‘The days of getting by are over’
Despite a warning from the County’s finance director at the last meeting of the Budget Committee, members
once again concluded a meeting without coming to final agreement on a budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
While the committee made progress with major portions of the budget on Tuesday, the overall spending plan was not approved – with the troubled debt service fund again in the spotlight.
Tuesday’s meeting concluded abruptly after being in session for approximately 45 minutes. Before concluding, members of the committee scheduled their next meeting for June 24 at 6:15 p.m.
“I highly encourage you to come prepared to vote on everything that night, because we have to advertise a public hearing and we have to approve the budget at the July meeting (of the full Commission),” County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach told committee members.
Under state law, county governments must approve their fiscal year budgets by no later than the third Monday of July. The July meeting of the County Commission is scheduled for July 21, which is the third Monday of the month, at 9 a.m.
When asked by the Elizabethton Star what would happen if the County failed to pass the budget by the state-mandated deadline, Deloach said she had spoken with the state comptroller’s office regarding that issue and was told that failure by the Commission to pass the budget could constitute a misdemeanor offense.
The debt service budget – actually the final item discussed – sparked a blunt warning from Deloach and a flurry of motions proposing varying tax rate increases, but no votes.
Deloach has told both the committee and the full commission in previous meetings that the debt service budget is severely underfunded and without additional money, the fund would start the 2014-2015 in the hole.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Deloach said an additional $955,924 would be required to balance the debt service budget. “That is no new notes added, that is just to balance the budget,” she said, adding that the expenditures of that budget are higher than the revenues.
Deloach said that balancing the debt service budget would equal 12 cents on the tax rate.
Committee member Tom “Yogi” Bowers asked what amount would allow the county to “get by” without having to raise the tax rate by 12 cents, and also whether the “hole” in the debt service budget could be “patched” for the upcoming fiscal year.
“I’m going to be brutally honest, the days of getting by are over,” Deloach said. “Sure, you can patch it this year, but next year you will be in even worse shape.”
Deloach said the debt service budget ended up in its current shape because money was pulled from that fund to cover expenditures elsewhere in the county budget.
“This thing has crept up on us for the last three years and has only gotten worse,” said committee Chairman Harry Sisk. “We need to do something about it tonight.”
At that point, Committee Member Bill Armstrong and Bowers made a series of motions to balance or at least narrow the debt service deficit.
Armstrong first made a motion to add 12 cents to balance the debt service budget. The motion failed due to a lack of a second.
Then Bowers made a motion to add 6 cents to the tax rate to be designated for debt service. It also failed due to a lack of a second.
Armstrong’s second motion – to add 10 cents to the tax rate – and Bowers’ final motion, for a 5-cent increase, both met the same fate as the earlier motions, failing to gain a second.
After the fourth motion failed, Armstrong made a motion that the meeting adjourn, which was quickly seconded by Bowers, who then quickly rescinded his second to the motion.
The committee then set a new date for a meeting and heard Deloach’s advice that the committee be prepared to vote on the entire budget at the next meeting.
The Committee made progress in other areas of the budget.
Committee members unanimously voted to approve the General Fund portion of the budget with what Deloach described as a “return to the bottom line with minimal increases.”
The total amount of increases approved for the General Fund portion of the budget was $191,278.01, which covered increased costs for pathology services, elections, and workers compensation and liability insurances. The increase also covered additional funding for juvenile detention and legal services, which Deloach said had been underfunded during the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
The Committee also approved an additional $92,537.41 to balance a deficit in the Landfill budget, as well as voting to take $100,000 from Fund Balance and put it into the Landfill budget to buy a roll off truck for the county, completion of the Elk Mills Convenience Center and any other projects needed by the landfill which could be covered by that amount.
Landfill Manager Benny Lyons has spoken to the committee several times regarding the need for a new roll
off truck for the landfill. According to Deloach, the county spent $14,000 in repairs to the current truck during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Recently, the landfill was forced to borrow a truck from Sullivan County after the current roll off truck broke down again.
“The main, most urgent need is a truck. I really believe they need it,” said Bowers before making the motion to allocate the funding. “We are spending money on repairs on a truck that has more than a million miles on it. We would be better off buying one.” Lyons has stated in previous meetings that the current roll off truck has approximately 1.3 million miles on it.
Members of the committee also approved an increase to the school system’s general fund in the amount of $141,397 in order to meet the county’s obligation of “maintenance of effort” funding as required by the state. The committee voted to fund the increase by adding 1.75 cents to the tax rate.
The only dissenting vote on the motion to approve funding for the school came from committee member Charlie Bayless, who said he did not want to vote on any tax increases until after June 30, when the county would find out how much money was being returned to the General Fund from the budgets of the various departments.
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