BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County Budget & Finance Committee continued to pull most department budget requests back to the current year's funding on Wednesday, with much focus also given to the county's debt service funds.
Among the budgets reviewed on Wednesday were Sheriff Steve Burns' Sheriff Department and Jail budgets.
The committee had previously reviewed these budgets and asked that Burns return his Sheriff's Department budget without requests for increases such as for employee pay raises.
Burns did so on Wednesday, but his budget still featured an increase from the prior year's $4.46 million to $4.47 million, representing an increase of just over $14,000.
The sheriff said that these came from uncontrollable increases in areas such as Social Security and medical insurance.
The committee tentatively approved his request but declined to act on the jail budget until after the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) performs its annual surprise inspection to determine certification.
TCI decertified the jail in 2012 due largely to overcrowding, with staffing also noted as a deficiency.
Burns explained that he has kept in his request for this budget 12 additional corrections officers and an additional maintenance person. This would allow for three additional guards per shift, he said.
The committee agreed that this may be necessary if TCI notes the deficiency as prohibitive to regaining certification, but chose to delay action until hearing TCI's reactions to reductions in the inmate population.
These reductions, County Commissioner Robert Bird said, could prove enough of a measure to provide recertification for this year.
The committee on Wednesday also gave tentative approval to County Clerk David Thompson's budget, which he reduced to the prior year's $536,000, and to the Highway Fund budgets.
Road Superintendent David Weems reduced his total budget request from the current year's $7.08 million to $6.95 million in 2013-2014.
This is mostly due to an $85,000 reduction in capital outlay requests for highway equipment, Budget Director Mary Shelton said.
In addition to these tentative approvals, the committee also approved three interbudgetary requests for the current year's General Fund budgets.
These included $42,000 in transfers between line items at the Greene County Health Department, which Director Shaun Street attributed to vacant positions that 'aved the department money this year.
This, he said, could provide funding for building improvements, as well as $5,000 in drugs and medical supplies and $2,000 for postal charges.
He credited the need for building improvements to needed guttering and roofing repairs, security improvements from aggressive customers and some remodeling to add an additional state-paid position.
The committee also approved $58,000 from attendants and medical insurance line items to part-time personnel in the Emergency Managment Services budget, which Director Robert Sayne attributed to considerable turnover in employees in the past year.
Finally, the committee approved $1,896 in transfers from clerical personnel, postal charges, part-time personnel, printing, office equipment and legal notices into overtime pay for the Trustee's Office.
Finally, the committee turned attention to contribution requests from non-profit organizations, which have increased more than $70,000 from the $437,000 the county contributed this year.
"What concerns me at this stage of the game is our Debt Service Fund," Mayor Alan Broyles said. "No matter what transpires in our General Fund, this Debt Service Fund is going to be major."
While all are worthy agencies, Broyles said, he questioned if they should be funded using taxpayer money.
The committee agreed that all contributions should at least be cut back to the current year's funding and cuts considered from there.
"The debt is most important," Broyles said, proposing $100,000 in cuts to shift into the Debt Service Fund. "We've got to pay our debt."
These comments are in reference to the General Debt Service Fund, which Shelton has projected to have more than a $500,000 deficit in 2013-2014.
The committee agreed to sponsor a resolution to increase the county's litigation tax from $10 to $35 to aid in paying jail-related debt.
This would provide an estimated $250,000 annual increase in revenues.
Other revenue to the fund includes a portion of the hotel/motel tax, wheel tax, and property tax.
County Commissioner Hilton Seay proposed looking at reallocating sales tax money, increasing the wheel tax, and potentially declining to fund what has become an annual contribution to the volunteer fire departments of $5,000 apiece out of the General Fund.
"This is the year that I don't think we can strain enough to give it to them," he said. "I'm for the fire departments, and they do a good job, but we're in a bind. And when we're in a bind, we've got to do whatever we've got to do."
In addition, Seay questioned what the School System is providing the Education Debt Service Fund, from which all education debt is paid.
Shelton has already projected that the Education Debt Service Fund will end 2013-2014 below the $1 million savings that the county and school system strive to maintain.
She explained that the system pays up to $250,000 per year to the fund to aid in maintaining that amount.
Seay, however, said that it is his memory that the system agreed to pay for the debt on Chuckey-Doak High School out of funding from the state's Basic Education Program (BEP).
According to preliminary research by The Greeneville Sun, this seems to be one of three versions of the understanding reached by the Board of Education and County Commission in 2001.
"I don't like the statement that we can't ask [the school system] to pay any more," Seay said. "That needs to be investigated. If they aren't paying ... they need to ante up."
Bird and Broyles agreed that this is also their memory of the agreement.
"[The school system] is getting flushed with revenue from the state," Bird said.
"We've got to look at the schools here, and I don't feel a bit bad about asking them to ante up," Seay later reiterated.
"I'm with you there," Broyles agreed.
Seay noted that both the school system and the Highway Department received property tax money that they had not requested during last year's property tax increase.
"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," he said.
FORMER DIRECTOR PARKINS
The Greeneville Sun contacted Dr. Joe Parkins, former director of Greene County Schools, following the meeting when the current Director of Schools, Dr. Vicki Kirk, and Budget Director Mary Lou Woolsey, said that the only agreement they know of is the current one: up to $250,000 a year to maintain the $1 million in savings.
Parkins said that the County Commission declined a property tax increase to cover the construction of the new high school and Mosheim Middle School addition, but he later presented a proposal that the Board of Education approved for the system to pay up to $250,000 per year toward the bond.
Natural growth of property and sales tax going into the Education Debt Service Fund would eventually phase out these payments, he said.
In 2009-2010, Parkins' last year as director, he said the system only paid about $50,000.
"That really should have been the last year that [the school system] should have even had to contribute," he said.
However, the following year, some controversy arose as the county and school system realized that the bonds had been refinanced by the county, changing the schedule under which they would be paid.
The earlier resolutions were "confusing," so the county and schools agreed to write a new resolution.
It was this new resolution that set the system's contribution at up to $250,000 per year to maintain the $1 million fund balance, he said.
WHAT 'SUN' REPORTED
According to Greeneville Sun archives, the board in 2001 approved up to $250,000 in BEP funds per year for the next 25 years toward the cost of a school building program including the new Chuckey-Doak High School.
The County Commission approved the construction in August 2001.
According to an article written by staff writer Bill Jones, the following transpired:
"By a vote of 18-3, the Greene County Commission on Monday approved issuing $18 million in school construction bonds to build a new high school adjacent to the existing Chuckey-Doak High School, and to construct a middle-school addition on the campus of Mosheim Elementary School.
"The CountyCommission had turned down the same proposal three times earlier this year when the county school board sought a 5-cent property-tax increase to complete the funding package.
"The commission on Monday didn't reach near-consensus easily, even though the school board was offering to use its own state Basic Education Program (BEP) funds this time.
"Dr. Joe Parkins, director of Greene County Schools, ... told the commissioners that he understood that some of them were concerned about the school board's 25-year commitment of state BEP funds to help cover the cost of selling construction bonds for the school building program.
"In lieu of committing up to $250,000 per year in state BEP funds to the building program for the next 25 years, Parkins told the commissioners, the school board would agree to transfer to the County Commission from 'non-classroom BEP reserves' a sum of $1,343,676.
"That money, he said, could be invested by the county and used, as needed, to complete the funding package for the school construction bonds.
"The transfer of BEP reserve funds, he said, would not affect the county school board's annual operating budgets and would not impair the county school system's ability to maintain existing school buildings."