The Washington County Budget Committee approved a balanced budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year but not without first hearing several concerns from officeholders whose budgets were cut in order to balance that budget.
The county began its budgeting process with a $4.25 million deficit amounting from departmental requests. By paying down some debt and increasing employee contributions to health care benefits, officials were able to reduce that amount by more than $3 million, leaving about $1.2 million left to cut in order to submit a balanced budget. Those cuts were divided among departments, most of which had already made as many cuts as they felt they could.
“I turned my budget in on April 1,” Sheriff Ed Graybeal said. “I never heard much back. My understanding was that we were supposed to work together, which didn’t happen. Then all of a sudden I get a budget back that’s got cuts in it that I know nothing about.”
Graybeal said $90,000 was cut from his gas budget, $96,000 from his automobile budget, $17,000 from the jail’s electricity budget, $15,000 from the natural gas budget, $5,000 from the water and sewer budget, $33,000 from the food service budget, $50,000 from the heating and air budget and $156,000 from the “other equipment” line item.
“My biggest question is when I come back to this committee, knowing that this budget committee cut these things ... I don’t want to be told to find it in my budget when my budget has been cut,” Graybeal said to the committee.
County Mayor Dan Eldridge told Graybeal that any needs he has that extend beyond his budget will be dealt with on a case by case basis with the budget committee.
“There is nobody in here that is going to let you and the essential service that you provide in Washington County go undone,” Eldridge said to Graybeal. “We can’t do that.”
The committee also heard concerns from Elections Administrator Connie Sinks, Property Assessor Scott Buckingham and Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn, each making it clear that there will likely be budget requests throughout the year because of the cuts that were made.
Last year, the county anticipated using approximately $2.6 million of the fund balance to balance the budget. Committee member Pat Wolfe said having a balanced budget this year will allow the fund balance to be used for any unforeseen needs the departments may have.
“I think, in my opinion, we sort of have an ace in the hole this year in that we aren’t anticipating taking any fund balance to balance the budget,” Wolfe said. “So, I’m not saying that we’ve got a great big cushion there but certainly we do have some cushion that in cases of your emergency situations, which we know we’ve got to honor, I think we’ve got some cushion that we can work with.”
The committee will recommend the balanced budget to the full commission at its Aug. 29 meeting. A public hearing for the budget will be held at 5 p.m. before the commission meeting on the second floor of the Jonesborough Courthouse.
The committee is also recommending that the property tax rate remain the same. The only change recommended is increasing the allocation of pennies in the general fund to .7061 and decreasing the allocation to the debt service fund to .3229.