Grundy's general fund could be in red by year's end

Grundy's general fund could be in red by year's end

November 5th, 2012 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

Grundy County Mayor Lonnie Cleek

The general fund balance in Grundy County, Tenn., stands this week at just over $100,000.

That's probably not enough to keep county government running through the end of the year, but there still are remedies, some county officials say.

On Oct. 29, the county's general fund balance stood at $103,313.06, according to County Trustee Lucyle Hampton.

"We usually keep a better balance than that, but we were late getting our tax bills out," Hampton said Tuesday.

Tax bills were sent out last Monday and Tuesday, and revenues should start rebounding as property owners start paying their taxes, she said.

But County Commissioner Michael Brady said that probably won't draw enough revenue to keep the county running through the end of the year.

Many of those tax bills won't be paid until early next year, Brady said, noting that only 30 percent or so of Grundy County residents pay property taxes anyway.

If the situation remains the same through the end of the year, "I think we'll be in the red," he said. "It's going to be close, very close."

Brady said spending that whittled a $1.2 million fund balance two years ago to the slim $100,000 margin this month must stop. County leaders probably should have restructured the budget when they started talking about building a new jail and making repairs at the old one, he said.

The county could be forced to turn to its debt service to fund county government until the tax bills start coming in, Brady said.

"There won't be a shutdown or anything like that," he said, "but we need to do a better job of handling our money."

The 2011-12 budget stood at $3,800,141, compared with the 2012-13 budget of $4,375,105, according to the county mayor's office. About $500,000 of the current year's budget is connected to a grant.

County Mayor Lonnie Cleek said the debt service dip would be temporary, if it has to be done at all.

"We're not in trouble," he said last week. "We're still stable. We have money in the bank."

Cleek said money taken from debt service would be repaid when property tax money comes in.

The county general fund that stood at $1.2 million a couple of years ago was chiseled away by more than $150,000 in repairs and updates at the jail to answer fire marshal findings and required improvements, and increased costs of living and operation in other areas of county government, Cleek said.

But County Commissioner David Griswold echoed Brady's concerns about the general fund.

"We're going to have to dip into debt service," said Griswold, who has worked through 15 years' worth of county budgets as a commissioner.

"We've never had to go through any of this before," he said.