Sullivan County school budget rejected

J. H. Osborne • Aug 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee continued budget discussions Wednesday for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Most debate Wednesday centered around the county school system’s proposed $91.4 million budget, with the committee ultimately telling school officials to go back to the drawing board and find about $1 million in cuts.

Director of Schools Jack Barnes said that would mean a reduction of programs.

The school system’s $91.4 million budget plan, as approved earlier this week by the Sullivan County Board of Education, did not seek new money from the county.

It did, however, call for using about $2.6 million of the school system’s estimated $6 million reserve to balance estimated expenditures and projected revenues.

Budget Committee members said that was too much and told Barnes to go back to the BOE and work up a list of program cuts.

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.

Some committee members asked about getting a look at some sort of written budget proposal — with spending plans for individual county departments.

“We haven’t decided anything,” Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said.

“We haven’t had anything to decide on,” Commissioner Mark Vance replied.

Williams said the budget process has been conducted differently in past years.

“Right now, we’ve not done enough to tell (Accounts and Budgets Director Larry) Mr. Bailey what numbers to put in (a budget),” Williams said.

A few meetings ago, the budget panel did vote to recommend keeping the same tax rate as last year: $2.53 per $100 of assessed value.

Williams asked if it was still the consensus of the committee to have Bailey produce a budget proposal based on current spending levels — no increases and no decreases from the fiscal year 2008 budget for any department — and the same tax rate as last year.

The committee reaffirmed that position.

To become effective, the Budget Committee’s final recommendation must be endorsed by a majority of the full commission, which must see the budget proposal at least once on “first reading” before bringing it to a vote at a second, separate meeting.

If the County Commission fails to submit an approved fiscal year 2009 budget to the state by Oct. 1, Tennessee 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.

Budget Committee members also briefly discussed cutting county funding to a few organizations, including Kingsport Tomorrow ($10,000); Bristol Farmers Market ($7,000); Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority ($10,000); and Bristol Housing and Redevelopment Authority ($10,000).

Reducing county funding to city fire departments was also mentioned.

But none of those items was cut.

Not publicly mentioned in the budget process so far was where to find an estimated $90,000 or more for pay raises for the county’s elected officials, including $25,000 or so, total, for a self-approved pay increase for county commissioners.

Those figures are based on information from the county’s budget office.

The fact that the county is operating on a continuing budget has meant a temporary “freeze” on pay raises set to be effective July 1 for County Mayor Steve Godsey and other elected officials, including county commissioners.

Once the budget is approved, their raises will be paid retroactive to July 1, Bailey told the Times-News earlier in the budget process.

The County Commission pay hike — an estimated $86 or $87 per month for each of the commission’s 24 members — is linked to a state-mandated pay raise for county constitutional officeholders.

According to information released by the County Technical Assistance Service, Godsey, Sheriff Wayne Anderson, Highway Commissioner Allan Pope and other constitutional officeholders will be getting a nearly 4.9 percent raise.

Although the state mandates the raises, it does not fund them — that’s left up to the county, including another 22 percent or so for added benefits, Bailey said earlier.

Godsey’s salary last fiscal year was $95,792 — up from $91,572 the prior year and up from the $89,235 salary of former County Mayor Richard Venable during his last year in office. Beginning with the new fiscal year, Godsey’s salary will be roughly $100,560.

Last year the Sullivan County Commission approved raising commissioners’ salaries from $250 per month to $500 per month, with future raises linked to the county mayor’s salary. That vote said beginning July 1 this year, each commissioner will be paid 7 percent of the county mayor’s salary.

Godsey’s roughly $100,560 salary means each commissioner will be paid about $7,040 per year — or about $587 per month, an increase of about 17.32 percent.

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