Commission gets first look at Sullivan budget plan

J. H. Osborne • Sep 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County began this fiscal year without a budget — but with estimated fund balances of about $24.75 million, according to a budget proposal made public Thursday. That represents a $5 million drop in estimated starting fund balances compared to a year ago.

The Sullivan County Commission, meeting in called session, got its first look Thursday at the potential $164.22 million spending plan for the fiscal year that began more than two months ago and covers county finances through June 30 next year.

Last year, the county’s budget started out with total appropriated expenditures of about $162.1 million.

This year’s budget proposal is based on the same county property tax rate as last year, and is balanced with more than $6.9 million in fund balances — appropriated expenditures of about $164.22 million compared to estimated revenues of just over $157.3 million, and estimated ending fund balances of about $17.83 million.

Historically, however, not all budgeted expenditures materialize, so actual depletion of fund balances could be far less than projected by the budget, the county’s top finance officer told the Times-News.

State law requires publication of the budget in the newspaper at least 10 days prior to a vote. A public hearing is also required and one is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 15 — 30 minutes before the full commission could vote on the budget.

If an approved budget is not submitted to the state by Oct. 1, state funding could be withheld.

According to the budget proposal given to commissioners Thursday:

•Distribution of the county’s $2.53 property tax rate (per $100 of assessed value) is the same as last year — 67.3 cents to the general fund; 2.4 cents to solid waste; 3.8 cents to health; 4.7 cents to the highway department; $1.587 to schools’ general fund (split with the city school systems); 8 cents to school capital projects (split with the city school systems); and 8.1 cents to the county’s debt service fund. Taxes raised for schools are split with the cities because city residents pay county property taxes.

•Each penny of the tax rate will generate an estimated $283,337 (up from $276,405).

•Revenue from county property taxes will total an estimated $71.68 million, up from $69.93 million last year).

•County funding to about 50 nonprofit agencies, including fire departments and rescue squads, will be held at last year’s level for each organization and total about $2 million.

•The estimated $44.97 million generated for general purpose school use will be split with about $24.7 million going to the county’s school system; more than $12.18 million going to Kingsport City Schools; and more than $8.07 million going to Bristol Tennessee City Schools. The split is based on average daily attendance.

•Nearly $2.67 million generated for capital improvement school use will be split with more than $1.24 million going to the county’s school system; $614,000 going to Kingsport City Schools; and about $407,000 going to Bristol Tennessee City Schools.

•If the budget proposal is approved, the county will use more than $3.97 million of an estimated July 1 general fund beginning balance of about $9.15 million to help pay for more than $41.3 million in general fund spending this year, up from $38.4 million in general fund spending as last year’s budget began.

•The health department’s nearly $6.25 million appropriation for this year will completely eliminate what was an estimated beginning balance of about $222,000.

•Observation Knob Park is projected to have revenues and expenditures of $184,158.

•The county highway department’s $9.48 million budget — a decrease of about $1.4 million from last year’s funding level — will use more than $500,000 of its estimated beginning balance of more than $3 million. Hardest hit by the reduced funding are the department’s asphalt budget (down to $704,000 for this year, from more than $1.2 million last year) and capital outlay account (down to $250,000 from $1 million last year — which included $500,000 for new dump trucks — and from $488,300 the year before).

•The county school system’s appropriation of about $90.4 million will draw down an estimated beginning balance of $6 million to an estimated June 30, 2009, ending balance of about $4.4 million.

The Sullivan County Board of Education originally approved a $91.4 million budget plan for this year. It 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.

County Commission 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 BOE made the cuts, including $371,000 that would have allowed the county school system to open an alternative school mid-year.

On Thursday night, BOE Chairman Ron Smith and several school system employees appealed to the Budget Committee to allow the school system to fund the alternative school.

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