Sheriff's requests, office renovations could be cut in Loudon budget

By Hugh G. Willett

Faced with too much money in the school building fund, a shortage in the general fund and a list of controversial budget cuts, the Loudon County Commission will confront Thursday some tough decisions when the annual budget comes up for a vote.

Budget committee recommendations include such cuts as $300,000 earmarked for renovations at the county offices and a request from the Sheriff's Department for three new personnel and 10 additional patrol cars.

The committee has waffled more than once in the past few weeks as its recommendations were met with opposition from citizens, county employees and other departments.

Last week the committee reversed a decision to transfer to the general fund 8 cents of a 20-cent tax increase enacted last year to fund the first phase of the school building program. The reversal came after vocal opposition at a public hearing.

The county general fund will still be more than $1 million short, even with the proposed cuts, Commissioner Don Miller said. One solution is to transfer about $1 million from the capital projects fund and 1 penny from the property tax rate to the general fund.

"We're not sure if that will be enough," Miller said.

Some raise questions about excess revenue in the school building fund. Miller said he is concerned the county might violate IRS rules regarding the county's tax free status.

Miller has proposed using some of the money from the school building fund to pay down debt. Other commissioners have opposed the plan to remove any money from the school building fund, instead recommending more budget cuts.

Further cuts could be difficult, as the commission already has discovered.

The committee reversed cutting a $4,000 stipend to the Loudon County Rescue Dive Squad. The decision followed an appeal at last week's public hearing by dive squad leader Chad Walters.

Other recommended cuts include slashing the budget for commissioners' salaries from a total of $80,000 to $40,000. Each commissioner currently receives $8,000 a year.

Among the most contentious issues is whether county employees will get a pay raise or have to pay more for insurance. The committee has recommended against raises and to increase the amount employees pay for insurance.

County employees showed up in force before the committee last week to protest the recommendations.