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Public Notices

April 21, 2014

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County Budget Comm. Cuts Deficit; Meeting Is Monday

Sun Photo by Kristen Buckles

County Commissioner Robert Bird, at left, observes a heated exchange between Road Superintendent David Weems, at right, and County Commissioner Hilton Seay, not pictured, during Thursday’s meeting of the Budget & Finance Committee.

Originally published: 2013-06-15 00:11:52
Last modified: 2013-06-15 00:21:47
 


BY KRISTEN BUCKLES

STAFF WRITER

The Greene County Budget & Finance Committee has nearly finished forming a budget proposal for 2013-2014, but a $1 million deficit still remains unresolved.

The committee began this year's budgeting cycle with a projected $3.5 million deficit.

Over the past few months, the committee has met nearly weekly, often for five hours or more at a time, cutting budgetary requests in nearly every department.

The majority of the deficit, about $2 million, came from "zeroing out" all revenue from the housing of state and federal inmates.

Sheriff Steve Burns dramatically reduced the number of inmates housed in the Greene County Detention Center earlier this year as a result of an effort to regain certification.

The Tennessee Corrections Institute decertified the center in 2012, largely as a result of overcrowding.

Burns' efforts, coupled with discussion by the County Commission about building a new facility, earned the center certification in 2013 on a month-by-month basis.

Maintaining that certification will require monthly updates from the commission showing progress on resolving the overcrowding and keeping the number of inmates lower.

As a result, Burns originally requested that Budget Director Mary Shelton remove all revenue from the boarding of prisoners from the 2013-2014 budget.

BURNS' PROJECTION

On Thursday, however, he projected that he could bring in about $900,000 in revenue by housing state inmates at the Greene County Workhouse -- if, in exchange, the commission budgets an additional $65,000 into cafeteria workers and grants his request to add an additional maintenance position for $37,000, including benefits.

Originally, Burns had requested 12 new correctional officers in addition to the maintenance personnel, citing the TCI's notation that the center is understaffed.

With only the maintenance personnel and the extra funding in the cafeteria workers, however, Burns said he could train those workers to be correctional officers, changing their shifts from eight hours to 12.

This, he explained, will give him enough security to increase the number of prisoners housed at the low-security workhouse, thereby increasing the revenue.

"It's not perfect," he said. "Ideally, I would need that guard a whole 12 hours; it's not a good thing."

In addition, he said he would aim to house enough federal inmates to bring in $100,000, which would mean averaging about six federal inmates per day.

"That's pushing it," he said.

As for the open positions in his department that the committee had also discussed cutting, he said he has already filled the cafeteria worker position ($28,600, with benefits) and is soon to fill the nursing position ($45,000, with benefits).

The committee tentatively agreed to this proposal, which totaled a $1.4 million reduction in the original deficit.

HIGHWAY FUND REDUCED

However, a property tax reallocation proposal resulted in a divided vote of 3-1, with Commissioner Hilton Seay, Robert Bird and Phil King in favor and Commissioner M.C. Rollins opposed.

County Mayor Alan Broyles chairs the committee and only chooses to vote in the event of a tie.

Seay proposed the reallocation of two cents from the Highway Fund into the General Fund, noting that the fund received an additional three cents during last year's property tax increase.

Of that three cents, one cent was designated for a countywide 2 percent employee raise.

The remaining two cents, which brings in an estimated $263,000, went into operations, he said.

This proposal has long remained a point of contention between Seay and Weems, but culminated Thursday in a heated debate followed by the actual vote.

Although Seay made the motion, Bird also defended the move, saying, "We're either going to have to cut people, cut pay or pull back two cents. That two cents is the least harmful of anything we can do."

HEATED DIALOGUE

Weems, however, said that he has heard a number of objections from citizens who do not want to see the department lose money.

"It'll take the County Commission to do it. You can recommend whatever you want, but I'll fight it as hard as I can," Weems said.

"When you fight it --" Seay began.

"And there's a tax increase after that, you'll get some credit for it," Bird cut in, replying to Weems.

"If we can't reach some [compromise], we'll just have to report to the state that we don't have a budget and let them come in and set [the property tax rate]," Seay said.

"David, do you support a tax increase?" Seay asked.

"It's not my job! I didn't break my fund; it's not in the red, the General Fund is," Weems replied. "So, by gosh, why do you want to punish the road department? That's what I can't understand. We've been broke for years."

'SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!'

"How do you suggest we make up the difference?" Seay asked.

"I didn't create it. It's been going on for four years," Weems said.

"Everybody has to be responsible for this," Bird said. "This is Greene County."

"Let me finish, then you can speak," Weems interjected. "I heard [Shelton] tell you all at the County Commission for two years that the debt service has been going down, and the general fund is going down, and the county commission and everybody keeps voting to spend, spend, spend!

"I have my own budget and I've tried to manage it and keep money in there, and now dang if you ain't going to take it away from me," Weems continued.

"What's the use in managing my own money? I'll just spend it."

"I make a motion that we reduce the appropriation to the Highway Department by two cents," Seay replied.

"I make a motion I'll just take it out of asphalt," Weems said.

WEEMS' BULLET POINTS

The road superintendent later contacted The Greeneville Sun to note the following:

* There are over 500 miles of chip-seal roads in the county in need of paving.

* Approximately 100 miles of hot-mix asphalt roads need paving.

* The department, Weems said, is in need of replacing aged equipment and has been doing so within its own fund.

* A $260,000 cut is equivalent to five to six miles of paving.

"I think that the money that goes into the road department is definitely something that citizens want to see their money used for," Weems said. "When a road is paved, it's something that a lot of people can benefit from."

FEWER POSITIONS

The committee also returned to reviewing 2013-2014 funding requests for positions that would be newly added or have been open for some time.

The total of all such positions, outside of those in the jail, was $164,000.

The committee began this review with an open position in the Election Commission Office, out of which Administrator of Elections Donna Burgner explained she pays part-time workers during elections.

"She has to have some money to pay these part-time employees or we'll be in a huge mess if people can't go up there and vote," Bird said.

The committee agreed and tentatively cut the $19,000 in benefits, but kept the $19,000 salary for the position.

The committee did not address if this will meet the state's approval in light of the mandate that the county fund the Election Office at the same level as the previous equivalent election cycle.

In the County Clerk's Office, the committee addressed two open positions, at least one of which County Clerk David Thompson said he uses for part-time personnel.

The committee tentatively pulled $27,000 of this $54,000 total from his budget, despite Thompson's strong objections.

"I don't see how you can justify [cutting that funding] after 25 years when there's only been one position added," he said.

'STAND IN LINE'

Seay said that the consequence of such a cut may be that people have to stand in line for a time to wait for service, but added that this does not bother him.

"It bothers me for people to have to wait to do something that they don't want to do," Thompson replied. "I understand very well the position that you're in ... but I just don't agree."

Finally, the committee tentatively agreed to cut a request for an additional clerical personnel at the Greene County Health Department estimated at $15,000.

The committee also cut $44,000 normally budgeted for ambulance upgrades that Emergency Medical Services Director Robert Sayne had requested to instead use for a new quality control position.

These cuts totaled just over $100,000 in savings.

WHEEL TAX

The committee's proposal to increase the county's wheel tax by $10, which is scheduled for consideration on first reading by the County Commission on Monday at 10 a.m., represents another potential $600,000 reduction in the deficit for 2013-2014.

Thompson estimated that $10 on the wheel tax brings in about $700,000 annually.

The resolution must pass the commission by a two-thirds vote on two consecutive readings. If the proposal receives 14 of the 21 votes on Monday, the second reading will be in July.

If another two-thirds of the commission votes in favor of the increased tax in July, the public will then have 30 days to gather a petition containing 10 percent of the voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election to require that the matter appear as a referendum for a countywide vote.

Thompson said collections would therefore not begin until September at the earliest, two months short of the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

The county could expect to collect about $600,000, he said.

MEDICAL INSURANCE

At the committee's request, Shelton also decreased each department's budget to reflect the exact amount needed in medical insurance following open enrollment, resulting in $200,000 in savings.

The committee made this recommendation following what Seay, Bird and Broyles frequently said was a tendency for department heads to transfer extra funds in this line into other expenditures, including employee bonuses.

Chopping the medical insurance lines in every budget to the exact minimum could curtail this practice, the committee reasoned.

In addition, Broyles said Thursday that he spoke with the County Technical Assistance Service and the Tennessee Comptroller's Division of County Audit about this matter.

These entities recommended that the committee recommend by resolution to the County Commission that all interbudgetary transfers from salary or benefit line items must be approved by the full County Commission by a two-thirds vote.

Shelton said that this is common practice in most other counties.

"There will be less people trying to move money," Thompson said.

"That's the whole idea," Shelton replied. "It'll put some skids on it."

MONDAY'S MEETING

By the end of the meeting, the committee calculated a remaining $1 million deficit.

The only possible remaining cuts to balance such a significant deficit, the members said, would be layoffs or reductions in employee hours.

Shelton calculated that the deficit would also be equivalent to an eight cent property tax increase.

The committee agreed to ask the full County Commission which path they should next pursue during Monday's meeting.

An unexpected tornado warning then prompted a disorderly disbandment of the committee, as county employees flooded into the basement conference room at the Annex.

 
For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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