Rhea County leaders tackle shortfall

Rhea County leaders tackle shortfall

March 21st, 2013 by Tom Davis in Local Regional News

Rhea County Commissioner Bill Hollin

Rhea County Commissioner Bill Hollin

DAYTON, Tenn. - Rhea County commissioners took steps Tuesday toward balancing a projected $1.3 million budget shortfall for the coming year and resolving a question about a jail and justice center.

In a Budget Committee meeting before the full commission met, Finance Director Billy Graham reported on the projected shortfall, and members discussed possibilities to bridge the gap.

Commission Chairman Jim Reed said it would take a 28-cent property tax increase or a 14-cent property tax increase plus a $28 wheel tax to make up that shortfall.

Commissioners discussed possibly changing employee insurance coverage in response to both past premium increases and expected increases when the federal health care law is fully implemented.

But during the regular commission meeting, County Executive George Thacker proposed cuts and reallocation of funds totaling nearly $1.5 million to bridge the gap. He asked commissioners to vote on each proposal, and they agreed to:

n Transfer $575,000 in Tennessee Valley Authority impact funds from the school budget to the county general fund budget.

n Reallocate $139,000 from the solid waste budget to the county general budget.

n Not fill three vacant county maintenance positions, saving $76,000.

Budget Committee Chairman Ron Masterson said several of Thacker's proposals were among ideas being considered by his committee.

"I would have preferred he worked through the Budget Committee, but any money we can save anywhere is great," Masterson said.

Commissioners agreed to meet in special session March 28 to consider proposals presented Tuesday by architect David Brown concerning a new detention facility.

Brown, responding to a February request from the commission, presented preliminary drawings showing how a 200-bed detention facility could be built on county property between the present jail and the courthouse.

One plan would block Court Street; the other would leave it a one-way street.

He said a building on that site would be designed to resemble the architecture of the historic courthouse and "from the outside would look like a regular brick building."

Brown said the building could be designed to have a second floor added later, "but that would add to the initial cost."

Commissioner Bill Hollin urged the board to make a quick decision on the matter.

"We have talked about a jail or justice center for over a year," he said. "I feel it's time to do something."

Hollin said if commissioners don't want to build on the downtown site, he has learned the owners of a 14-acre tract next to Richland Park Shopping Center on 16th Avenue in Dayton would sell that property to the county for $400,000.

"We could move dirt and start building tomorrow" if the site were purchased, he said.