Bradley County tackles 911 shortfall, sales tax dispute

Bradley County tackles 911 shortfall, sales tax dispute

June 1st, 2012 by Paul Leach in News

Jeff Yarber

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The Bradley County Commission plans to tackle two major financial issues Monday evening: an ongoing dispute over sales tax revenues with Cleveland and recurring budget shortfalls with Bradley County 911.

Earlier this week, commissioners agreed they would vote on a resolution stating the county's intent to withdraw from jointly funded capital projects with Cleveland "due to a potential loss of sales tax revenues."

Up to $2 million in sales tax revenue may be at stake in the dispute with the city, according to prior statements made by Chairman Louie Alford.

Several commissioners have stated the measure is not a matter of payback, but one of economic reality.

Cleveland is disputing a 1967 sales tax revenue-sharing agreement -- and amendments made to it in 1972 and 1982 -- between the county and city. The agreements call for the division of sales tax revenues according to formulas based on city and county student populations and if the revenue was generated inside or outside the city.

The old agreements have been called into dispute in the wake of a more recent conflict that occurred in the wake of sales tax initiatives individually pursued by the county and city in 2009.

If the county decides to step back from jointly funded capital projects with the city, it could affect planned improvements for exit 20 on Interstate 75 and the development of a new industrial park nearby, according to previous statements made City Councilman Richard Banks.

In addition to capital projects, Commissioner Jeff Yarber has requested that the County Commission review all joint ventures with the city and determine which ones the county contractually is obligated to fund.

"I think we've been as good as we can be in asking the city to cooperate with us as much as we can and I think we stuck our neck on the line and stuck our hands out and got our hands chopped off a number of times," said Yarber.

In other business, the commission has requested the presence of Bradley County 911 Director Joe Wilson at Monday's meeting to discuss a prior funding request for $173,745 for the department. The amount was part of $351,000 the emergency center has sought from local governments, including Cleveland and Charleston.

The money would be used to lessen revenue shortfalls that Bradley County 911 has experienced for the third straight year, according to Wilson. The problem could trigger state oversight.

"Everyone knows what the costs are, and yet there's not been anything done to -- I guess -- keep the costs in line with what the revenues have been," said Commissioner Ed Elkins.

Key problems are limited 911 service fee revenue streams, equipment depreciation and the inability to use the center's $1 million general fund balance in the equation, said officials.

The issue seems to be a state problem, said Yarber, who said the same budget imbalance problem affects many 911 districts in the state.

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