Unicoi finance committee makes cuts to nonprofit groups

Brad Hicks • Aug 14, 2013 at 9:15 AM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission’s Finance Committee continues to chip away at the county’s projected shortfall, and the prospect of the county not having to raise the property tax rate in the 2013-14 fiscal year is still a possibility.

The committee met Tuesday afternoon to continue budgetary discussions and met with county Superintendent of Roads Terry Haynes and members of the county Board of Education to discuss their respective budgets.

Haynes said the budget for the roads department will remain much the same as it did in 2012-13. For the ninth consecutive year, the school system presented a balanced budget to the county. The school system’s budget for 2013-14 is $23,567,738.

After these budgets were discussed, Finance Committee Chairman and County Commissioner Loren Thomas said the county’s projected shortfall for 2013-14 stood at $327,301, which is up from last week’s projection of $295,653. Thomas said this is due to an adjustment made by the auditor.

However, Thomas said he has reviewed the Sheriff’s Department’s proposed budget and has made changes to both revenues and expenditures projected by the department that would save the county $135,000. These adjustments would still allow the sheriff’s department to implement a step-raise system that it has proposed for its officers in the 2013-14 fiscal year, Thomas said.

Thomas said the Finance Committee will again meet with sheriff’s department officials Aug. 20 to discuss the changes. If department officials agree, it would bring the projected shortfall to $192,301.

But other cuts were proposed Tuesday that would further decrease the shortfall. The budgetary requests of several local nonprofit organizations were revisited Tuesday, and the committee proposed cuts to various agencies totaling $14,300.

Thomas proposed scaling back a $4,750 contribution to the Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue Team in 2013-14 to $4,000. The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce’s contribution was proposed at $14,700, but the committee proposed cutting this contribution to $10,000.

If the budget is passed by the County Commission with the cuts proposed Tuesday, several organizations that typically receive county funding will not receive a county contribution in 2013-14. The committee proposed cutting a contribution to the Unicoi County Family YMCA. A $4,750 contribution had been budgeted for the YCMA. It was also proposed that a contribution of $1,250 to go toward the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association be cut entirely. Contributions to the Unicoi County Little League, Children’s Advocacy Center and Second Harvest Food Bank, each of which was set to receive $950 from Unicoi County, would be cut.

Thomas also proposed cutting $30,000 from the county’s waste management budget and said he would like to see the county mayor’s office trim $15,000 more. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, and Thomas said cuts to the mayor’s office, which is seeking around $49,000 more in 2013-14 than 2012-13, would also be discussed Aug. 20.

If the sheriff’s department agrees to the adjustments, the mayor’s office cuts $15,000 and cuts made to the nonprofit organizations remain unchanged, the county’s shortfall would be around $133,000, Thomas said. This would represent a property tax increase of approximately 4.43 cents in 2013-14, but the county would be left without a fund balance at this rate.

The county’s current property tax rate is $2.6838 per $100 on real property and, last week, the county was faced with a 12-cent increase on this amount.

Thomas said he recently contacted Mountain States Health Alliance officials to receive information on the $750,000 contribution the health care organization is set to make to the county once its acquisition of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital closes.

Thomas said he was advised by MSHA attorney Tim Belisle that the funds would go to the county at closing, and MSHA officials hope that closing will take place as early as Oct. 1, but it could occur as late as Nov. 1. Thomas said he has asked County Attorney Doug Shults to compile a list of what this contribution could be used for.

“I’ve asked him to provide us a list as soon as he can stating what we can use that money for,” Thomas said. “If we can use that $750,000, if we can come to an agreement with each other to go ahead and put that in our budget as a revenue. ... Then we won’t have to raise property taxes.”

The town of Erwin, which is also set to receive a $750,000 contribution from MSHA, has already budgeted this amount as a revenue in its 2013-14 budget. But Thomas said the county will wait to receive word from Shults and discuss the matter with other county commissioners before putting the amount in its budget.

“If the other commissioners will go along with budgeting it as a revenue, we’ll very likely not have to raise property taxes,” Thomas said after Tuesday’s meeting.

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