published Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Grundy County rebounding financially

Grundy County, Tenn.'s finances are on the rebound after reaching worrisome lows late last year.

The shortfall had some officials eyeing bonds or loans to keep services operating through year's end. But County Mayor Lonnie Cleek says the situation never became too dire and property tax collections are filling coffers again.

"We had our finger on the pulse of this thing well before the concern even arose," said Cleek, who maintained in November 2012 that county finances were stable.

A delay last fall involving a late decision on the tax rate of Tracy City, Tenn., slowed the distribution of tax bills, but once those bills were sent out, revenue started coming in, Cleek said.

He said Grundy's general fund balance started recovering in December.

"We had options and we discussed options if the need arose, but it turned out that our predictions and anticipations were correct and we have rebounded," he said.

After Monday's deposits, Grundy's general fund balance stands at $340,952, compared with just more than $103,000 before Thanksgiving, Grundy County Trustee Lucyle Hampton said.

"We're having good collections," Hampton said Tuesday. "We're holding our own, and it's looking up."

District 3 Commissioner David Griswold was worried in November that the county might have to borrow to keep operating, but the financial rebound lifted those fears.

"We just had a little shortfall and we were late getting our statements out," Griswold said. "After the money starting coming in, everything just fell right back in line."

The 2012-13 budget is nearly $4.4 million, compared with about $3.8 million for 2011-12, figures from the county mayor's office show. About $500,000 of the current year's budget comes from a grant, officials have said.

Meanwhile, the county has a jail project -- with a $6 million to $7 million potential price tag -- in the coming year. The county has hired an architect and is studying design details and funding ideas, Cleek said.

"We're looking at funding options to find what's the best for the community and what will have the least impact on the community," Cleek said, noting he's had recent discussions with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials on ideas for funding capital projects.

Griswold said the commission will begin to focus on the jail, and last fall's budget snag "doesn't really affect what we're planning on right now."

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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