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Sullivan sheriff cancels Tahoe purchase over budget concerns

May 10th, 2012 11:12 pm by J. H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE — The “elephant in the room” really wasn’t in the room Thursday — or even in the parking lot, in this case — as the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee discussed what is now described as a $332,000 shortfall in the county’s budget for funding the sheriff’s office and jail.

And it isn’t an elephant. It was a new $31,000 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe. Was. Past tense. Now it’s just a distant memory. Almost not mentioned at all as the committee, sheriff, sheriff’s staff and other county officials talked about how to patch up the county’s budget for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“This is the tightest I’ve ever seen it,” said longtime County Trustee Frances Harrell as the meeting got under way, speaking of the county’s cash flow.

Harrell said people throughout county government need to understand the cash-flow problem won’t just evaporate at the stroke of midnight July 1 — so they don’t need to just be thinking all they have to do is pinch pennies until this budget cycle ends June 30.

“We’re not going to have any more money on July 1 than we have on June 30,” Harrell said. “We won’t have any more money until I get tax notices sent out, hopefully in September.”

Harrell can’t send county property tax notices out until the County Commission approves a budget and sets a tax rate.

The Tahoe was to have been used by Sheriff Wayne Anderson.

Its purchase was approved by the Budget Committee in March. But then last month, citing concerns that shortfalls totaling as much as $700,000 had been discovered in the county budget accounts covering the sheriff’s office and jail, some committee members began questioning the by-that-point already ordered Tahoe and nine other vehicles for the sheriff’s office and jail.

Funding for such purchases was included in the county budget when it was approved last fall by the County Commission. But sticking to what has become standard practice, departments were urged again this year to delay actually spending capital funds until late in the budget cycle — and to seek the Budget Committee’s approval first.

That’s what Anderson and his staff did in March, and the committee gave a thumbs-up to move forward with buying the vehicles.

The Tahoe prompted only a brief inquiry from one Budget Committee member — Commissioner Linda Brittenham, who asked Anderson why it was needed (most of the other vehicles were patrol cruisers). Anderson said his department’s goal is to eventually have each lieutenant driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle to help make sure the department can reach all areas of the county even in hazardous weather.

That was as far as it went, at least during the meeting.

Read the expanded version of this story in Friday's print or enhanced electronic version of the Times-News.

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