By Steve Short
In recessed session Monday, June 29, Gibson County commissioners passed a new $18.4 million General Fund budget that “mirrors” most of last year’s finances.
There are increased expenditures due to state mandated 3.5% pay raises for elected officials and an increase in health care insurance. The budget has a deficit of about $231,000.
The property tax rate will not change at $1.0322 per $100 of taxable property.
Monday’s meeting at the Trenton Agriplex reflected the times. Facial masks were provided at the door because of the coronavirus pandemic. Several commissioners and officials wore masks.
Mayor Tom Witherspoon noted his mask was handmade by his 95-year-old great aunt Ercell King of Rutherford. She has sewn numerous masks and sent them to people in several states.
Com. Mike Longmire, chair of the Budget Committee, spoke using video teleconferencing from out of town. His family had made vacation reservations before the session was scheduled.
“This has been a year unlike any other,” said Longmire. “Our country has faced many obstacles, but this worldwide pandemic has totally changed how we live over the last several months, how we work and complete our day to day business.
“We’ve taken many steps, unlike ever before, to protect ourselves from this unwanted virus,” Longmire added. “I had truly hoped it would be long behind us at this point. I can tell you from a very recent experience – it’s not over, and it’s not going away anytime soon. The effects of this virus still carry many unknowns – how we will conduct day to day business, how schools will go forward, and how businesses will maintain or succeed.”
He noted that the pandemic limited budget meetings. The Budget Committee, Witherspoon, Finance Director Jenny Skelton and former Finance Director Greg Pillow recommended enacting a “mirror-like” budget, similar to 2019-20.
“There are some changes within this budget beyond our control that factor in some increased numbers,” said Longmire, citing state-mandated 3.5% raises for elected officials and increased cost for insurance coverage for various county employees.
“Some of our departments have been able to move money back to the General Fund. For that I say, ‘Thank you,’” Mr. Longmire said. “I want to commend all our departments for maintaining your budgets and working with the Budget Committee to keep our numbers within the same operational costs as last year.”
General Fund expenditures are projected at $18.4 million, revenues at $18.2 million. The deficit is about $231,000, which would require an increase of about 0.29 in property tax to balance.
“It’s with the full recommendation of our Budget Committee that we absorb that difference and fund this deficit from the General Fund balance,” said Longmire. “We’re thankful to have been able to maintain a strong fund balance. Due to circumstances this year, we feel the absorption of this deficit in the General Fund balances is the best directions for our county.”
Departments with the largest allocations are Ambulance/EMS – $3.8 million, Jail – $3.16 million, and Sheriff’s Department – $2.85 million.
The budget anticipates receiving about 90% of property taxes owed by residents. Officials said the county normally receives up to 98% of projected property taxes.
In addition to the General Fund, the 2020-21 county budget includes spending $8.1 million in the Highway/Public Works department, $1.3 million in the General Debt Service Fund, $91,500 in Solid Waste Sanitation, and $38,200 in the Drug Control Fund. The budget allocates $427,000 for General Capital Projects, which includes $300,000 in the Ambulance/EMS Dept. and $127,000 in Fire Prevention and Control.
Officials said they will reevaluate finances in the coming months.
“We don’t know how we’ll be impacted,” said Witherspoon about the effects of the pandemic.
The budget and tax rate passed unanimously with 20 “yes” votes and five absent.