BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
A half-million-dollar grant could aid Greene County in water infrastructure improvements planned to benefit industrial growth in the western end of the county.
On Thursday, the Greene County Budget & Finance Committee voted to recommend that the Greene County Commission, at its March meeting, seek the grant application.
The bulk of the grant, $425,000, would come from the Fast Track Infrastructure Development Program of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, while US Nitrogen would supply the remaining $75,000.
At committee members' questioning, Mayor Alan Broyles explained that the county would be applying for the grant on behalf of Huf North America, Inc., an automobile parts manufacturer located in the Mt. Pleasant Industrial Park.
Huf announced earlier this year that the company will be launching a $20 million expansion and adding 100 jobs.
However, US Nitrogen will provide the match for the grant because the company's Mosheim-based plant, now under construction, would also benefit from the infrastructure improvements.
"US Nitrogen is being a good citizen," Budget Director Mary Shelton added in explanation.
During discussion at the beginning of the meeting, Broyles also announced that the departmental deadline to turn in budget requests for 2013-2014 had been Feb. 28, although some departments are lagging.
He said that May 15 will be the cutoff for all non-emergency expenditures so that the county can determine how much money remains.
"We have to know how much we have left over to give us some kind of estimate," Broyles said. "Our goal is to have this budget ready by June."
Meeting that goal may mean weekly or even day-after-day meetings of the Budget & Finance Committee, the mayor noted.
"We're going to have to start soon," he later added. "This year, it's going to take some cutting back."
So far, county revenues have not come in at the anticipated level, Broyles added.
In response to this urging, the committee scheduled an all-day meeting for March 19 and 26, and a half-day meeting for March 20.
In other business, the committee heard a request from member and Commissioner M.C. Rollins on behalf of Road Superintendent David Weems for the replacement of eight "rusted through" garage doors at the Highway Department.
Rollins explained that the doors are about 30 years old.
Weems said he had a quote on the doors for about $39,000.
Commissioner Robert Bird objected to this request, saying to Rollins, "You've got some kind of magic wand? Where are you going to get [the money] from?"
"I said we could discuss it, Robert," Rollins replied. "See if there is a place or a way."
Broyles explained that replacing the doors would normally be an expenditure of the Capital Projects Fund, but the County Commission spent this fund down in its February meeting to pay for a new roof at the Greene County Detention Center.
In fact, it will be more than a year before the county is able to pay for any more projects out of the fund.
The fund receives about $3,700 a month in rent from the state for the Driver Service Center on Hal Henard Road, but the fund only contained about $70,000 before the commission's vote to pay for the nearly $140,000 roof from the fund.
Broyles recommended taking the amount from the General Fund's balance (the budget out of which most departments operate) and reimbursing it over time as the Capital Projects Fund builds back up.
Meanwhile, the committee agreed that they have recently recommended for too many office items, such as computers and software, to be paid for out of that fund, reasoning that this was part of the cause for its depletion.
During discussion, Bird proposed that Weems pay for the doors out of revenues received from work performed for Greeneville Public Works on College Street.
Bird noted that the workers are already being paid for by the county, but that Greeneville is also paying Weems for his cost, which, Bird said, should result in some extra funds.
This prompted a tense exchange, in which Weems explained that he performs such tasks as the ongoing stormwater drainage project on College Street in order to aid municipalities that also include county taxpayers.
He said he generally uses any extra revenue for repair and replacement of his aging equipment because the county never has the funds to provide those items outside the Highway Department budget.
"Why is my responsibility to maintain a county building when, for other departments, it's not?" he questioned.
Commissioner Hilton Seay agreed that this is not a fair arrangement, but said he also understood Bird's reasoning in light of the county's current financial situation.
Rollins expressed his disappointment in the committee's inability to help the department with the doors, saying that the Highway Department is traditionally "left out in the cold" when it comes to receiving funds.
Items that did receive the committee's approval on Thursday included:
* budgeting $1,000 to the Sheriff's Department's budget for law enforcement equipment from the donation of $1,000 by Walmart;
* budgeting $228 from the sale of recycled materials for county building improvements; and,
* reimbursing the Unicoi County Highway Department $8,500 out of the General Fund for labor and equipment use during the 2011 tornadoes.
Shelton reported that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency have promised $58,000 in mutual aid reimbursements, $38,500 of which has already been deposited in the county's General Fund balance.