Sullivan County officials use reserves to help balance $164 million budget

J. H. Osborne • Sep 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission approved a $164.22 million budget Monday for the fiscal year that began July 1.

The budget, based on last year’s tax rate and last year’s spending, passed as proposed with no amendments.

It uses more than $6.9 million in fund balances to balance appropriated expenditures of about $164.22 million with estimated revenues of just over $157.3 million.

Three issues garnered lots of talk Monday, but none gained enough traction to change the budget:

•Only six of 24 commissioners voted in favor of a $450,000 increase to the county school system’s budget — money that would have funded a long-planned alternative school for the county’s school system. The $450,000 would have come from the school system’s estimated $6 million fund balance.

•Highway Commissioner Allen Pope warned county commissioners that the budget’s $1.4 million reduction to his department (from last year’s funding level) would certainly mean a reduction in services by fiscal year’s end. Pope told commissioners he only has enough asphalt for one more road project and suggested they all be prepared to get phone calls from county residents once services begin to fall off.

•Pope also spoke in favor of giving the county’s non-school, non-elected employees some kind of pay raise, a theme mentioned by several county commissioners as well.

“We’re doing a vast disservice to our employees by not giving them some kind of increase,” Pope said.

Several commissioners mentioned the issue, but no formal motion was made to add an employee pay raise to the budget.

Commissioner Eddie Williams, chairman of the commission’s Budget Committee, said the commission needs to keep a tighter rein on the purse strings this year than it did last year — when, he said, about $3 million was appropriated after the budget year began.

Williams said the county’s surplus funds are as low as they should go — and told commissioners that if they were going to propose amendments to the budget before the vote, they’d need to include an estimate of how many pennies to add to the county’s property tax rate.

“We’ve done all we can do,” Williams said. “That’s it.”

The county began the budget year with estimated fund balances of about $24.75 million and will have estimated ending fund balances of about $17.83 million by June 30, 2009, when the budget year draws to a close.

Fund balances dropped about $5 million during the budget cycle that ended this past June 30.

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.

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.

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 midyear.

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