Humphrey says he will veto budget passed by Carter County Commission

John Thompson • Jul 18, 2018 at 11:33 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said he will veto the county budget for fiscal year 2018-19, a budget that commissioners worked into early Tuesday morning to pass.

He said he would also veto other budget resolutions passed by the Commission during the Monday-Tuesday meeting.

“I will veto each and every one of these resolutions,” Humphrey said during a press conference Wednesday morning in the Mayor’s Conference Room of the Courthouse. “I am totally against the tax increase.”

Humphrey was referring to the proposed 11-cent increase in the property tax rate, which the County Commission passed by a 14-9 vote. That increase would fund all the approved budget requirements, but also provide a small pay raise for most county employees.

Humphrey said no tax increase was needed because the Tennessee state comptroller reported the county had an end-of-fiscal-year fund balance in 2017 of $10,076,913. The comptroller’s report said the ending unassigned fund balance was $8,138,193.

Humphrey said the Budget Committee had created a mindset among the commissioners that there was a big deficit that needed to be fixed. He said there was no deficit.

While Humphrey emphasized the county’s fund balance, Finance Director Brad Burke emphasized the deficits the county budgets have had over the past few years. He said a deficit is when the county’s budget has more dollars on the expenditure side than on the revenue side.

Burke said this year’s budget had a $450,000 deficit. That is also shown in the comptroller’s figures provided by Humphrey. That data shows the county’s total revenue for 2018 as $15,326,800 while total expenditures are $15,765,003.

While a one year-deficit of $450,000 would not be too serious for the county when  the unassigned fund balance was more than $8 million, Burke and others in the Budget Committee have pointed out that over the past several years, the County Commission has allowed budgets to grow as a result of the deficit, and then start the next budget cycle at the higher level, causing the hole to get larger and larger each year.

That pattern has caused concern for those involved with the county’s budget. Burke said not all the deficits ended up being deficits at the end of the year, thanks to increased revenues that were not anticipated at the beginning of the year, such as grants and awards to the county from state and federal sources.

But Humphrey was only emphasizing one year. He said the entire county government structure needed to be changed after that. “Everything needs to be changed,” Humphrey said.

For starters, Humphrey said the County Commission needed to be downsized to the state minimum of only 9 commissioners, or at least to 16. He also said county commissioners also needed some minimum standards of education and experience.

Humphrey said county commissioners are members of the board of directors of one of the largest financial organizations in the county, responsible for budgets totaling $75 million. As important as the job is, Humphrey said the only requirements to be eligible for the job is that they live in their district and that they don’t have a criminal record.

Humphrey also criticized the budgets of the county officeholders.

He said they contained reserves and the officeholders have resisted cutting their budgets. He said he tried to set the example by cutting his own budget by $60,000 during his first year in office and recently cut another $55,000 when asked to cut 10 percent.

He said the other officeholders did not follow his example and the Budget Committee did not scrutinize the needs of the officeholders for the budgets they requested.

The mayor also criticized the 2-cent portion of the budget increase that will be used to provide county employee raises. Humphrey said the 2-cent increase will only generate another $160,000, and that amount spread over all the employees will mean the increase would hardly be noticeable.

He said the county government needs to follow the school system’s example and conduct a compensation study, but he criticized the school system for not following through with the recommendations of their study.

Robert Acuff, chairman of the Carter County Commission, said a special called meeting will be held in response to the veto.

He said five days public notice will be given and several county commissioners are traveling over the next few weeks, so the called meeting will probably be held on Aug. 6. He said no other business will be done at that meeting.

The regular commission meeting will be just two weeks later.

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