Tries, fails, tries, fails, passes budget on third time around

BLOUNT COUNTY COMMISSION

In a special meeting Monday, called for the purpose of adopting the 2018 fiscal year budget, the Blount County Commission passed the 2018 expenditure budget of $17,314,645, but not without bumps in the road. The bumps were in the form of cuts of nearly $200,000 made after the initial version of the budget was presented to the commission for unofficial approval at its final budget work session last Thursday.

The lion’s share of the final cuts came from the sheriff’s department, where $100,000 – the entire amount budgeted for new patrol vehicles – was cut, in addition to cuts to fuel purchases, uniforms for deputies and the personnel costs of one investigator.

After opening the meeting with comments on highlights of the budget presented, Probate Judge Chris Green called for a motion to adopt. No motion was made.

District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert then requested time to check on additional information he said he had requested after last week’s work session. The commission recessed for 20 minutes, reconvening at about 10 a.m.

After looking over the information he had just received, Calvert told the commission he would need at least an hour to review it. Further discussion ensued concerning the need to adopt the budget by law by Friday Sept. 29. After consulting with personal schedules of commissioners for their availability for another work schedule before Friday, Green then called a second time for a motion to adopt the budget. No motion was made.

The decision was then made to recess the special meeting then in progress until 1 p.m. When the commission returned after lunch, Calvert and Sheriff’s Department Operations Officer Tim Kent engaged in a lengthy exchange with Calvert asking about the number of deputies and investigators employed by the department now, compared to years past. Reducing the cost and procedures for purchasing uniforms for deputies was also discussed at length.

Green finally interrupted to say he supported the original budget presented to the commission last week, and that he disapproved of any further cuts to the Sheriff’s Department in addition to the $80,000 which was already embodied in the budget presented last week. He said he appreciated the sheriff’s department’s budget management which had returned more than $1.1 million to the county treasury in the last 11 years. “I want to oppose cutting that budget any further,” he concluded. He restated the necessity of adopting the budget by the end of the week to conform to state law.

The discussion ended with Calvert saying he felt the commission must begin to exercise control over personnel costs he considers excessive, saying the costs associated with at least one investigator should be cut. The budget impact of that reduction was specified by county administrator John Bullard to be $52,944. The cut leaves District 4 without an assigned investigator, according to Blount County Sheriff Loyd Arrington.

Green suggested the commission adopt the budget with the proviso that the appropriate line item in the sheriff’s budget be reduced by $52,944. Commissioners were satisfied with that stipulation and when Green called a third time for a motion to adopt the budget, the motion was made, seconded, and passed unanimously.

After answering commissioners’ questions and patiently defending his department’s management, operations, and budgeting, Kent made a final statement to the commission, and by extension, to the public. “I just want to tell everyone that we’re still going to continue to do the best job we possibly can with what we’ve got to do it with,” he said.

The newspaper will provide a breakdown of the budget by expenditure categories along with summary highlights next week.