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Sullivan may use surplus, cuts to balance budge

August 9th, 2007 12:00 am by J. H. Osborne



BLOUNTVILLE - Sullivan County and its school system will dip into multimillion dollar surpluses to cover some new spending this fiscal year - but $2 million or more will be cut from requested budget increases from various county departments.


In: a 5.25 percent pay raise for county employees; $2.9 million in new local spending for the county's school system (a figure that includes a like raise for school department employees); and a $700-per-month car allowance for County Mayor Steve Godsey.


Out: $500,000 or so identified as overstated expenditures from the school system's budget request; and pretty much any new spending within the county's general fund.


That's all part of an apparently unwritten plan unveiled Thursday by the Sullivan County Commission's Budget Committee.


The group voted to keep last year's tax rate for this year: $2.53 per $100 of assessed value - but with a caveat that the figure could change somewhat before a final budget is approved by the full commission.


Commissioner Ralph Harr proposed setting the tax rate at $2.53 after Commissioner Eddie Williams provided a brief oral description of how the budget could be balanced without a tax increase. The meeting lasted less than 30 minutes. No written documents were provided to committee members to support the balanced budget plan, but Williams did sketch out some figures for news reporters who asked for details after adjournment.


Williams said:


• The extra $2.9 million in local funds requested by the school system will be funded by growth in sales tax revenues, removal of $500,000 worth of expenditures, and use of up to $900,000 of the system's estimated $5.5 million surplus. An increase in state funding is projected to cover a portion of the school system's estimated $5.1 million overall new spending this year.


• Among general fund accounts, a new expenditure that must be paid is the staffing and operation of a new, second jail facility, which opened earlier this calendar year. But Williams said the requested budget of $1.8 million for the facility needs to be trimmed back to what he said was supposed to have been more like $1.2 million.


• About $2 million will be cut from budget requests. Williams and the committee did not specify any particular cuts other than to say department heads will be told they're going to need to get their spending to about the same level as last fiscal year.


• Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey will contact individual department heads to try and identify what is "want" and "need" in their budget requests.


• Asked if that included requests for new employees by several departments, Williams said if it wasn't in last year's spending plan, it probably won't be this year.


• The county will use surplus funds to give all employees a 5.25 percent increase. Williams said despite slow revenue growth this year for the county, the raise for employees needs to be a priority to follow through with a pay plan put in place last year. That plan was the result of a salary study by an outside firm, and Williams said while it did not guarantee a set pay increase for any given year, annual percentage increases are needed to maintain it.


According to the county's top finance officer, the proposed 5.25 percent raise for this year will cost about $1.6 million, including benefits.


A state audit of the county's finances last year estimated Sullivan County had more than $19 million in surplus funds available. Williams said his suggestion is to use money from two accounts that typically are not drawn down completely each year.


• Once Bailey gets the figures together, the Budget Committee might meet in called session. But a comprehensive budget proposal might just be handed out at the full commission's meeting on Aug. 20.


• Both during the meeting and afterward, Williams defended a request for a $700-per-month car allowance from the county mayor's office.


Williams said the move will actually save the county money. A vehicle Godsey purchased with county money less than a year ago will be "sold" to the county highway department, which already planned to buy a new vehicle, Williams said. Godsey will then use the $700 per month to maintain a personally owned vehicle, Williams said.


The county's fiscal year began July 1. If the county fails to submit a completed budget to the state by Oct. 1, state funding could be withheld.



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