Sullivan County still without budget

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

If Sullivan County fails to submit an approved fiscal year 2009 budget by Oct. 1, the state will withhold state funds.

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee voted Tuesday to continue budget discussions — for the fiscal year that began six weeks ago — at a called meeting next week.

That means there will be nothing regarding the budget on the full commission’s monthly agenda on Monday — a pretty clear indication that the full commission will have to schedule its own called meeting sometime before the end of September if the county doesn’t want to risk losing state education dollars.

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.

In a called meeting last week, the Budget Committee voted to recommend keeping the county’s property tax rate at $2.53 (per $100 of assessed value) for the budget year that began July 1.

Development of an actual budget, however, is yet to come.

There was some indication Tuesday that cutting funding levels to some “organizations” might be broached next week.

Commissioner Moe Brotherton told other committee members, “You’re in dream world if you think the revenue is going to be out there.”

Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said the group has agreed to draft a budget based on no increased spending from current levels — which are based on commission-approved spending for the budget year that ended June 30.

Brotherton said cutting last year’s spending levels, specifically to organizations that seek county funding but that the county isn’t obligated to fund, might be required to balance the budget based on the $2.53 tax rate.

“We just don’t have it,” said Brotherton. “It’s foolish for us to sit here and say we’re going to have all that money.”

After the vote last week to keep the $2.53 tax rate, 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.

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.

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 fiscal year that began July 1, 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 last week, 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.

The group did not review departmental spending requests during the Aug. 6 meeting or on Tuesday.

Director of Sullivan County Schools Jack Barnes said the Board of Education will see a budget proposal for the school system during a called meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday.

The BOE’s action will be passed along to the Budget Committee next week.

The Budget Committee is next scheduled to meet Aug. 20 at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

Williams told Brotherton to bring a list of cuts he’d like to propose and said he would request the attendance by the chairmen of the commission’s two other primary committees — Administrative and Executive.

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