BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Shrinking fund balances drew the attention of the Greene County Budget & Finance Committee on Wednesday morning as members considered the county's financial situation.
Of particular concern was the General Debt Service Fund, which was projected to have only $26,000 remaining in its fund balance, or savings, by the end of this fiscal year.
In recent years, more than $200,000 has been taken from this fund balance each year to pay toward the county's principal and interest on the county debt.
County Mayor Alan Broyles requested that the committee consider budgeting to the General Debt Service Fund proceeds from the upcoming sale of six properties deeded to the county as a result of delinquent taxes.
The mayor noted that money from property sales often goes into the Capital Projects Fund, but he said he believed that money is now currently most needed in the Debt Service Fund.
The committee agreed, and voted unanimously to recommend that the County Commission allocate whatever money is gained from the sale of these properties into the General Debt Service Fund.
These properties must sell for at least the total amounts owed in taxes, fees and interest, which Commissioner Hilton Seay announced are as follows:
*$4,009 for a double-wide home on a 2.6-acre lot at 1065 Ryan Road, in Fall Branch, previously owned by Stevan Quillen;
* $4,754 for a small, older home on a .64-acre lot at 211 Anderson St., Greeneville, previously owned by Thelma and Eddie Jordan;
* $1,925 for the Bobbie Ripley Worthy property on West Sevier Heights, Greeneville;
*$2,296 for the Lee Phillips property on North Loretta Street, Greeneville; and
* $1,349 and $1,542, respectively, on two Steve Rice properties on Greene Mountain Road.
The county is not only facing the problem of the Debt Service Fund's dwindling savings.
There is also the fact that, because of the amount of debt the county already owes, the county will not be eligible for any more bonds until 2017, according to Budget Director Mary Shelton.
JAIL FUNDING NEEDED
However, the county may not be in a position to wait five years for a loan, with the Greene County Detention Center now decertified due largely to overcrowding.
County government officials are currently looking for the best-possible scenario for building a new facility or expanding existing facilities in order to avoid the sharp increase in the county's liability that comes with such decertification.
During Wednesday's meeting of the Budget & Finance Committee, Commissioner Seay questioned if the committee should discuss funding prior to Thursday's meeting with the Law Enforcement and Courthouse/Workhouse committees.
Broyles, however, said that there is "nothing to discuss."
"Funding is just not there," he said. "The only way it can even be thought of is [with] revenue from the state and federal inmates."
Housing of state and federal inmates provides the county a daily reimbursement rate from the state or U.S. Marshals Service that the county often budgets as extra or "unanticipated" revenues.
While the current level of this revenue is basically already completely dedicated to the county's General Fund -- the budget out of which most county departments operate -- it has been suggested that housing an increased number of these prisoners might increase the county's revenues enough to meet the payments on whatever work is done to build a new jail or expand the detention center.
However, this method of funding comes with no solid guarantees, and additional inmates cannot be housed until a larger facility is available, the committees have explained.
Taking this approach would likely mean three years before such revenues would even come in, and any deferred payment plans, such as with United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, would still require the county to pay the interest over those three years, the mayor said.
"The money is not there to pay that," he emphasized.
Commissioner Robert Bird asked that the committee have County Attorney Roger Woolsey look into the county's litigation fees as a source of funding.
All offenders, including those receiving an offense as small as a speeding ticket, pay this fee, Seay noted.
Other commissioners agreed that this may be a possibility if the county's fees are below the maximum set by the state.
Bird noted that Woolsey could also investigate the legality of having the County Commission request the Tennessee General Assembly to issue a waiver to increase the litigtion fee maximum in order to aid in funding the jail.