Spending Of $86.2M,
Revenue Of $84.6M
Passes In 12-6 Vote
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
An $86.2 million 2013-2014 budget that includes numerous deficits but no tax increases received the Greene County Commission's approval during a special called session on Friday.
The commission approved the expenditures, matched by only $84.6 million in estimated revenues, in a 12-6 vote with one member abstaining.
An identical vote set the county's property tax levy with no increase over last year.
That rate is $1.6613 per $100 of assessed (not appraised) value for Greeneville property-owners and $1.8731 for Greene County property-owners outside Greeneville.
This rate is slightly higher than the one originally published because of a miscalculation by the state, County Budget Director Mary Shelton said.
Only those who own property outside Greeneville must pay the $0.2118 for the county school system's debt.
The individual tax levies that add up to these overall rates include: $0.5992 per $100 to the General Fund, $0.1549 to the Highway Fund, $0.7753 to the General Purpose School Fund, $0.0403 to the General Debt Service Fund, $0.0275 to the Self-Insurance Fund, and $0.0641 to Solid Waste.
"I would like to commend the entire commission for their diligence and hard work. I know it's been a trying time for all of you," County Mayor Alan Broyles said Friday at the meeting.
"This budget certainly isn't what all of us wanted. I do think, though, that it's a budget that we can work with. And I think the economy is slowly picking up, but it's going to take some time."
The commission did choose to reallocate two cents from the Highway Fund's revenue and a half-cent from the Solid Waste Fund's revenue in a move to prevent a larger deficit in the General Fund.
This reallocation was controversial, however, and several commissioners cited it as the reason behind their votes against the budget.
Road Superintendent David Weems objected frequently to the reallocation during the last several weeks. He issued the following statement after Friday's meeting:
"Just to let the citizens know, they cut the Highway Fund a little over 7 percent and only a little over 1 percent for the General Fund.
"That's about a $240,000 cut [to the Highway Fund].
"It means we're going to have to cut some services on bush-hogging, paving or a combination of those -- maybe even employees.
"I don't have a choice. Revenues coming in to fund these things -- that's all I have to spend. That's the County Commission's choice to make.
"Thanks for your patience and support."
Commissioner Jan Kiker was among those objecting to the reallocation, saying that the Highway Department was being forced to fund increases within the Sheriff's Department, a matter that "didn't make sense."
Sheriff Steve Burns countered, "You don't make sense, Ms. Kiker."
Burns repeated his explanation that the $170,000 increase in his budget for four additional guards was due to the need to house revenue-generating state inmates in the county's low-security workhouse.
The county has for many years relied on state and federal inmate-boarding revenues to help balance the County General Fund rather than using those revenues against jail debt or future building projects.
Following 2012's decertification of the Greene County Detention Center because of overcrowding, the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) has tasked Burns with limiting the inmate population at the facility as much as possible while the county provides monthly progress reports on the planning for a new jail facility.
Should the county fail in these tasks, the TCI could pull the center's certification at any given time.
Burns explained that he is therefore trying to balance maintaining a lower inmate population with the county's need for the inmate revenues in the General Fund.
His intent is to hire the extra guards for the workhouse, which he described as currently understaffed, so that he can house more state inmates there.
The county will need to house more than 100 state inmates a day to meet the $1.45 million revenue projection in Friday's approved budget, Burns said.
The 2012-2013 budget projected $1.2 million, but Burns actually brought in $1.49 million.
Commissioner Robert Bird said that he is confident in the sheriff's ability to bring in the revenue.
"If we don't recognize that, next year it's going to be a more huge problem than it is this year," Bird said.
"You're going to devastate his budget," Kiker responded, gesturing to Weems. "I'm just making that clear before we vote."
The commission then cast the 12-6 vote, with Commissioners Fred Malone, John Carter, Ted Hensley, Bird, Lloyd "Hoot" Bowers, Phil King, M.C. Rollins, Hilton Seay, Margaret Greenway, Nathan Holt, David Crum and Jimmy Sams voting in favor.
Voting against the tax levy were Commissioners Wade McAmis, Robin Quillen, John Waddle, Bill Moss, Bill Dabbs and Kiker.
Commissioners Tim White and Rennie Hopson were absent. Mayor Alan Broyles announced that White contacted another commissioner to say he had had an emergency that would keep him from attending the meeting.
Commissioner Anthony Sauceman abstained, on the basis of a conflict of interest, because of his having been employed by the county government after his election to the commission.
Sauceman is employed by the Greene County Solid Waste Department.
The several commissioners who were already county employees when elected to the commission, or who have a close family member employed by the county, may vote on the budget.
Normal practice would be for these commissioners to read a statement vowing to vote their conscience and not on the basis of their own personal interests.
During Friday's called meeting, no commissioners read such conflict-of-interest statements.
However, according to Mayor Broyles, the fact that they did not read the conflict-of-interest statement before voting would only affect the integrity of the votes had another commissioner raised the issue immediately following the vote.
He also said that there are no repercussions for the commissioners' having not followed the conflict-of-interest-statement requirement.
Quillen opened discussion prior to the actual vote on the various funds and overall budget, saying, "We need to stop depending on the sheriff to balance the budget."
She also raised what she said had been a citizen's question concerning why the county's savings have continued to decrease since 2007-2008.
At that time, the county's General Fund savings were at $6.21 million.
The General Fund is projected to close this fiscal year on June 30, 2014 with a balance of $2.2 million.
There was much discussion on how this change has come to pass, from economic resession requiring the use of savings to decreased revenues and investment income.
Commissioner Hilton Seay reminded the commission that no funds can be spent from savings without a majority vote by the commission.
"The commission is responsible for that happening," he said. "It's never any one person."
The majority of funds in this year's budget will continue to operate at a deficit.
The following is, in rounded numbers, a summary of the net balance (surplus, deficit, or break-even) of all the approved county funds:
* County General Fund: a $720,000 deficit that will reduce its fund balance to $2.2 million;
* Solid Waste/Sanitation Fund: a $134,000 deficit that will reduce its fund balance to $489,000;
* Worker's Compensation and Liability Fund: a $21,000 deficit that will reduce its fund balance to $1.3 million;
* Drug Control Fund: a $33,000 deficit that will reduce its fund balance to $218,000;
* Highway/Public Works Fund: a $1.1 million deficit that will reduce its fund balance to $1.3 million;
* General Purpose School Fund: a $256,000 surplus that will increase its fund balance to $3.4 million;
* Central Cafeteria Fund: a balanced budget that will leave the fund balance the same at $1.1 million;
* General Debt Service Fund: an $80,000 surplus from refinancing the debt that will increase the fund balance to $81,000;
* Education Debt Service Fund: a $7,000 deficit that will reduce its fund balance to $960,000; and
* Economic Development Fund: a $17,000 deficit that will reduce its fund balance to $71,000.
The commission voted 12-6 in favor of these allocations, with Commissioner Anthony Sauceman abstaining.
Voting in favor of the budget were Commissioners Malone, Carter, Hensley, Bird, Bowers, King, Rollins, Seay, Greenway, Holt, Crum and Sams.
Opposed were Commissioners McAmis, Quillen, Waddle, Moss, Dabbs and Kiker.
The commission unanimously approved the following:
* supporting an "It Can Wait" National Day of Action for the no-texting-while-driving movement;
* adding Estate Drive to the official Greene County road list on second reading;
* establishing an updated Occupational Safety and Health Program plan, and a plan to provide for a safety director; and,
* appointing Ron Metcalfe to fill Gene Gaby's unexpired term on the Greene County Civil Service Board.
At the close of the meeting, Quillen requested that the commission meet in closed session to hear from County Attorney Roger Woolsey concerning issues that she said are "floating around."
Other commissioners objected, however, saying that normal protocol would be for Woolsey to call the closed session if there was something he needed to share.
"The less I hear, the better," Hensley said of pending lawsuits and cases against the county. "Unless there's something I need to know, I'm out of here."
Other commissioners echoed that sentiment, but Quillen said the commissioners have a problem of "having our heads buried in the mud for too long."
Woolsey agreed to meet with any commissioners who had questions concerning any pending legal matter, asking, however, that they keep any information shared during their conversations confidential based on attorney-client confidentiality.