Public hearing on Sullivan County budget set for Sept. 3 at 8:30 a.m.

J. H. Osborne • Aug 26, 2013 at 8:51 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — If you’re a Sullivan County taxpayer and you want to have a public say on the county’s budget proposal, you’ll need to be at the historic Sullivan County Courthouse early on a weekday morning next month.

A public hearing on the budget, required by state law — and in the past often held in the evening to accommodate residents who work a day job, is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 3.

That’s the Tuesday after Labor Day.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet in special called session 30 minutes later — at 9 a.m. — to vote on the proposed $164.9 million budget.

It was first seen publicly by the 24-member commission last week, and covers county government’s finances for the 12-month period that began July 1.

Several commissioners suggested the public hearing and commission vote on the budget should instead be scheduled in the evening, to allow more working people the chance to provide input. But others said county residents who can’t make the morning meeting should just contact individual commissioners ahead of time to share their concerns or ask questions.

Longtime Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said there isn’t likely to be a crowd show up like last year, when the commission voted to raise taxes by 20 cents.

For contact information for individual commissioners, visit www.sullivancountytn.gov or call County Mayor Steve Godsey’s office at 323-6417.

The budget proposal projects total revenue to the county of $162.8 million for the period ending June 30, 2014 — and relies on fund balances to offset the shortfall between that amount and the proposed $164.9 million in appropriations.

It shows a couple of budgetary funds — self insurance and employee benefits (gen) — will end this budget year with estimated negative fund balances.

It includes a self-granted pay raise for county commissioners.

The commission’s executive and administrative committees had recommended not only rejecting that self-given raise, but cutting commissioners’ pay — a move proponents have said would save county taxpayers $35,000 this year.

According to public information on file with the county’s payroll office, county commissioners already are being paid the higher amounts that reflect the 4.6 percent raise.

County Commissioner Ed Marsh had pushed his colleagues to cut their pay and to go on record to do so before the automatic pay increase took effect July 1.

On that date, County Mayor Steve Godsey’s salary increased by 4.6 percent, due to a state law that links the pay for county constitutional officeholders to pay increases given to state employees in the prior year.

The Sullivan County Commission voted a few years ago to link its own pay to the county mayor’s pay — giving each commissioner a percentage of whatever the county mayor is being paid each year. That move meant each time the county mayor gets the state-related raise — paid in total by local taxpayers — all 24 Sullivan county commissioners get the raise, too.

Marsh had proposed reducing county commissioner pay to $6,000 per year, or $500 per month.

That would take it back to about what it was four years ago — down from $7,112 per year for the budget cycle that ended June 30.

Tennessee law dictates a minimum pay for various officeholders, based on county population. It also links the pay to the average annualized general increase in state employees’ salaries. County commissioners, however, are not among those covered by the state law.

Godsey’s salary is now $105,965.

In 2007 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 in subsequent years each commissioner will be paid 7 percent of the county mayor’s salary.

Commissioners’ pay now, with the recent raise, is $7,418.

The proposed budget includes some cuts and reductions, including: $69,359 for mental health services provided through Frontier Health; $11,000 for the Senior Citizens Center in Kingsport; $390 from Bristol Veterans Service; and $440 from Kingsport Veterans Service.

The proposed budget is based on a recommended county property tax rate of $2.3054 (per $100 of assessed value).

It is not a reduction, despite what some county officials have been saying in public and on local television newscasts.

Last year’s tax rate was $2.3307 — but this year’s tax bills will be based on a higher total countywide property appraisal.

The $2.3054 is the state’s certified tax rate, designed to bring the county the same amount of property tax revenue as the $2.3307 rate did last year.

The certified tax rate is calculated in reappraisal years to prevent a local government from reaping a windfall when large growth occurs in the overall assessment, without declaring a tax increase.

The proposed $2.3054 rate is designated to be split:

• 66.15 cents for the general fund.

• 2 cents for solid waste.

• 7.87 cents for the Sullivan County Highway Department (which does not work inside the cities).

• $1.378 for schools (city and county).

• 6.67 cents for school capital and renovations projects (city and county and a slight reduction from last year).

• 10.77 cents for debt service.

According to the proposed budget document, the $1.378 for schools will generate $47,389,222 (same as last year) — which will be split (based on average daily attendance in each school system): $24,097,425 for the Sullivan County Schools system; $14,373,154 for Kingsport City Schools; and $8,918,653 for Bristol Tennessee Schools.

The 6.67 cents for school capital and renovations projects is projected to generate $2,304,831 — split (also based on ADA): $1,172,006 for Sullivan County Schools; $699,055 for Kingsport City Schools; and $433,769 for Bristol Tennessee City Schools.

Property tax revenue projections used in the proposed budget are based on each penny of the county property tax rate generating $345,716 (compared to $341,963 last year) — a figure, in turn, based on a projected tax payment rate of 96 percent on-time collection rate (more optimistic than last year’s budgeted 95.6 collection rate).

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