’s top finance officer said Friday.

Most of the planned surplus spending — the $3.25 million figure — was for one-time, or non-recurring items, Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey said.

Portions of the $2.14 million, however, are for recurring costs, meaning a revenue stream will have to be found to cover those items in the upcoming, and future, budget cycles.

“I don’t think we’ve had any year that we’ve done that as much as we have this year,” Bailey said.

Last week, Bailey gave a list of budget increases approved by the County Commission in the last 12 months to the commission’s Budget Committee.

That list includes more than 30 items approved by the full commission with funding coming from the general fund surplus.

Some of those items:

•$200,000 for a redevelopment project on East Stone Drive.

•$180,000 to study, plan and implement a countywide emergency siren system.

•$134,000 for a comprehensive study of the county school system’s enrollment.

•$311,000 for repairs to the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

•$500,000 to construct a sewer line to serve property around the Highway 394/Interstate 81 interchange (Exit 69).

•$50,000 for chairs for the Sullivan County Justice Center in Blountville.

•$78,500 for new employees for the circuit court clerk’s office.

•$30,300 each for new workers for the offices of county trustee and register of deeds.

•$101,288 for new courtroom security staff.

“There were a number of things added to the budget, such as new personnel, that did increase operating expenditures without any revenues being added,” Bailey said. “Generally speaking, there was not. There were a number of things where the budget was amended. ... It exceeded what has normally been the habits that the county has followed for using from the fund balance.”

The general fund wasn’t the only section of the county’s budget balanced with surplus funds this year.

The county health department’s $6.9 million budget for this year included use of its entire $1.21 million beginning balance.

And the county’s highway department’s $10.9 million budget for this year included use of about $1.4 million of its $4.21 million beginning balance.

In total, the county’s budgetary control funds had beginning balances of about $29.68 million on July 1 of last year, according to the county’s budget document.

Those same accounts are estimated, in that budget, to total $21.96 million — a drawdown of more than $7.7 million — by June 30.

That estimate was prior to the more than $2.1 million in surplus spending approved by the commission in the months since.

Bailey said exactly how much the county’s fund balances will decrease this fiscal year won’t be known until more complete revenue figures are available in coming weeks.

“It’s a moving figure as far as how much it will be,” Bailey said. “Some revenues ... come in in May and June. There are quite a few figures yet to come in in revenue. But I can say that we don’t have any rosy revenue figures.”

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