The Budget Committee voted unanimously to recommend setting this year’s tax rate at $2.3054 — the figure certified by the state as being equal to last year’s rate of $2.3307.
The certified rate is calculated by the state in reappraisal years and is designed to keep localities from reaping a windfall in property tax revenues due to increased valuation of properties compared to the previous year.
Its aim is to ensure that a local government — in this case Sullivan County — collects the same revenue from property taxes as the previous year. Theoretically, property owners on average should pay about the same in taxes as last year for the same parcel. But in actuality, the value of some parcels goes up more than others — and some parcels decrease.
Commissioner Robert White made the motion to go with the certified tax rate, and Commissioner John Crawford seconded.
White said county taxpayers owe a thanks to department heads and elected officeholders throughout county government for running a tight ship during the budget year that ended June 30.
White said about $1 million budgeted for the year was not spent and that helped offset losses in revenue and build enough of a surplus to cover a budget shortfall for the year that started July 1.
Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams — who said he’d been going over and over figures since 4 a.m. Wednesday trying to put together a budget — told the committee the county’s projected revenue for the general fund for the 12 months that end June 30 of next year will be about $400,000 short of requested spending as recommended for approval by the commission’s other two primary committees.
Those spending recommendations also have been tweaked by the Budget Committee in previous discussions — and could be tweaked more when the group meets again next week.
Requested funding — approved this far at the committee level — for general fund accounts, the total which Williams said is roughly $400,000 more than projected general fund revenue, includes funding for Sullivan House (a program for local youth sent there by juvenile court judges), Educate and Grow (a scholarship program for local high school graduates to attend Northeast State), and the full amount requested by fire departments and rescue squads throughout the county.
Those things had been recommended to be cut or reduced by other committees.
Budget Committee members told Sheriff Wayne Anderson, however, that they would be developing an overall budget proposal that will follow the Administrative Committee’s recommendation to increase funding to the sheriff’s office and jail by $450,000.
White asked Anderson, who initially sought a nearly $10 million increase for sheriff’s office and jail operations, if he would be “satisfied” with that amount, which largely will be used to restore capital spending cut last year.
“I could live with that,” Anderson said.
Earlier in the meeting, the sheriff spent about 50 minutes going over his budget requests in great detail. He explained that the nearly $10 million represents what he feels — and studies by outside agencies, including the taxpayer-funded County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) operated by the University of Tennessee, have shown — is needed to adequately fund his operations as required by state law.
But Anderson said he understands the current economic situation.
“I want to work with you,” Anderson told the committee.
Williams told Anderson he wished he could simply say “We could do that,” but the county just doesn’t have the money.
“I understand,” Anderson said.