Metro Council votes on Metro Budget … again on Monday

{Editor’s Note: This article focuses solely on the County General 101 Budget as it garnered the most discussion during the most recent Metro Council meeting.}

LOCAL NEWS — The Metro Council will meet on Monday, June 21 in a regular session meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Lynchburg Legion Building. One of the agenda items will be a second reading of the proposed 2021-22 Metro Budget.

During a special meeting last Monday, the Metro Council compromised on a $2.40 tax rate. The State Certified Rate came in at $2.16 and the Metro Budget Committee originally asked for $2.43. Last year’s tax rate was $2.38.

To accommodate the lower rate, the Metro Budget Committee removed one cent from the County General Fund as well as one penny from Debt Services, and one penny from Capital Projects. According to the latest budget figures one penny should bring in around $31,700 in revenue.

According to the Metro Budget Committee, a local homeowner living in a $100,000 or less home would pay less than $10 additional dollars a month under the new rate.

Conservative General Fund revenue estimates for 2021-22

According to the final budget numbers to be presented on Monday, Moore County revenues were down in 2020-21 and expected to rise back to pre “unprecedented” levels in 2021-22. (Lynchburg Times Graphic)

According to the latest budget numbers, General Fund revenues were down in 2020-21 by $260,202 (or five percent) and expected to increase by four percent (or $127,665) in fiscal 2021-22.

Budget committee members repeatedly stated that their revenue numbers for 2021-22 are conservative by design because they aren’t sure what to expect based on many “unprecedented” circumstances in the current budget year. Mayor Lewis says COVID-19, severe flooding, a winter storm, and a mid-term property tax reassessment have all contributed to the uncertainty.

Another unknown is the total actual impact of dozens of new homes with an estimated value of over $12 million discovered missing from local tax rolls. Both local and state assessors have been working to add these homes to Moore County’s coffers but a quick spot check of the state’s assessment database and the Tennessee Trustees site for Moore County reveals that several still sit as unimproved land despite the fact that new homes have been completed for several years.

Three percent General Fund increase in spending for the past two consecutive years

In the latest budget numbers provided by Mayor Bonnie Lewis, Metro’s expenses for 2021-22 are up just $159,131 over the previous year. (Lynchburg Times Graphic)

Despite claims of “hemorrhaging funds” and “out of control spending” by some budget opponents, a closer look at the final numbers to be presented on Monday show expenses to be flat over the past two years. The budget actuals from 2019-20 show $5,138,491 in expenses and the budget estimates from fiscal 2020-21, show a total of $5,297,622. That’s a total year-to-year increase of $159,131 or three percent.

The proposed 2021-22 budget shows total expenses to be $5,425,287 — a $127,665 increase or three percent. In general, most local government budgets adjust expenses by a minimum of three percent year-to-year in order to account for inflation, according to one state budget official we spoke to.

In all of Budget Committee Chair’s Amy Cashion presentations to the Metro Council, she explained the line items that would increase expenditures the most this year would be state mandated raises, matched county employee raises, transitioning two county employees from part time to full time, and EMA funding.

During the recent legislative session, the State of Tennessee retroactively included two percent mandated pay increases for all elected officials. The Budget Committee decided to match that raise percentage for all county employees in the “spirit of fairness.”

The Mayor’s office also requested Metro’s Maintenance position become a full-time position.

“There are 13 buildings in this county that he’s responsible for,” Mayor Lewis stated in June 14 meeting. “He’s already paid for a third of his new salary by being available to immediately repair a back flow meter in Wiseman Park after a citizen damaged it.”

The other part time to fulltime transition in the Mayor’s office is a data entry position.

“It’s important for you to hear me say that we dissolved the entire Purchasing Department to accommodate this request.” Budget Chair Cashion stated on June 14.

In other words, the Mayor’s office eliminated a $33,000 a year purchasing position that was then added back as a $25,000 data entry position. Mayor Lewis expressed in the June 14 meeting that keeping someone in that position part time at $12,000 a year had proved unsuccessful.

The additional EMA funding will allow a second ambulance to be available in emergencies, according to Public Safety Director Jason Deal. Currently, if Moore County citizens experience simultaneous emergencies, the second person must wait for an on call team to respond.

“There were 46 times this past year that if they had called, they would not have gotten help,” Budget Committee member Gerald Burnett explained last Monday during the first reading meeting. “That’s my point. That’s the reason I support a tax increase because I think it helps the people in our community.”

Stop using fund balance to balance the budget

Budget Committee members says the tax increase is need to stop the trend of using the fund balance to balance the budget. From 2015 to 2018, Metro officials used $1.4 million in fund balance dollars to balance the budget.

There will be a Public Hearing for citizen feedback on the Metro Budget at 6:10 p.m. on Monday just prior to the regular session meeting. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}