Boosting general fund balance priority in Bradley County

Boosting general fund balance priority in Bradley County

March 3rd, 2012 Paul Leach/Correspondent in News

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Increasing the general fund balance is Bradley County's top budgeting priority, according to recommendations by the county mayor's office.

On Friday, the county's Finance Committee reviewed a comprehensive 10-year financial study that Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis described as a "ballpark plan."

"The important thing next year - if we agree on it - is that we begin to grow the fund balance back to where it's truly a fund balance we have to play with," Davis said.

He recommended the second priority should be to look at raises for county employees, since three years have passed without them.

County Commission Chairman Louie Alford asked if the plan offered options for early payoff of any of the county's debt.

Davis said the possibility exists, depending on what the commission decides to do with revenues generated by a proposed wheel tax for education capital projects.

However, Davis said potential wheel tax revenues are not included in current plans because the tax would have to pass a referendum vote on the August ballot first.

The proposed wheel tax - that would be assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county - would allow the county to apply generated revenues to new and existing debt related to school capital projects. Bradley County now has $67 million in education-related debt.

The long-range plan made conservative assumptions about the county's income streams, Davis said.

The plan anticipates the county will go through "two more years of toughness" before Wacker, Amazon and Whirlpool business developments really make a difference to county coffers.

The plan predicts property tax revenues will increase by 2 percent and sales tax revenues by 1 percent by 2013.

Commissioner Ed Elkins thanked Davis and his staff for surpassing his expectations in the long-term forecasting and recommendations.

Davis said the problem with such long-range plans is that they are "half factual, half guess."

"If you've got a plan at least you know where if you track against it, you know where to adjust it," Elkins said.

Beside the slight increase in revenues, the report offered other good news, Davis said.

The county's plan to establish three new fire stations may not require borrowing to fund all the buildings, trucks and equipment, he said.

The county mayor said the possibility exists that the county may have to borrow money only for two of the three stations.

In the meantime, Davis said the county had applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants that might offset much of the construction costs for all three new fire stations.

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