published Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Bradley County budget faces another tight year

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The proposed 2012-13 budget for Bradley County is a little smaller than the current budget, but it contains no cuts or tax increases.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis presented next year's proposed budget to county commissioners Monday, saying the numbers show the county "can live within its means."

"I am confident that this budget will meet the obligations of the county and maintain the services that the residents have become accustomed to, that they've come to expect, and we're doing it without placing an additional tax burden on the citizens," he said.

The proposed budget totals $133 million, which is $3 million less than the budget for 2011-12 and makes the fourth straight lean year for the county, Davis said.

The proposed budget is intended to achieve three key objectives, Davis said -- no tax increases, increase the general fund balance and increase salaries for full-time county employees.

The fund balance and salary increases were minimal but achievable in light of expected flat revenue growth in the coming year, he said.

The budget proposes to give full-time county employees a 1.6 percent raise, matching the raise received in the current budget year.

While the county mayor's office hoped to increase the general fund balance to 11 percent of the county debt service, the proposed budget makes it only to 10.4 percent, Davis said. The ultimate plan is to increase the general fund balance to 15 percent in the coming years.

Davis reviewed other highlights of the proposed budget, saying Bradley County Schools composed more than 60 percent of the budget, including more than $2 million in sales tax revenues and state funding.

Several commissioners said the budget mostly addressed operational and limited capital expenditures and not $24 million in major capital projects that the school system has cited as priority concerns for more than a year.

The proposed school budget will not replace storm-devastated Blue Springs Elementary School, add more classrooms to an overcrowded Walker Valley High School or alleviate deteriorating conditions at Lake Forest Middle School, Commissioner Terry Caywood said.

A $32 wheel tax -- which would be assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county -- has been proposed as a means of funding those projects. That decision will come before Bradley County voters as a referendum item on the August ballot.

"If we're going to have the school we need at Lake Forest, if we're going to have needed classrooms at Walker Valley, and if we're going to replace the school at Blue Springs -- they have no school now -- we have no alternative, that I see, other than passing this wheel tax," Commissioner Jeff Morelock said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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