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Sullivan County budget holds the line on tax rate

August 21st, 2007 12:00 am by J. H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County began this fiscal year without a budget — but with estimated fund balances of about $29.7 million, according to a budget proposal made public Monday.

The Sullivan County Commission got its first look at the potential $161.2 million spending plan after a brief disagreement over how and when the document would be distributed.

The fiscal year began July 1 and covers county finances through June 30 next year.

A few weeks ago, members of the County Commission’s Budget Committee had estimated spending requests for the year equaled 33 cents or more on the county’s property tax rate. The committee, however, later voted to maintain last year’s tax rate of $2.53 per $100 of assessed value, hold departmental budgets to last year’s level where possible, and use surplus funds to pay for spending increases seen as absolutely necessary.

Commissioners agreed the top priority in this budget year is funding employee pay raises, Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said as he introduced the budget proposal on first reading Monday.

It includes an across-the-board raise of 5.25 percent for all county employees.

Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey said earlier in the budget process that will cost more than $1.6 million.

Bailey spent the past 10 days drafting the budget proposal presented Monday.

Williams tried to introduce the three resolutions related to the budget without first distributing them — and the budget proposal itself — to fellow commissioners.

He said commissioners could pick the packets up on their way out of the meeting after adjournment.

Several commissioners balked at that.

Commissioner Mark Vance said he didn’t think the county could say first reading had been held on the budget if the supporting documents weren’t actually presented during the meeting.

Eventually, the packets were distributed to commissioners as they sat at their desks, and Williams continued with his presentation.

State law requires publication of the budget in the newspaper at least 10 days prior to a vote. A public hearing is also required.

Williams said the public hearing will likely be held Sept. 13 at 6 p.m., and a vote on the budget will take place on Sept. 17. If an approved budget is not submitted to the state by Oct. 1, state funding could be withheld.

According to the budget proposal distributed to commissioners Monday:

•Distribution of the $2.53 tax rate 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; $1.58 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 $276,405 (up from $275,759 last year).

•Revenue from county property taxes will total an estimated $69.93 million, up from $69.77 million last year).

•The estimated $43.86 million generated for general purpose school use will be split with about $24.23 million going to the county’s school system; more than $11.83 million going to Kingsport City Schools; and more than $7.73 million going to Bristol Tennessee City Schools.

•More than $2.2 million generated for capital improvement school use will be split with more than $1.22 million going to the county’s school system; nearly $597,000 going to Kingsport City Schools; and about $390,000 going to Bristol Tennessee City Schools.

•The county will use more than $3.3 million of an estimated July 1 general fund beginning balance of $10.6 million to pay for more than $38.25 million in general fund spending this year.

•The health department’s nearly $6.3 million appropriation for this year will completely eliminate what was an estimated beginning balance of more than $1.2 million.

•Observation Knob Park will also use all of its estimated beginning balance (about $72,000) to fund this year’s $204,000 operating budget.

•The county highway department’s $10.4 million budget will use more than $700,000 of its estimated beginning balance of more than $4.2 million.

•The county school system’s appropriation of about $90.33 million will draw down an estimated beginning balance of $6.73 million to an estimated June 30, 2008, ending balance of $5.65 million.

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