Lawrence County Commissioners will begin budget discussions for fiscal year 2020 next week and continue to find ways to cut corners in the meantime.
In a work session on Wednesday, July 10, County Administrator Heather Dyar told commissioners the county must generate new revenue to prevent future deficits.
She said the county will be losing about $200,000 in property tax from International Paper in 2020 and Tennessee Valley Authority in-lieu-of-tax receipts continue to dwindle.
“As you know, property tax is down a couple hundred thousand due to the removal—still—of IP buildings and equipment,” she said. “In 2012, TVA money was about $1 million. It’s $460,000 now.”
Dyar told the commissioners about $300,000 has been transferred out of the county’s road and bridge fund to supplement the general fund this year.
“Even with our transfers into the general fund next year we’re still looking at a $200,000 deficit,” she said. “We will be pulling money out faster than we can replenish.”
District 3 Commissioner Kyle Pankey said a possible merge of 911 and sheriff’s dispatchers into a central dispatch should save money.
“How are they going to take on additional duties and fund it?” Dyar asked. She said the short-term solution would be “like putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging problem.”
“That money would have to stay in the sheriff’s budget. You’ve got to have new money, somehow, someway,” she said.
In Wednesday’s work session, Lawrence County Sheriff Operations Captain Amard Martin requested two vehicles and at least one more patrol officer.
“Overcrowding in the jail continues,” Martin said. “We’re trying to work with the judges to get people in and out of the jail.” Martin said the department is also losing experienced employees and asked for cost of living raises.
The sheriff’s department had spent $1.5 million of its $2.2 million budget, and 78 percent of the jail’s $1 million budget had been spent as of last week with overtime exceeding budgeted amounts in both departments.
Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency Director Johnny Cantrell said his department may be able to shave off about four percent of their expenditures in the next fiscal year to help alleviate funding restraints in other areas of the budget.
Dyar said the EMA department is “way under budget.”
“Right now, on the EMA side, I’ve got somewhere around four-and-a-half percent I can trim off from this previous budget. We’re looking to find more,” Cantrell said.
Revenue Commissioner Brad Henderson also offered a solution to help generate funds within his department, which operates out of the general fund. In the commissioners’ regular meeting on Friday, the county approved to implement a $3 fee for each license or decal renewed through the Postal Service.
Henderson requested that commissioners reinstate the fee that had been repealed in 2009.
“When a citizen mails their tag renewals or renews their tag online, we have to process it in our office, then we have to mail back either their metal plate or their (decal),” Henderson said. “We ate the cost of postage.”
The $3 fee will start in September, Dyar said. “So far this year, Brad’s department has spent almost $27,000 on postage.”
Henderson said the fee is not a new tax posed on county residents, and anyone who opts not to renew tags online or through the Postal Service will not be charged the fee.
He also added that his department will begin enforcing violations for mobile and manufactured homes that have not renewed their registration fees.
“We’ll probably be picking up about 400 homes a year for the next four years,” he said. “It’s too early to estimate the amount of revenue this would generate.”
“It’s been a challenge to create a rainy day fund for the general fund. It’s been frustrating to all of us,” District 4 Commissioner Bobby Burch said. “We’ve learned to say no to everything, and there’s not a department in this county that doesn’t need help. All we can do is say no, no, no. I think Brad did an excellent job in trying to find some lost revenue. We will continue to push our legislators to create new revenue.”
The County Commission called a special work session for Tuesday at 3 p.m. to begin budget discussions.
In other business, the Commission granted permission to Sheriff Max Sanders to sell a 2010 Dodge Charger and purchase a former state trooper vehicle.
Commissioners appointed Patsy Lang, Will Inman and Jan Smith to the board of equalization, and appointed DeWayne Key to the Department of Human Resources Board. They also welcomed new DHR Director Sondra Landers.
All Commissioners were present at the Friday meeting.