Sullivan BOE trims $1M from budget plan

J. H. Osborne • Aug 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Cuts included $371,000 for a long-planned alternative school for the system, which had been budgeted for a midyear opening.

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Board of Education voted in favor of more than $1 million in cuts from the county school system’s yearly budget proposal Wednesday, a move demanded last week by the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee.

The school system’s original $91.4 million budget plan, approved earlier this month by the BOE, did not seek new money from the county. It would not have required a tax increase.

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

Budget Committee members said that was too much and told Director of Schools Jack Barnes to go back to the BOE and work up more than $1 million in cuts.

The Budget Committee voted to set the school system’s budget at $90.4 million, an increase of about $60,000 from last year.

Barnes and school system staff — with what Barnes said was much help from the county’s top finance officer, Larry Bailey — trimmed the budget to just below that amount, with 46 cents to spare.

Cuts approved by the BOE on Wednesday included:

•$371,000 for a long-planned alternative school for the system, which had been budgeted for a midyear opening. It’s on the back burner now, with no funding in this year’s budget.

•$250,000 from projected fuel costs, originally budgeted to meet contractual obligations for bus operators. Barnes said gas prices have dropped since the original estimates, and if the trend holds this cut will likely not require a rehash later in the budget cycle.

•$140,000 from the system’s textbook budget. Barnes said it won’t affect students this school year but could mean delays in receipt of new textbooks for 2009-2010.

•$70,000 from planned spending on food service equipment (primarily dishwashers).

•$60,000 from instructional supplies and materials.

•$40,000 from maintenance equipment.

•$30,000 for purchase of new vehicles, on which bids came in lower than expected.

In all, the approved cuts included $655,500 for non-personnel items and $376,000 for personnel, Barnes said.

That $376,000 for personnel is in addition to about two dozen teaching positions already eliminated from the system.

The system’s new total budget for the fiscal year that began nearly two months ago is $90,399,999.54.

With estimated revenues of about $88.8 million, the budget approved by the BOE on Wednesday uses $1.6 million of the school system’s estimated $6 million fund balance.

A major accounting change for this year’s budget is a more conservative estimate of sales tax revenues. Where last year’s budget projected growth in sales tax revenues, this year’s budget proposal is based on actual sales tax revenues for the year that ended June 30.

The most recent monthly sales tax revenue received by the county, however, showed an upswing of more than 6.2 percent for the county’s school system, with growth of more than 7 percent countywide.

Budget Committee members indicated to Barnes that as the fiscal year unfolds, the committee would consider — but scrutinize — requests to amend the budget based on changing needs and potentially better-than-budget revenues.

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.

The Budget Committee voted earlier this year to recommend keeping the county’s property tax rate at $2.53 per $100 of assessed value.

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

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.

On Tuesday, Bailey told the Times-News the Sullivan County Commission is expected to meet in called session at 9 a.m. Sept. 4 for a formal “first reading” presentation of the county’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

That would clear the way for a vote on the budget when the commission meets in regular session on Sept. 15.

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