Claiborne government could be forced to raise property taxes to cover an apparent shortfall of revenues in the 2016-17 fiscal year budget. However the final pie is sliced, the county budget committee will need to wait until the Aug. 4 election results and its hotly debated Claiborne Jail expansion bond issue to determine just how to proceed with the final draft of the budget.
Members of the committee spent a good deal of time last week sweating over the figures that, at times, seemed confusing even to those sitting on the board. It was apparent that a couple of the commissioners were convinced the county will be ‘in the red’ by at least $500,000.
Commissioners Bill Keck and Shawn Peters, who are also members of the county budget committee, vocalized their individual ‘takes’ on the apparent shortfall.
Just before adjournment, Keck said he wanted it made plain that, regardless of the election outcome, the county would be facing a likely property tax increase to cover the new budget.
Peters seemed to agree, saying earlier in the meeting that he could see no other way than to raise taxes “simply to balance the new budget.”
“We’re not talking any new projects – no new buildings or infrastructure,” said Peters.
Earlier in the meeting, the budget committee unanimously approved all donation requests from the various charities plus those departments responsible for fire prevention, at a cost to the county of some $265,900.
The committee also approved the purchase of six Claiborne Sheriff’s Office vehicles, totaling some $170,000.
Peters referred to these two line items when discussing the possible tax hike, later in the meeting.
“There is no waste in this budget – nothing we can cut. We could cut the charitable contributions. We could cut the (CCSO) cars, but that would be just a delay until next year. These cuts would be just a drop in the bucket,” said Peters.
The county could take out a tax anticipation note to cover the shortfall. However, according to Claiborne finance officer Sam Owens, the note would have to be paid back within the same year.
“We have a shortfall of money, and that’s a fact. If the revenues in the budget don’t come in, we will need to borrow the funds,” said Owens.
The county will, however, need the approval from the State Comptroller’s Office before any notes or loans are taken out, he said.
The discrepancy between revenues needed and revenues ‘in hand’ is expected to increase another projected $1.9 million if the Claiborne Jail expansion project bond issue is voted down during the upcoming election. The loss of revenues generated by the housing of discretionary inmates would widen the crevasse that county government must jump in order to return the new fiscal budget into ‘the black.’
According to the Claiborne Finance Office, the projected $500,000 shortfall is, in reality, money to cover the jail renovations and/or architectural and other fees — supposedly already worked into the bond issue figures.
The annual budget contains nine independent funds. The committee is in the process of reviewing fund balance 101. Once those figures are nailed down, the committee will turn its attention to fund balance 151, which contains the county’s debt service – or, what the county owes.
The budget committee will continue its battle with the new fiscal year budget once the election is over. The next two meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 9 and Aug. 11. Those meetings, held inside the large courtroom of the Claiborne Courthouse, are open to the public.
Once completed, the final draft of the budget will be presented for adoption to the full Claiborne Commission.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.