As the year comes to a close, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is already getting ahead of the fiscal 2015 budget. And to avoid a barrage of questions and criticism from the County Commission, Coppinger hopes to present his new budget about a month early.
Coppinger said this week that he and county department heads already have begun evaluating what the local government will need at the start of the next budget year, which begins July 1, 2014.
"It starts at the same place every year. We are looking at expenditures from each individual department," Coppinger said. "All the [property tax] revenues are estimated, but as the end of February approaches, the numbers will become more clear."
When the current $665 million budget was passed in June, some commissioners wanted more time to study it before voting. But the budget passed in a 5-4 vote, over opposition from Commissioners Joe Graham, Warren Mackey, Tim Boyd and Fred Skillern.
Under state law, the county mayor builds the budget and commissioners vote to accept or reject it. This is the fourth budget for Coppinger, who took office in January, 2011.
To avoid confusion at the dais when the new budget is presented to commissioners, Coppinger is starting the process early.
He plans to make his public presentation of the budget in mid-May.
"We'll just make it much more public earlier. We are going to try to move everything forward," Coppinger said.
And along the way, Coppinger said, he will meet with each commissioner individually to address questions they may have.
Skillern said he thinks the early start will be better for everyone. And he hopes information in the new budget will be more clear to commissioners from the outset.
"I think it's pretty good, what he's doing. Of course what I want to see is, not to have so many things in one line item that should really be broken out into different items," Skillern said.
Last year, Skillern had questions about food expenses in various departments. Some departments appeared to be spending a lot more money on food than others. But the expenses were actually going to pay for an annual employee appreciation meal that benefited all the employees. Skillern said he wants items like that to be more detailed.
"The process is going to be a whole lot better than it was last year," he said.
Skillern said he has not yet met personally with Coppinger to discuss the budget, but they have spoken about it a few times.
Mike Compton, the mayor's chief of staff, said the whole effort is to give commissioners all the information they need.
"We are going to try to give them a little more detail," he said. "Our plan is to make this thing a simpler process."
Simpler means giving commissioners one book to review instead of the three they got last year. It also means getting them their books earlier, Compton said.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at email@example.com or at 423-757-6481.