Rhea County's financial status called dire

Rhea County's financial status called dire

September 20th, 2012 by Tom Davis in Local Regional News

Rhea County Commissioner Ronnie Raper.

Rhea County Commissioner Ronnie Raper.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

DAYTON, Tenn. - Rhea County commissioners approved a recommendation to balance their 2012-13 budget with about $677,000 from surplus funds, but they were warned that the county's finances are in peril.

The new fund balance is projected to be about $387,000 at year end, documents show.

"I really am uncomfortable taking the fund balance that low," commission Vice Chairwoman Emmaly Fisher, who also serves on the Budget Committee, said before the Tuesday vote. "I know at this point it's hard to do something else."

Fisher initially abstained from the vote to use the fund balance, then changed her vote to "no." Commissioners Bill Hollin and Tracy Taylor also opposed the decision.

Hollin told the board, "If we're sitting here thinking that we're going to go through this year with [a $387,000] fund balance, we're kidding ourselves. I give us until January, and we'll be broke."

But Commissioner Ronnie Raper responded, "If we don't spend it, we won't be."

"I've never served on this board without someone asking us to use surplus," Hollin said.

Raper said he is "tired of walking down the street and having people tell me they have to balance their family budget. I asked two and a half months ago who wants to raise taxes, and nobody did."

Hollin said Rhea County's $1.7496 tax rate is among the lowest in the state.

"Only 14 counties are close to that," he said. "If we raised it to $2, we'd still be below 75 percent of the counties in the state."

He said the budget fails to address the problem of replacing the county's overcrowded jail, raising the specter of another jail decertification.

Budget Committee Chairman Ron Masterson said, "I'm uncomfortable with this, too. But it was made clear to me that we didn't have the votes to do anything. We have to go broke before we do anything. The way I'm looking at it, we can balance the budget this year. What do we do next year or the next? What do we do about a jail or justice center?

"I'm uncomfortable because I feel like if we have an emergency we will be in a tough situation," Masterson said. "I've been saying it for months, but if we don't have the votes, we don't have the votes."

The commission will meet in special session Sept. 27 to consider adopting the budget.