First draft of Hawkins 2020-21 budget shows $494,977 deficit

Jeff Bobo • May 13, 2020 at 9:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The good news is Hawkins County is projected to end the 2019-20 fiscal year on June 30 with an undesignated fund balance of $6.464 million.

The bad news is the first draft of the 2020-21 general fund budget shows a $494,977 deficit, a substantial amount of which can be attributed to a reduction of state inmate revenue in the jail.

That reduction in state inmates is expected to cost the county $350,000 in the 2020-21 fiscal year — and $648,000 combined in the current and next fiscal years.

Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told the Times News Tuesday that the state inmate revenue reduction can be attributed to a combination of more local drug cases going to federal court as well as an increase in the number of local misdemeanor inmates serving jail time.

The Hawkins County Jail’s inmate capacity is around 266. On Monday, Lawson had 260, but only 62 were state inmates.

Prior to this downward trend, the facility averaged around 100 state inmates, Lawson said.

“We only had 100 inmates total when I took office and declared a war on drugs, and it’s been busy ever since,” Lawson said. “We’re busy. We work hard at it. We’ve had about 100 drug offenders go through federal court during this time, and they end up in federal prison rather than staying here and doing state time. That keeps our worst offenders off the streets for a longer period of time, but we lose that state revenue.”

County departments present budgets

On Tuesday, the Hawkins County Commission’s Budget Committee held the first of three days of hearings this week on the 2020-21 budget.

The panel heard budget requests from several departments Tuesday, and on Wednesday it will hear from the sheriff, juvenile court, and the recipients of contributions.

County Finance Director Eric Buchanan outlined for the committee several proposed spending/revenue changes that impacted the first draft of the budget.

Aside from a reduction in state inmate revenue, the county is projected to collect $11,000 in litigation taxes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed courts for two months and prevented payments from coming in. As a result, revenue projections are being decreased in the next fiscal year as well.

Employee medical insurance increased 7%; the contract with the Northeast Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Johnson City increased $2,500; and the contract with the Forensics Center at ETSU increased $2,346.

As for proposed budgets from county departments, several presented the same budget as last year with the exception of employee pay raises that will take place as they advance on the salary scale.

Among those with similar budget proposals were Highway Superintendent Lowell Bean, Trustee Jim Shanks, Sessions Court Judge Todd Ross, Clerk of Courts Randy Collier, Clerk and Master Holly Jaynes, Register of Deeds Judy Kirkpatrick, and UT Agriculture Extension Agency County Director Blake Ramsey.

Among the departmental funding increases heard Tuesday were:

County Clerk Nancy Davis asked for $2,000 extra for part-time help. Davis noted that commissioners and the pubic should express gratitude to First Community Bank, which allowed her to utilize its vacant drive-thru facility for a $1 lease through the end of the year.

EMA Director Jamie Miller requested $10,000 to be added to his budget to pay for part-time help in the event he became ill and unable to work.

Hawkins County Veterans Services Acting Director Brandy Smith requested $2,730 for two new computers to replace the current equipment, which is worn out.

On behalf of the Parks Department, county Facilities Manager Sarah Davis is requesting $17,000 more for part-time help, and on behalf of the Building Maintenance Department,  she is asking for $13,650 for part-time help.

Property assessor Jeff Thacker who will need $22,500 for additional postage expenses due tot he five year countywide reassessment occurring this year.

Among the major topics of discussion for Wednesday’s session will be Sheriff Lawson’s request for a 7.5% pay increase for his employees at a recurring cost of $349,000 annually; $280,000 for patrol cars; $50,000 for jail vehicles; and a $90,000 contribution increase request from Hawkins County EMS from $60,000 to $150,000.

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