Mayor announces intent to veto budget, tax increase

Published 3:22 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2018

In response to the passage of an 11 cent property tax increase as part of the 2018-19 fiscal year budget approved earlier this week by the Carter County Commission, County Mayor Leon Humphrey announced on Wednesday morning that he will veto the budget and tax increase.

Humphrey held a press conference at the Carter County Courthouse to announce his imminent veto of the budget. He said County Attorney Josh Hardin is still preparing the necessary paperwork for the changes made to the budget during Monday night’s Commission meeting, but when he receives the documents from Hardin he will sign the veto officially.

The decision to veto the budget, Humphrey said, is based on financial numbers from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office along with what he said was misleading information disseminated by the Budget Committee and members of the Commission regarding the county’s financial status. He pointed to talks during Monday’s Commission meeting where commissioners referred to a hole being dug in the county’s reserve fund balance due to years of using the fund balance to cover expenditures.

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“It gave me the opinion at the end of the night that Chicken Little was in town. The sky wasn’t falling, but there was a massive black hole that had been created by the mismanagement of our Budget Committee and Commission over the last eight to 10 years,” Humphrey said. “Folks, I am here today to tell you that is as far from the truth as you can get, and I have the numbers to support that.”

Humphrey pointed to a question he posed during Monday’s Commission meeting where he asked County Finance Director Brad Burke how much money was currently in the reserve fund balance. Humphrey said Burke did not know and the Commission recessed to allow Burke to get that number.

During the meeting Monday, Burke told Commissioners that at the start of the 2017-18 fiscal year the county had around $8.1 Million in reserve fund balance, and it is estimated the reserve fund balance will be around $7 Million with the start of the new fiscal year. That number is not currently available due to the Finance Department still being in the process of closing out the 17-18 fiscal year.

During this year’s budget process, Humphrey said the Budget Commission repeatedly said the county was beginning the year with a deficit of around $430,000 which was not funded from the previous budget.

“That is not the case folks,” Humphrey said.

During Wednesday morning’s press conference, Humphrey said the information he obtained from the Comptroller’s Office shows the county has a little over $10 Million in its reserve fund balance. That information also shows the county’s reserve fund balance is growing each year, according to Humphrey.

“How do you get a shortfall, a deficit, out of $10 Million,” Humphrey said. “There is no black hole. There is no deficit. There never has been.”

“I will veto each and every one of these resolutions when they are presented,” Humphrey said. “I am totally against the tax increase.”

Humphrey said the tax increase was “totally unwarranted and totally uncalled for.”  He said the county has sufficient funds within its reserves to cover the expenditures for the year without reaching critical levels.

“We’ve got the money, if it is properly managed,” Humphrey said.

Another issue Humphrey cited with the budget, is what he referred to as “reserves” within the budgets of other departments.

After taking office in 2010, Humphrey said he made significant cuts to both the Mayor’s Office budget as well as the Buildings and Grounds budget which he oversees. He said he did this as an example and hoped other officeholders would follow suit, but added they did not.

Part of that blame falls on the officeholders while part falls on the Budget Committee, according to Humphrey.

“I have never seen a Budget Committee ask the questions of officeholders that need to be asked on the front end,” Humphrey said. “There has never been a form of zero-based budgeting. Never. There is a problem with that.”

“Our citizens are being put at risk because of our failure to properly manage our funds,” he added.

During his press conference, Humphrey also touched on an issue that he said will take action by the state to fix, instituting minimum requirements for individuals to serve on the County Commission or in other elected offices.

“Currently there are no minimum requirements to be a county commissioner, or mayor for that matter, other than age, residency requirements, and the fact that you’ve not committed a heinous crime. If you are not a felon you can hold these offices,” Humphrey said. “In the real world, if you want to be a member of a board of directors for a bank or any large corporation, you would have had to have either accomplished great things, you would have had to have a high level of education or commensurate work experience, otherwise there is no hope of you taking that position.”

“But, a county commissioner, on the other hand, can be elected whether or not they are illiterate or not, whether or not they have any math skills, and they can sit on the board of directors of one of the largest corporations in the county, 75 plus million dollars of your money and my money, even though they may not be capable of managing the change in their pocket or balancing their checkbook,” he added. “I don’t think that’s right. There is a major problem with that. Now, that is something that can’t be handled here, but at the General Assembly level it needs to happen.”