Carter Co. commission April meeting canceled to save money

John Thompson • Apr 3, 2013 at 10:04 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The meeting of the Carter County Commission that was scheduled for April 15 has been canceled as a money-saving move by Commission Chairman Tom “Yogi” Bowers.

In a letter dated April 1, Bowers told commissioners the meeting was cancelled “in an attempt to stay within our budget for commission and committee fees.”

The action was taken to offset an unusual budgeting shortage that has been repeated for several years. Every year, when the Budget Committee hears requests from various offices and agencies for funding increases, the committee does not take into account the County Commission’s own revenue needs and until last year, no one made an argument for increasing its budget.

As a result, the commission has for several years passed a county budget that includes $40,000 for its own operations. The actual cost of operating the commission is usually around $60,000 a year.

This has not been a problem for the commission, since it is the funding body for the county government. The commissioners usually pass a budget amendment around the January meeting each year to take the additional funds needed for their operations from the fund balance.

For most of those years, there has been a healthy reserve in the fund balance, but for the past two years the commission has kept property tax increases down by using those reserves. Two years ago the reserves in the Debt Service fund balance were drawn down and this year the reserves in the General Fund fund balance were drawn down.

As a result, the commissioners have been reluctant to draw down the fund balance any more this year, even for small amounts such as overruns in the number of pauper burials.

“I have been talking to everyone else about the need to not dip into the fund balance this year, and I need to follow my own example,” Bowers said Tuesday.

Because the fallback position in starting the new budget process is normally the original amount budgeted instead of the amended amounts that take place as grants and other revenue is added to the line items, the budget process begins each year back at the $40,000 level for the County Commission.

The need to put more money in the budget for the commission was discussed when the Budget Committee was developing the 2012-13 budget.

There appeared to be a consensus on the Budget Committee to make the change, but once again it began the year at the $40,000 level.

With the fund balances tighter this year, Bowers has decided to save funds when possible by already cancelling two previous commission meetings when there was no pressing matters in need of attention.

In his letter to commissioners, Bowers said he had consulted with Finance Director Ingrid Deloach and County Attorney Keith Bowers Jr. before making his decision to cancel the April meeting. He said there were no matters “that would require immediate action.”

Deloach said the cancellation will save $2,400 in the County Commission’s line item. She said there is now $6,900 left in the line item to get the commission through June 30, with several Budget Committee workshops set for May to work on the 2013-14 fiscal year budget. All committee meetings cost $400.

Deloach said committee chairmen have been conscientious this year about not scheduling unneeded meetings. She said the eight members who comprise the four Law Enforcement, Health and Welfare, Rules and Bylaws and Buildings and Grounds committees have grouped all their meetings into one night a month, saving as much as $1,200 per month.

Deloach said the County Commission will have to meet in May and June because those are the critical months in setting the new budget. That budget will probably include an increase for County Commission operations.

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