‘The buck stops here’ – county keeps spending rights, balances budget

Published 2:58 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

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Nearly half a year and just shy of deadline with 10 days under the wire, the Claiborne Commission managed to balance the budget and set a tax rate. Another lengthy meeting netted the adoption of the new property tax levy of $2.30 per $100 of assessed value.

Passage of the levy assures that each fund item in the budget is balanced with some $127,000 in surplus resting in the general fund coffers as well, according to Claiborne Finance Officer Eric Pearson. The general fund balance is where most of the financial action takes place.

The 21-member commission can now wipe the sweat from their collective brow. Adoption of the budget and tax levy assures there will be no state takeover. The deciding factor may have occurred when representatives from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office made a special trip to Claiborne County to outline just what would happen if the Aug. 31 deadline passes with no balanced budget.

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The county would have become the first in Tennessee history to have its financial matters taken over by the state. All nonessential county departments – and in some instances those deemed nonessential personnel – would have been cut.

Spending – indeed, every check written – would have had to be authorized by the comptroller.

During the meeting on Monday evening, Commissioner Carolyn Brooks warned of becoming lackadaisical in handling funds just because the 101 general fund will have fresh dollars.

“We can’t be coming in here because we got money in the 101 fund and say, ‘oh, we’ll use it.’ That’s what got us in this situation that we’re in now. ‘We’ve got some money so just give it away.’ We have got to budget and quit handing it out like we’ve been doing,” said Brooks.

Commissioner Eric Jones suggested tacking an additional three to five pennies to the proposed $2.30 tax rate “as a buffer” to insure there would not be another shortfall when the budget process begins next fiscal year.

“Next year, everything is going to keep going up and you’re going to be right back in the same spot as right now plus you’re not going to have any money,” said Jones.

The commissioners walked into the meeting expecting to ponder a resolution to adopt a tax levy of $2.25 per $100 of assessed value. During the meeting, the commissioners overrode a veto by County Mayor Joe Brooks that would have stopped five cents from the tax rate being transferred back into the Claiborne School System’s coffers. Those funds were originally given up by the school district to help fund School Resource Officers for every campus. The Claiborne Sheriff’s Office has since received alternate funding for the SROs allowing the five cents to go back to the schools.

The tax rate of $2.30 reflects that transfer.

At one point, the commissioners voted for a proposed $2.35 tax levy. The proposal failed by a vote of 11 to 10.

The rate of $2.30 was adopted by a vote of 14 to 7. Those voting for the tax levy were Commissioners Brooks, Jones, Nathan Epperson, Mike Campbell, Stacy Crawford, Tim Shrout, Anthony Rowe, Mitchell Cosby, Rosemary Barnett, Steve Mason, Steve Brogan, Sherry McCreary, David Mundy and Dustin Wilson.

Those opposing the new rate were Commissioners Zachary Bunch, Dennis Cook, Whitt Shuford, Haley Barker, Gary Poore, Zach Mullins and Quintin Rogers.

Early in the meeting, a resolution that would have transferred funds from the Highway Department wheel tax to the General Fund failed by a vote of 13 against and 8 in favor.

Those voting ‘no’ were commissioners Bunch, Cook, Campbell, Crawford, Rowe, Cosby, Barnett, Brooks, Mason, Jones, McCreary, Mundy and Wilson.

Those voting in favor were commissioners Shuford, Barker, Epperson, Poore, Shrout, Mullins, Brogan and Rogers.

Adoption of the transfer would not have helped this fiscal year’s budget. The resolution would have had to go through two readings – the second of which would have occurred during the September commission meeting which would have been past the budget deadline.