Budget progress grinds to a halt

The Blount County Commission met Thursday, Sept. 3, for its fourth work session to prepare the 2015-2016 fiscal year budget for adoption at the next commission business meeting on Sept. 14. The chief item of business was for the four commissioners to reach consensus on how to divide approximately $3.7 million in gas tax revenues equitably between the county road districts.

A consensus was not reached. The only specific solution proposed was to split the total amount according to the same formula used last year. That formula resulted in a split of $978,634 for Districts 1 and 2, and $940,186 for Districts 3 and 4. The total amounts for this year would be slightly less due to a somewhat smaller available pot of funds to be divided. The difference of about $38,000 between the larger and smaller amounts would be approximately sufficient to buy tar and gravel to pave about 1 mile of representative county road (18- to 20- feet wide), not including any roadbed preparation work, grading, ditching, culvert replacement, or allocation of overheads, such as labor. Including those costs would substantially reduce the length of road that could be paved with tar and gravel at that cost.

Commissioners Allen Armstrong (District 1) and Carthal Self (District 2) voted against that split last year and both said at the beginning of the discussion of the matter that they would vote against it again if divided the same way this year. The remainder of the hour was spent with commissioners determinedly, though not discourteously, contradicting each other on reasons why the split should be made according to one criterion or another.

Some of the arguments used seemed more or less irrelevant to non-participants observing the meeting. No proposal was discussed extensively enough to project budget numbers for the four districts.

At one point, Armstrong stated that his and Self’s objective in the budget debate was not to decrease the allocation of funds to Districts 3 and 4, but to increase the amount allotted to Districts 1 and 2. That could be done by cutting allocations from alreadytrimmed and apparently agreed-upon general fund accounts and diverting those amounts to the road budgets of Districts 1 and 2.

The amount Armstrong mentioned to be diverted to roads was $100,000. The four possible sources named for those funds in the general fund budget were: the Oneonta Public Library allocation ($18,000), the Blountsville Public Library allocation ($12,000), the Economic Development allocation ($84,112), and the two chamber of commerce allocations (totaling $50,000). The subject was not pursued.

Commissioner Dean Calvert began a presentation on division of road fund revenues based on the total of ad valorem taxes paid by citizens of each district – the amount of property taxes paid by citizens, a part of which is used to pay for road maintenance. Discussion was limited and did not lead to a specific proposal of budget amounts for each district.

County administrator Zac Marsh said the commission will meet again at 1 p.m. following the regular commission work session on Thursday, Sept. 10, for the final budget session prior to the commission business meeting on Sept. 14, when a vote on the 2015-2016 fiscal year budget is scheduled.

None of the commissioners commented further after the meeting.