No budget yet for Sullivan County as fiscal year 2009 begins

J. H. Osborne • Jun 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — You’ll be writing 2008 on checks for six more months, but for local governments today is the first day of fiscal year 2009.

The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen signed off on the Model City’s fiscal year 2009 budget last month.

Sullivan County has yet to produce a budget proposal.

County departments and organizations that receive or seek county funding submitted budget requests several months ago. And those have been reviewed by the County Commission’s three primary committees, with two of those passing recommendations on to the third — the Budget Committee.

In all, more than $6 million worth of increases are being sought by county departments and funded organizations.

That doesn’t include anything for schools — the County Commission hasn’t yet received a budget request from the county’s school system.

Last year’s budget development process also lagged past the start of the fiscal year, due at least in part to lack of a funding request from the school system.

Larry Bailey, the county’s top finance officer, told the Times-News on Monday that it’s not unusual for the county’s budget not to be in place before the fiscal year begins.

“Most of our budgets were approved in August or September,” Bailey said. “If you ask me when budgets are passed normally, I’m going to say August or September — except for those two or three years there, when they were passed in June.”

In 2003 then-County Mayor Richard Venable pushed for an earlier start to the county’s annual budget development process, sending out blank budget request forms to county departments in January that year — and pushing for a budget proposal no later than May 31.

The county’s fiscal year 2004 budget was subsequently approved by the County Commission in June 2003. The county’s fiscal year 2005 budget was approved by the County Commission in June 2004. And the county’s fiscal year 2006 budget was approved by the County Commission in June 2005.

The county’s fiscal year 2007 budget didn’t get a final thumbs-up from the County Commission until August 2006.

County Mayor Steve Godsey and current members of the 24-member County Commission (most of whom had won re-election) entered office the next month.

The budget for the fiscal year that ended Monday was not approved by the County Commission until mid-September of last year.

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.

State law requires publication of the budget in the newspaper at least 10 days prior to a vote. A public hearing is also required.

Last year, county commissioners were told early on that there was virtually no growth in the countywide property assessment. That meant the county’s $2.53 tax rate would generate not much more than it did for fiscal year 2007.

Bailey said the same holds true this year.

In August of last year, the County Commission’s Budget Committee directed Bailey to provide a working budget proposal later that month.

The next month, the Sullivan County Commission agreed to use more than $3.25 million of the general fund’s fund balance to balance last year’s $162 million spending plan.

Over the course of the past 12 months, commission votes have OK’d spending another nearly $2 million of that fund balance.

The general fund wasn’t the only section of the county’s budget balanced with surplus funds last 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 were estimated, in that budget, to total $21.96 million — a drawdown of more than $7.7 million — by Monday.

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

As of today, Sullivan County government is operating under a continuing resolution, approved by the County Commission last month.

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 Budget Committee’s next scheduled meeting is July 10

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

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