County to consider budget next month

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

While Loudon County Commission typically sets a target date of June 30 to adopt the next fiscal year budget, scheduling conflicts have pushed the date back to mid-July.

Budget Director Tracy Blair said budgeting this year has been a "really smooth process" and could not point to any other reasons to account for the delay.

In a new strategy this year, Mayor Estelle Herron passed along funding recommendations to county officials after talks with individual departments. Blair said.

"The mayor went through every departmental budget and met with department heads if she needed to if she thought, 'Well I need some more explanation on this request or that request.' She would schedule a meeting with that department head or that elected official prior to the budget committee even seeing the request," Blair said. "She worked with the officials on several things before they even came to the budget committee."

Blair said Herron included an additional column on the budget committee's worksheet outlining her recommendations. The county is set to hold a public hearing about the budget on July 8 and a budget committee meeting the next day. The county plans to hold a July 15 meeting to adopt the new budget.

"I can't point to anything that is necessarily slowing things down. I can't," Blair said. "It just seemed like this was the best way to proceed, so they agreed that this is what we'd do."

She said the past four years the county has typically passed the budget by the end of June. In previous cycles, the budget process lingered into July and September and even into October one year.

"When I first got on the commission, we very rarely made the June 30 date," Commissioner Don Miller said. "The last couple years, we've got much better. This year, we just couldn't make it. It was kind of a problem with people's travel plans and being away. When you add it all up there's about a month's lead time from the time the budget committee finishes until you can have the final meeting to approve the budget."

Miller said that in cases where the county has to delay passage into July, commission adopts a "continuing resolution" to allow the county to operate on the current budget.

"It wasn't so much that we got all hung in the budget committee," Miller said.

Blair said adopting the budget in July would not be a challenge from a bookkeeping standpoint.

"If it's in this target date of July, it won't make it difficult at all because all the way through August we are still receiving invoices for the prior year," she said. "The current fiscal year has not been closed out yet, so this date that they have decided to consider budget adoption from an accounting standpoint, it won't matter at all."

As part of the process, the budget committee has recommended a 2 percent raise for all full-time employees and regular part-timers. The mayor has not made recommendations for department head raises this year.

Loudon County Sheriff's Office previously requested the purchase of 17 sport utility vehicles, some to replace aging models and some to be used by newly hired deputies. The budget committee initially recommended dropping the number of vehicles to between five to eight.

After a previous meeting with Assistant Chief Deputy Jimmy Davis and Sheriff Tim Guider, the budget committee OK'd the purchase of 10 Dodge Chargers after learning the office could get a discount if they bought 2012 models.

"We felt it'd be better if we went and spoke to them (and) gave them kind of a hands-on (report of) what condition the fleet was in," Davis said.

The 10 Chargers are estimated to cost about $250,180, which represents a discount of about $2,600 per car. LCSO does not expect the county to grant three additional patrol deputies that were requested for the new budget. Earlier this week, commission agreed to send a letter of intent assuring the dealer of the county's plans to buy the vehicles.

Davis said that under a previous policy, the county planned to purchase vehicles for the sheriff's office in smaller increments so commission wouldn't be on the hook for more than 10 cars at a time. Early in the 2000s, the county footed the bill for 30 vehicles.

Davis said in 2004 and 2005 the county didn't provide any new patrol cars.

"In 2005, I took that policy that I knew we had and did an evaluation of our fleet, and they owed us 25 cars, and they were like, 'No, we can't do that'," Davis said.

"In our conversation this year, we spoke about that and for them to go to five to six cars a year," he added. "To do that I would need the 10 cars this year, and we could get on that maintenance plan of five to six cars a year."

Davis said LCSO originally proposed purchasing SUVs because they would better suit the needs of the office.

"Of course, they were a little bit more expensive, but they're rear-wheel drive and would do the job that we wanted them to do," Davis said. "We went completely with a different make and model just to get the bids. We really need them."

Miller said commission went forward with the letter of intend to secure the discounted rate.

"Normally, what we do is wait until the budget was approved, and then they go out and issue purchase orders and go buy the cars, but we couldn't wait on this, so (the options were) do it now or let this deal go by," Miller said.