Unicoi County committee sets to trying to balance budget

Brad Hicks • Sep 17, 2013 at 8:40 AM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission now has less than one week until it is set to consider the first reading of the county’s new 2013-14 fiscal year budget after the county’s original proposed budget was voted down last week, and the commission’s Finance Committee began work Monday to ready the projected revenues and expenditures for the commission’s consideration.

Quickly into Monday’s approximately two-hour session, the committee proposed eliminating $330,000 in revenue that was originally projected in the 2013-14 budget. The first revenue cut came from projections in the Circuit Court Clerk’s budget. The office had initially budgeted $255,000 in clerk’s fees for 2013-14. After some discussion, the committee would propose that this amount be scaled back to $105,000 for the new fiscal year.

Unicoi County Circuit Court Clerk Darren Shelton told commissioners Monday that he previously discussed increasing the original projection of $105,000 by $150,000 with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, as the agency would likely realize more traffic stops along the interstate due to the reduction of Tennessee Highway Patrol officers in the county and increased drug interdictions.

However, Shelton said he has since consulted the County Technical Advisory Service and County Attorney Doug Shults about the increased revenue and was advised by CTAS that it was not recommended the $150,000 in additional revenue be budgeted since it has had come in in the past and there was “no basis” to budget that amount.

Commissioner Bill Hensley also suggested that $180,000 of the $750,000 contribution the county is set to receive from Mountain States Health Alliance when its acquisition of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital closes not be utilized as a projected revenue. This $180,000 was used in the original 2013-14 budget to pay toward the county’s ambulance service provider’s subsidy of the same amount to make up a shortfall of approximately $180,000. Hensley said he did not feel comfortable to use this in “simply supplementing” the projected budget.

Commissioner Kenneth Garland suggested using last year’s operational bottom-line budget figure, which was $6,366,325, and adding in the county employee insurance costs the county agreed to pay in 2013-14, as well as the costs for six part-time jailers and state-mandated raises for county officeholders, and use that figure as a starting point.

Commissioner Mickey Hatcher said he spent time at the sheriff’s department late last week discussing its proposed budget, and the department had agreed to approximately $80,000 in cuts.

After further discussion, the committee arrived at the shortfall the county is currently facing — $41,958. County Bookkeeper Phyllis Bennett said she arrived at this figure by taking the $208,042 fund balance originally proposed in the 2013-14 budget and subtracted the $330,000 in eliminated revenue. The $80,000 cut by the sheriff’s department was added back to the difference.

At a Sept. 10 commission meeting, approval of the second and final reading of the county’s 2013-14 fiscal year budget failed by a 4-5 vote. However, at that same meeting, the commissioner approved a measure to set the county’s property tax rate at $2.6838 per $100 on real property, the same rate as last year.

The commission is hoping to approve the first reading of the new budget at its regular Sept. 23 meeting. Budget talks will continue this evening, as the Finance Committee will meet again at 5 at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

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