The budget proposed by Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank for the next fiscal year would keep most county departments at current-year spending levels and it includes no tax increase, a press release said.
The proposed general fund budget was presented to the Anderson County Budget Committee on Tuesday afternoon, and it was unanimously approved at Thursday evening’s budget meeting, the Mayor’s Office said in the release.
The next fiscal year begins July 1.
The balanced $25,088,157 budget for the county’s general operating fund proposes maintaining a focus on stabilizing spending levels until “we have full economic recovery,” the press release said.
“Budget Committee recognizes the rising costs of living for citizens and, to keep on a steady path of keeping more money in the hands of Anderson County citizens, we’ve presented no increase in property taxes,” Frank said in the press release. “Original requests for funding put us over $2.5 million out of balance, but with understanding and the continued help of our county departments, we whittled that down.”
Frank relied heavily on the Budget Committee when putting together the budget with Budget Director Christopher K. Phillips and Deputy Budget Director Connie Aytes, the release said.
It said the Budget Committee has spent the year consistently tracking revenues and expenditures. As the budget process unfolded, the Committee agreed that revenues were not meeting requests and directed Phillips to return to departments with a request to hold to their current levels, the release said.
Budget Committee members are Frank, who is chair; Anderson County Commissioner Phil Warfield; Commission Chairman Robert McKamey; and citizens Leonard Abatiello and Dusty Irwin.
The budget proposal showed a benefit to employees in terms of no increase in the cost of health insurance, the press release said. Part of the budget proposal includes funding start-up costs for an on-site medical clinic for employees. The proposed clinic will serve as a convenience to employees, reduce their pharmacy cost for common medications, reduce lost work time, and also benefit the taxpayer by increasing wellness of employees.
“On-site clinics in the private sector have shown proven benefits to both the employee and the bottom line when it comes to health care costs, and Budget Committee is proud to work with our new Human Resource Director Russell Bearden to accomplish this goal,” Frank said.
“We have received a lot of praise by financial ratings institutions who like Anderson County’s financial direction,” Frank said. “We’re going to stay committed, and we know fiscal stability is one of the key factors in attracting families, business, and industries.”
“I know the schools have proposed what amounts to a 56-cent tax increase, but when our main challenge is recruiting families to live here, such a tax increase would move us backwards,” Frank said in the release. “We have had numerous new business and industry locations and expansions, but we do have a lag between the announcements and when the capital investment begins to actually affect our revenues. I am encouraging the schools to wait for more funding until we achieve it through growth, not taxation. At our joint meeting last night, I asked if they could wait another year to see additional revenue through growth, not taxation.”
Some of the factors in not funding the schools’ request and recommending current funding levels are the “reality that the number of students in the system is down and a number of students from other counties are being educated in our system with no offsetting revenue stream in place,” the release said.
“The schools have also requested over $2 million for salary increases for a 4 percent across the board raise; however, those numbers are not adding up,” Frank said. “If we calculate 4 percent of their entire budgeted salaries, 4 percent amounts to $1,340,011.72—so we are not sure what the extra funds are for. We also will need to study what Governor Bill Haslam and the legislature have allocated, because our understanding was that they funded the 4 percent raises.”
Budget Committee also passed a recommendation to further strengthen fund balance policy by requiring the county to increase its unassigned General Fund balance to $4.5 million from $3.5 million. Such a move would require a supermajority vote from County Commission to dip into reserves below $4.5 million.
“While this year’s budget process posed many challenges, I feel that the proposal headed now to County Commission is a solid, workable, and a fiscally sound plan,” Phillips said. “Again this year, Budget Committee worked through and made some tough decisions that safeguards the taxpayers from increased taxes, protects the fund balance, and provides good stewardship of citizens’ tax dollars. While Anderson County is seeing some very positive movement in the industrial arena, we need to continue to do the financially prudent things with taxpayer money that attracts families and retail businesses to locate here. To me, that’s the key to the long-term financial health and quality of life we want to see Anderson County achieve.”
The next steps in the budget process will be a public hearing set for May 28 in Room 312 of the Anderson County Courthouse in Clinton and then a presentation to the full Anderson County Commission.