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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cocke County budget process begins
Some of the members of the Cocke County Finance Committee met Monday evening however the body could not conduct business because of a lack of a quorum. The sheriff's department had asked for a transfer of $83,000 for medical and dental needs in the jail. Commission Chair Clay Blazer asked if the transfer of those funds will be adequate for the current fiscal year which ends on June 30. Finance Manager Heather McGaha said she thinks that transfer will be adequate to keep the line item from being in a deficit at years end. She said the fund currently is in the red. The committee was told that Trustee Rob Mathis has collected higher revenues this year and so his department was paid a higher fee than in years past. The trustee's office under state law receives one percent of all collected revenues. Mayor Crystal Ottinger said this year's water bill was higher than in years past because of a leak under the jail. As a result, the county used 2 million gallons of water. She said the cost for water this year totaled $165,000, however because of the leak, Newport Utilities rebated the county $13,000. The committee agreed to begin work on a 2018/19 budget which will go into effect on July 1. The committee will meet in its first session on June 25. The mayor said most departments are not asking for many increases except for salary increases, however those increases also mean increased costs for benefits. While many local governments, including the City of Newport, already have a budget in place for the new fiscal year, Cocke County is just starting on the process. Mayor Ottinger says that is because Cocke County does not have extra money in it's ending fund balance and so it is forced to develop a lean budget. In addition, Cocke County always has started late on it's budget procedure. "They have always tried to allow time to close out the current year, but we are working on the budget, waiting for the school system and the Ag Extension Service which is funded by the state. Ottinger says another factor is that Finance Manager Heather McGaha is new on the job. Because of the lower ending fund balance, the commission must wait until the books are closed out to know for sure how much funding is available to carry over into the new budget. "We use the fund balance to ensure that any tax increase will be as small as possible. If we started that process before we closed out the year, it may cause concern on the part of the citizens, thinking they are getting a higher property tax rate than is necessary. This way we have a more solid and true number rather than trying to guess."

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