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County faces $365K budget shortfall

Currently working with a negative balance of $365,219, the Unicoi County Commission’s Budget and Finance Committee met on Monday, June 29, at the courthouse to begin talks on cuts to the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
All nine commissioners were in attendance at the meeting.
An ideal timeline to pass a budget would be in July, County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice said. The 2015-2016 deadline for the county is August.
The negative balance of $365,219 is a better outlook than the more than $400,000 deficit that was on the table during a previous meeting. Rice stated that number is subject to change with items coming in and the current fiscal year coming to a close.
After money was borrowed from the fund balance last year, Finance Director Phyllis Bennett told members that there needs to be action taken to start generating a fund balance.
“There is a need to build up the fund balance,” she said. “Not to borrow from debit services.”
Committee members began talks on Wednesday, June 24, and received word from Assessor of Property Wayne Peterson that while it was a busy first year, his office completed a new property assessment for the upcoming years that showed property tax revenues will increase from $2,464,884 to an overall total of more than $6 million for tax revenues next year.
Peterson’s report gave positive footing moving forward, but the committee was unable to come across any cuts on Monday.
“We’re just going to have to go through it all,” Commissioner Jason Harris said. “Go from the start to finish and see where we can make the cuts.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, the negative balance of over $400,000 would take a 20-cent tax increase to balance the budget, Rice added. She also said that was expected to leap up to as high as potentially 40 cents with budget requests from the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.
“We’re going to have to start making cuts somewhere,” Rice said.
Different ideas were passed along on Wednesday, including the use of money from Mountain States Health Alliance and the potential of a 10-cent tax increase, which was not favored by committee members.
The trend continued on Monday with no cuts being agreed upon by the committee.
“We’re going to have to do something,” Commissioner Gene Wilson said. “We’ve sat here for an hour and got nothing accomplished.”
While no cuts were agreed upon, different expenses were questioned by commissioners, including $81,000 to the industrial board to fund the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County.
“The state has its own formula on determining how much we pay,” County Mayor Greg Lynch said. “We can see their fingerprints across in work they’ve done in the county.”
Commissioner Loren Thomas countered by asking if the county can pay the same amount as last year instead of the increased amount.
Lynch responded asking the board to listen to a representative from the state’s economic board who previously served in Cocke County, where they experienced the same type of financial issues.
“If we don’t meet the requirements, we risk the chances of losing our Community Development Block Grants,” Lynch added.
The committee was scheduled to meet with the school board on Tuesday, June 30, but that meeting was cancelled.
Meetings have also been scheduled for 5 p.m. at the courthouse on Monday, July 6, and Tuesday, July 7.