Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

June 19, 2012

Panel to use fund balance for projects

CROSSVILLE — The budget committee of the Cumberland County Commission pared down its list of capital outlay items, agreed to several new positions and found funds to satisfy the county's portion of a new health department facility currently under construction. However, no decision was reached on how the county would fund an increase in mandated school funding, nor if county employees would see significant changes in their paychecks.

The county is projected to have a $4.5 million fund balance for the general fund. The panel wanted to use those funds to take care of the projected shortfall as well as some capital outlay projects, but, Nathan Brock, county finance director, said, "Last year, the committee wasn't comfortable taking the fund balance lower than $3 million."

Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner, said, "I don't want to get below that again."

Revenue projections show the county general fund budget operating with a deficit of more than $675,000, a figure that does not include a new wage scale for employees, but does include a yearly step raise. The county is also obligated to provide about $500,000 in funding to match grants for building the new Cumberland County Health Department and an estimated $404,300 for remedial work to solve water intrusion at the Justice Center. The county's portion of school funding has increased $482,000 over last year's budget.

Harvel suggested moving four pennies on the tax rate to the school system to cover the additional funding and use the county's fund balance for its deficit and capital projects.

Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner, warned against that, saying, "Once you give up those pennies, you never get them back. I would rather use the fund balance for non-recuring costs."

After looking at other projects, the fund balance was brought down to about $3.09 million, and the additional school funding would take that balance below the $3 million level commissioners wanted to keep for emergencies and other projects.

Harvel said, "We've started with a lot less, but I'm afraid what's going to happen next year is we won't have it to come out [of the fund balance]. But boys, our hands are tied."

Lynch said, "If you take it out of the pennies, you'll never see it come back and you're guaranteeing come next year, you're going to have to raise taxes for the general fund. Now, do you want to tell this lady over here [Chronicle reporter] you're raising taxes for the general fund? Or do you want to tell this lady you're raising taxes for the schools this year?"

Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner, said, "I'd rather raise taxes for schools."

Johnny Presley, 3rd District commissioner, said, "You're still raising taxes."

Lynch said he believed the county would be able to satisfy some of the required match with growth in the local option sales tax, estimated at 3.5 percent for next year. That would take care of about $200,000 of the school match.

"If we're going to raise taxes either this year or next year, then we ought to raise it for where the money's going, and that's the schools, not the general fund," Lynch said.

Sabine moved to raise an additional $344,000 in property taxes, to go toward the school system, supported by Larry Allen, 6th District commissioner.

Th emotion failed 5-3. Voting no were Sonya Rimmer, 8th District commissioner; Jan McNeil, 5th District commissioner; Charlie Seiber, 4th District commissioner; Harvel; and Presley. Voting in favor were Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner; Allen; and Sabine.

The committee had previously discussed changes to the county wage scale, which with the yearly step already included in the budget would add another $288,000 to the budget bottom line.

"I think we ought to do it," Lynch said. "We should reserve the $1 million we started the year with that we didn't expect and use $228,000 to implement the wage scale. I believe this gets us back on to a competitive wage scale with everybody where they ought to be. And going forward, your operational increases in future years will just be a couple of percent."

The county had projected an ending fund balance of $3 million for this fiscal year and is now projecting a $4.5 million fund balance.

"If we don't do this now, we're looking at needing some one-time money some time to implement a scale that is competitive and up to date," Lynch said.

Harvel said the panel should be determining how it would fund projects and commitment that they have no choice about, such as the school budget, health department and fixing the water intrusion at the Cumberland County Justice Center.

"That's $1.5 million we've got to do if we don't do nothing else," Harvel said.

Harvel, who is employed by the county's solid waste department, suggested the county move the 1.5-cents allocated to the sanitation fund back to debt service to pay for the health department, justice center, or both. Those funds were reallocated to provide funding for closing the county landfill.

However, the county finances capital outlay projects for three years, and the 1.5-cents to debt service would only allow for about a $600,000 project.

Funds for the health department could be found by applying the proceeds of the sale of the old Art Circle Library, $420,000, to either the loan used to purchase land for the health department building site or towards the required match, depending on if interest rates would be favorable.

Brock noted that the principal amounts on many of the older notes, which had higher interest rates, were so low, refinancing or adding new debt might not be beneficial once interest and fees for borrowing were calculated.

Harvel moved to use the library sale proceeds towards the health department grant match, supported by Presley. The motion was approved.

Later in discussion, Harvel moved to take $450,000 from the county's fund balance, with Hyder supporting the motion. It was unanimously approved.

Items approved to be added to the budget were:

•$5,000 for furniture and fixtures at the Big South Fork Visitor's Center, with a motion by Seiber, supported by Hyder and unanimously approved.

•$59,000 to hire a full-time field appraiser for the property tax assessor's office, a full-time employee at the Art Circle Public Library, and a salary reclassification for the general sessions court office manager, with a motion by Sabine, supported by Rimmer. The motion passed with Lynch, Hyder, McNeil, Rimmer and Sabine voting in favor and Harvel, Seiber, Allen and Presley voting no.

•$43,000 for three part-time employees where the additional revenue those offices could collect would be increased with the additional workers.

•Purchase of a safe for the county clerk, a computer for the judicial commissioner, a walk-in cooler for the jail, 10 Tough Books for Emergency Medical Services, and engineering services and spare parts for the digital communications system for a total of $213,300 in capital outlay projects.

The committee will reconvene tonight at 4:30 p.m. in the small courtroom of the Cumberland County Courthouse to continue deliberations. The public is invited to attend.

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