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Local News

Sullivan misses deadline in budget process

April 23rd, 2012 10:22 pm by J. H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County government is likely to miss at least some budget development deadlines set out in state law. Some of its departments already missed one deadline.

Last week, County Commissioner Eddie Williams distributed copies of applicable sections of Tennessee law to the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee. As he passed them around the table at a hastily called “emergency” meeting of the group, Williams — longtime chairman of the committee — told members not to read them then and there, but to take them home and read them later.

The main purpose of the meeting, Williams subsequently explained, was what he described as a $600,000 shortfall in the county’s current budget for sheriff’s office and jail expenditures. Sheriff Wayne Anderson and his staff agreed there is a shortfall but estimated it to be a lesser amount than described by Williams. The two sides are expected to meet again Wednesday to talk more about the issue.

County Attorney Dan Street confirmed to the Times-News on Monday that the packet of legal information distributed by Williams matched information Street provided Williams to answer a question posed by the latter: Are departments required to bring funding requests to the Budget Committee, or may they do an end run around Williams’ group and submit requests directly to the full commission?

Street said the county’s budget development process is governed by a 1957 law, adopted by the County Commission, which in fact requires departments to submit funding requests to the Budget Committee.

According to a section of the law highlighted by Street before giving the packet to Williams: “Each of the ... operating departments, institutions, offices and agencies shall file with the director of accounts and budgets on or before April 1 of each year a detailed estimate of its requirements for expenditures from the county’s funds for the ensuing fiscal year, together with an estimate of any county revenues to be received by such agency, office or department.”

As of Monday afternoon, the only outstanding budget request was that of the Sullivan County Election Commission, interim Accounts and Budgets Director Gayvern Moore said. She said the Election Commission is scheduled to meet today, and its budget request is expected to be submitted to her office later this week.

Moore said budget hearings, by the County Commission’s various committees, are scheduled to begin April 30. So her office does not expect to meet a section of the state law calling for submission of a “consolidated budget document,” showing all departmental requests, to the Budget Committee by May 1.

Another section of state law directs the Budget Committee to present the budget to the County Commission at its regular July session or at a special session called in July.

The county’s annual budget cycle begins anew on July 1.

Sullivan County’s current $164 million annual budget is balanced with an estimated use of more than $5 million from fund balances. Each penny of county property tax generates about $342,000 for the county budget, meaning $5 million is about 15 cents on the tax rate.

This year’s budget, which covers the county’s finances for the 12-month period that began July 1, 2011, finally gained County Commission approval at the end of August last year.

Tennessee law requires the county to submit a budget to the state no later than Oct. 1 each year or risk losing state education dollars.

Sullivan County hasn’t missed that deadline, but over the past several years it has again become common practice for the County Commission to go on record well before July 1 that county government will operate under a “continuing resolution” for some time. That means county departments and other agencies that operate with county funds will temporarily continue spending at the same rate as the fiscal year that is ending. Such a resolution was presented to the commission earlier this month.

Several years ago, under then-County Mayor Richard Venable, the county’s final budget was approved and in place before the July 1 start date, for three years in a row — a feat that hasn’t since been repeated.

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