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Hawkins still faces $726K budget deficit despite spending request cuts

Jeff Bobo • Jun 1, 2020 at 9:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — During a 2020-21 budget hearing Friday, Hawkins County commissioners drastically reduced the sheriff’s request for additional funding to cover raises and vehicles and denied Hawkins County EMS’ request for a $90,000 increase.

Despite those cuts, when Finance Director Eric Buchanan begins calculations on the second draft of the county’s general fund budget, he will still be facing an estimated $726,000 deficit.

That figure takes into account the $494,000 deficit projected in the first draft of the budget presented by Buchanan in early May, plus several additional expenditures recommended on Friday to be added to the second draft “for calculation purposes only.”

Proposed HCSO raises drastically reduced

On Friday, the Budget Committee met to either approve, deny, or amend new spending requests from all departments, as well as contributions, although budget spending for the next fiscal year will be official only after it is approved by the full commission. There will still be some additional workshops and drafts of the budget before commissioners do that.

Sheriff Ronnie Lawson was asking for an additional $280,000 to replace eight high-mileage patrol cars; $343,000 to give his employees a 7.5% raise; and $50,000 to purchase used jail inmate work crew vehicles.

What the committee approved for inclusion in the second draft of the budget was $140,000 to purchase four new patrol cars; $73,275 to give his employees a 1.6% raise; and the inmate work crew vehicle funding was denied.

EMS’ $90k request denied

The committee also denied the HCEMS request to increase the county’s annual contribution from $60,000 to $150,000.

EMS Director Jason Murrell had previously stated that the funding increase was needed to replace high-mileage ambulances.

Committee members Valerie Goins and Charlie Thacker both stated that they would like to see a full-time ambulance in Surgoinsville again.

Maybe not as bad as it looks

Buchanan told the Times News Friday that although the original draft of the budget shows a $726,000 deficit, that could change by the time the second draft is presented to the Budget Committee in June.

He was still waiting for updated sales tax revenue information, which could impact revenue projections for 2020-21.

Traditionally the second draft of the proposed county general fund budget looks a lot better than the first. 

Hawkins County is projected to end this fiscal year on June 30 with an undesignated fund balance of $6.464 million.

More funding request decisions “for calculation purposes only”

County Mayor Jim Lee: The Personnel Committee had voted earlier this month to increase Buchanan’s salary from $48,321 in 2019-20, due to regular salary scale increases, to $72,592. That would be 80% of an elected official’s salary. The move was intended to bring Buchanan’s salary closer to what other Tennessee counties of similar size pay their finance director.

The Budget Committee voted 4-2 to give Buchanan half of what’s needed to reach 80% of an elected official’s salary in 2020-21, with a promise to give him the other half next year. Commissioners Charlie Thacker and Raymond Jessee voted no, stating they want to bring Buchanan’s salary up to that level over three years.

Hawkins County Election Commission: A $15,000 increase for elections worker pay was denied. The increase was requested because with the COVID-19 situation this year it is anticipated that finding election workers will be more difficult.

Hawkins County Clerk: A $2,000 increase for part-time help was approved. Committee members noted that County Clerk Nancy Davis under-spent her budget by $15,000 this year.

Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency: A request from EMA Director Jamie Miller for an unspecified increase to disaster relief funding wasn’t approved, but the committee did approve a $10,000 increase for Miller to utilize for part-time help.

Veterans Services Office: The office was allowed $2,730 to replace obsolete computers.

Industrial Board: A $1,700 increase was awarded to pay for port-o-john rental and water utility bills for Phipps Bend’s maintenance staff, although the commission said it would like to eventually build a permanent restroom in the Phipps Bend maintenance shop.

Parks Department: Parks Director John Young was granted a $17,000 increase for part-time help due to concerns he and his assistant weren’t using up all the comp time they’re allowed by law and Laurel Run Park might have to be closed if they were forced to be off.

Hawkins County Sheriff: Aside from the aforementioned requests, the HCSO was also denied a request for about $80,000 to pay for two additional narcotics detectives.

Hawkins County volunteer fire departments: All fire departments received the same level contribution from 2020-21, minus the one-time-only $4,000 bonus each department received in 2019-20.

Hawkins County public libraries: The library system was denied a $3,000 increase to pay for a 3% across the board pay raise for employees.

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