Sullivan County budget panel votes to freeze property tax rate

J. H. Osborne • Aug 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee voted Wednesday to recommend keeping the county’s property tax rate at $2.53 (per $100 of assessed value) for the budget year that began more than a month ago.

Development of an actual budget is yet to come, however, and Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said the committee could have to revisit the tax rate.

To become effective, the Budget Committee’s final recommendation must be endorsed by a majority of the full commission.

Prior to the committee’s vote on the tax rate — which nearly was proposed before the group heard the county school system’s budget request — the county’s top finance officer debuted revenue projections for the fiscal year, which began July 1.

Each penny of Sullivan County’s property tax rate will generate an estimated $283,337 for tax year 2008 — up nearly $7,000 from tax year 2007, according to information presented by Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey.

That level of estimated growth will mean about $1.75 million in new revenue for the county from property taxes, Bailey said.

Most of that — about $1.15 million — would go to the three school systems in the county, leaving not so much for about $3.8 million in requested budget increases from other county departments.

With no budget in place for the new fiscal year, county government is operating on a “continuing” budget — meaning departments and organizations can spend at the same level as during the 12-month period that ended June 30.

Bailey said some other revenue sources for the county are projected to increase this fiscal year. According to information distributed to the Budget Committee, the following revenue increases are estimated for the following budgetary control funds: general fund, about $856,000; Highway Department, down $1.45 million; solid waste, $355,000; Health Department, $338,000; Emergency Medical Service, $497,000; and Observation Knob Park, down $22,000.

Those figures are based on estimated expenditures for the year that ended June 30 compared to estimated revenues for the year that began July 1.

The Budget Committee did not review departmental spending requests during the meeting.

Director of Sullivan County Schools Jack Barnes presented the committee with a “snapshot” budget proposal for the school system, very similar to information he presented earlier this week to the Sullivan County Board of Education.

Some figures changed due to BOE actions at that earlier meeting, Barnes said.

Based on the latest figures, the county’s 28-school system will have a nearly $90.77 million 2008-2009 budget. With expected revenues of about $88.8 million, the resulting $1.97 million gap will be funded through a shift of $268,000 of money budgeted but no longer needed for insurance premiums and use of more than $1.7 million of the system’s nearly $5.88 million fund balance.

After Bailey’s revenue projection presentation — but before Barnes presented the school system’s budget request — Commissioner Dwight King began to make a motion for committee action.

Williams stopped him, however, asking if he was about to propose a tax rate — and pointing out the committee needed to first hear from the school system.

King later made the motion to recommend setting the tax rate the same as last year, a move seconded by multiple committee members.

If the County Commission fails to submit an approved fiscal year 2009 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.

The Budget Committee is next scheduled to meet Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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