published Friday, August 17th, 2012

Rhea County faces budget shortfall

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    Jerry Levengood, the director of schools in Rhea County, Tenn.

DAYTON, Tenn. -- Rhea County commissioners are struggling to find $1.5 million in new revenue or face cutting services to balance the 2012-13 budget.

At their workshop session this week, Budget Committee Chairman Ron Masterson said commissioners have "looked at the budget, at department requests, at what they spent last year. We're at a point that we need more money. We'll either have to find a revenue stream or cut services or personnel at some point.

"Our fund balance continues to go down," Masterson said. "We cannot continue to spend more than we take in or we will be broke."

Finance Director Bill Graham said after the meeting that the county's $45 million budget needs about $500,000 to balance the county general account, and "about a million dollars for all other accounts."

Director of Schools Jerry Levengood said his budget lacks about $877,000 in revenue to balance, but the school board has approved using money from its fund balance to avoid requesting more tax dollars.

"If we do this, we will have about $2.4 million in fund balance remaining," Levengood said.

Commissioner Tommy Smith questioned why the department of education, with its significant fund balance, "gets the $500,000 TVA grant and we're broke."

Graham said it is the commission's responsibility to fund the purchase of buses, which the TVA money underwrites.

Commissioner Bill Hollin suggested the county attempt to contact every property owner who is renting rooms by the day or week to collect the hotel-motel tax on those rentals.

He also suggested the county consider some type of enforcement operation to collect building permit fees on new construction. That step, he said, would help the property assessor keep up with property improvements and help increase the tax base.

Masterson announced a Budget Committee meeting for Monday and invited all commissioners to attend to discuss the shortfall.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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