The Budget Committee was still working at press time. Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler had hoped a consensus could be reached before the County Commission meets on Monday, but there are other committee meetings scheduled for early June in the event the committee needs more time to complete its work.
It has been a difficult budget setting cycle this year, with projections that it would take a 16-cent tax increase in order to fund all the requests. The committee has since trimmed the number to a 10-cent increase.
Mayor Leon Humphrey set the tone early in Thursday’s meeting. While not a member of the committee, Humphrey was invited to address the body. He told the committee he would veto any budget that included an increase in the property tax rate.
“There is no way I can allow a tax increase,” Humphrey told the committee.
Humphrey, who was defeated in his bid for re-election May 2 in the Republican primary, said he had cut the budget of the mayor’s office and the building and grounds budget during his first year in office and has kept the funding at 2010 levels since that time. Humphrey said he had urged other officeholders to follow his example but none have done so.
Some of the officeholders came in for more criticism from committee members. Last week, Culler had asked officeholders to look at cutting their budget requests. While some had complied, many kept their requests mostly unchanged.
At that point in the proceedings, the committee had reduced the requests to a point that it would take a 9.03 cent increase in the property tax rate. Committee member Kelly Collins then made a motion to cut each county office by 5 percent, except those who had already made a 5 percent or larger cut during the budget process. Her motion was defeated by a 6-2 vote, with only Robert Acuff joining her.
Although her motion was defeated, Humphrey praised Collins for her effort.
Committee member John Lewis made a motion to fund the budget increase from the fund balance and from the cash reserves in the Trustee’s Office. He said “that way, everyone gets what they need and no one gets a tax increase.”
Lewis said it would not hurt to take $1 million out of the county $4.6 million fund balance.
Ronnie Trivett seconded Lewis’ motion.
Committee member Isaiah Grindstaff said the County Commission has been drawing down the fund balance for the past several years. Deputy Finance Director Michael Kennedy said that would just make the hole the county is in that much deeper.
A challenge was made to Lewis’ motion because the County Commission had passed a resolution this year to require the budget be balanced. The matter was referred to County Attorney Josh Hardin, who said the full commission could override its own resolution if it chose to do so.
The committee voted on the challenge, with only Lewis and Trivett voting against it.