Hawkins Co. begins 2020-2021 budget process

Review file photo of the budget committee back in January, 2020

The Hawkins Co. Budget Committee met on May 12 and 13 for two full days of budget hearings during which numerous county departments presented their budgets.

The county is projected to end the 2019-20 fiscal year on June 30 with an undesignated fund balance of $6.464 million. However, the first draft of the 2020-21 general fund budget shows a $494,977 deficit.

The committee will meet again on May 29 at 8:30 a.m. to vote on the proposed funding increases and begin forming the second draft of the 2020-2021 budget.

Deficit

Much of the projected $494,977 deficit in next year’s budget can be attributed to a reduction of state inmate revenue in the county jail.

In fact, that reduction is projected to cost the county $350,000 in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Sheriff Ronnie Lawson has explained in published reports that the state inmate revenue reduction can be attributed to a combination of more local drug cases going to federal court as well as an increase in the number of local misdemeanor inmates serving jail time.

As of May 11, the jail had 260 inmates, which is just six inmates away from being at full capacity. However, only 62 of those were state inmates. In the past, the jail averaged around 100 state inmates.

“We only had 100 inmates total when I took office and declared a war on drugs, and it’s been busy ever since,” Lawson said. “We’re busy. We work hard at it. We’ve had about 100 drug offenders go through federal court during this time, and they end up in federal prison rather than staying here and doing state time. That keeps our worst offenders off the streets for a longer period of time, but we lose that state revenue.”

May 12 budget presentations

County Finance Director Eric Buchanan told the committee that the county is projected to collect $11,000 in litigation taxes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the county had to close courts for two months. As a result, revenue projections are being decreased in the next fiscal year as well.

Employee medical insurance also increased 7%, the contract with the Northeast Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Johnson City increased by $2,500, and the contract with the Forensics Center at ETSU increased by $2,346.

Highway Superintendent Lowell Bean, Trustee Jim Shanks, Sessions Court Judge Todd Ross, Clerk of Courts Randy Collier, Clerk and Master Holly Jaynes, Register of Deeds Judy Kirkpatrick, and UT Agriculture Extension Agency County Director Blake Ramsey all presented the committee with proposed budgets similar to last year’s (aside from employee pay raises that will take place as they advance on the salary scale.)

Parks and Maintenance Departments Facilities Manager Sarah Davis requested an additional $17,000 for the Parks Department budget that will be used to hire a part-time employee to help keep up the county’s parks.

Parks Director John Young and his assistant have reached the maximum amount of comp time allowed and need an extra part-time worker in order to keep up with the demand.

A full article on the details of this need can be found through a link in the online version of this article.

Davis also requested $13,650 to hire an additional part-time employee for the Building Maintenance Department.

County Clerk’s Office

County Clerk Nancy Davis asked for $2,000 extra for part-time help.

She also expressed her appreciation for First Community Bank, who allowed her office to use their stand-alone drive-thru facility for a $1 lease. This allowed her office to continue providing service even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her office has leased the building through the end of 2020.

“I had thought about doing the drive-thru thing a long time ago, and it turns out it has been awesome,” she said. “It has continued to bring in the revenue flow. It’s been a great benefit.”

Election office

Administrator of Elections Crystal Rogers also told the committee that the pay owed to the election workers will be slightly higher this year than last, as there are two elections coming up this year. The extra precautions that must be taken due to COVID-19 also cause additional expenses.

“They are going to pay our election workers more for working during COVID-19,” she told the committee. “COVID-19 has put a lot of obstacles in place for this election, and it is causing a lot more expenses too. What we’re going to have to do is extreme.”

However, Rogers noted that the county could possibly receive a grant to defer some of this cost.

Veterans Service Office

Brandee Smith, who is currently acting Director of the county’s Veterans Service Office requested an additional $2,730, which will be used for two new computers.

“They desperately need them,” Commissioner Mark DeWitte noted. “That’s their lifeline to the outside, and what they’ve got now is just not going to suffice.”

Property Assessor

Property Assessor Jeff Thacker noted that only one line item within his budget has increased, and this is due to the five-year countywide reappraisal that will occur in the upcoming fiscal year.

“The postal charges increased, and that’s due to the reappraisal next year,” he told the committee. “By state law, any time you have a change in value, you have to notify the property owner of that change.”

According to Thacker, the county has roughly 41,000 parcels. Thus, he asked for an additional $22,500 to cover these postage expenses.

EMA Office

EMA (Emergency Management Agency) Director Jamie Miller also requested a $10,000 budget increase to be used to hire an additional part-time employee.

“I was asked early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘what would you do if you got infected?’ and the best solution we could come up with was to add some part-time personnel for that reason,” he told the committee.

In regard to the malfunctioning radio system, he told the committee that none of the cost of replacement equipment was reflected in his budget.

“What is reflected in this budget is the maintenance agreement that we previously had with the other vendor,” he said. “We would have to re-implement that with whatever system we go with. Right now, we don’t have a maintenance agreement, but we’ve got some vendors who have agreed to help if we have an outage. The old system was under a maintenance agreement to cover labor with a timely response. This was an issue, and that’s why that contract was cancelled.”

The new contract has not been negotiated, and Miller noted that the county should decide on the type of replacement radio system before they negotiate another contract.

The committee also heard numerous budget proposals during their Wednesday hearing, and these will be covered in a separate article.

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