Sullivan budget keeps tax rate steady, draws down fund balances

J. H. Osborne • Aug 31, 2018 at 6:38 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s property tax rate will remain at $2.55 per $100 of assessed value under a 2018-2019 budget approved on Thursday by the Sullivan County Commission. With little in the way of projected revenue growth, the budget relies on use of fund balances from various accounts.

But that doesn’t mean those fund balances will actually be depleted. For the fiscal year ended June 30, for example, the budget approved a year ago projected fund balances would decline by $3.3 million. But according to the budget document approved by the commission for the fiscal year that began July 1, fund balances grew by more than $8 million between June 30, 2017, and the same date this year.

In all, this year’s nearly $184.5 million budget is balanced with about $7.3 million in fund balances, including: about $2.5 million for the general fund; about $350,000 for the solid waste fund; about $40,000 for the highway fund; about $2.75 million for the general purpose school fund; about $140,000 from the school cafeteria fund; and $1.62 million from the school capital renovations fund.

There are few changes in the budget, overall, compared to last year. At the last minute Thursday, the commission approved a 2 percent pay raise for all full-time county employees. But elected officeholders and other department heads will be asked to find that money within their existing budgets. If they can’t, they’re directed to ask the county’s accounting office for help.

The largest single increase in this year’s budget, compared to last year’s, is more than $2.23 million in debt service — which will go from $12,668,965 appropriated last year to an appropriation of $14,903,324 this year. That $14.9 million figure includes more than $7.87 million in debt service for the $140 million bond issue for school facilities ($2.455 million in principal and $5.413 million in interest). 

Property taxes are projected to generate nearly $94.97 million in revenue for the county, based on a collection rate of 96 percent. That represents growth of only $239,254 over last year.

School systems in the county get the lion’s share of property tax dollars — $50.39 million of the revenue goes to general school funding, which is split between the county school system and city systems in Bristol and Kingsport because city residents pay county property taxes. The split is based on the number of students in each system. Another $3.46 million goes to “County Capital Outlay - Renovation,” an account previously designated as for schools. Last year, the county stopped sharing that money with the city school systems. And this year the money no longer will go directly to the county school system, but instead will go toward paying off debt for the new schools being built.

The county’s general fund — which includes the budgets for such services as law enforcement, courts, elections, the health department, emergency medical service and county government — accounts for the next biggest chunk from property tax revenue, at about $29.42 million.

County property taxes are estimated to generate about $2.79 million for the Sullivan County Highway Department, which performs no work inside the cities.